Is the person sat to your left a Thatcherite? (British Social Attitudes Survey Part I)

Both the Mail and the Telegraph leapt on NatCen’s British Social Attitudes Survey (BSAS), released today, to declare public support for the coalition’s policies and a sharp swing to the right. Finally, they breathlessly claim, Thatcherism has emerged victorious. Suffice to say, it’s not quite as straightforward as that.

To be fair, this is the conclusion of John Bartle, co-author of the BSAS report, who writes,

“We interpret the reverse after 1997 as a further shift back to the right (and pretty sharp it is too)… it suggests that the public are now less supportive of ‘big government’ than at any time since the late 1970s”.

Far be it from me to challenge the expert opinion and mind-boggling methodology of one of the people responsible for producing the report, but I do question the assumption across the right-wing press that this is good news for Tories.

John Bartle continues to say,

“…according to our estimates, the electorate were nearly as ‘right-wing’ in 2009 as 1979, the year that Mrs. Thatcher came to office…”

Despite increased disillusionment with ‘big government’ following the New Labour years, the coalition is still facing a country less right-wing than that which welcomed their spiritual leader. So, the Tories are on shakier ground than Thatcher, yet are intending to go ideologically further than even she dared.

Chapter 9 of the report explains that “between 1979 and 1997 [the political centre in Britain] moved to the left”. Basically, the result of Thatcherism was to drive the country leftwards. Considering in 2009, after more than a decade of New Labour, it had supposedly shifted back rightwards, I would guess these findings are better reflective of disappointment with the government of the day rather than long-term changes in supposed political alignment. People turn off solutions when they don’t live up to that which is promised.

The broad conclusion that Britain is ‘right-wing’ is therefore ultimately meaningless. If we are unfortunate enough to face a decade of Tory ‘small government’, I’m sure Britain will drift leftwards again.

So, don’t worry. You’re not surrounded by children of Thatcher. Just ruled by them.

Oh… maybe we should worry.

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