chapter  4
22 Pages

How to govern the economy

In the previous chapter the focus was solely on the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA); how individual authors writing under the banner of the IEA shared a definition of competition as a process and not an a priori state of being, and how they came to recognize the existence in society at large of attitudes and conduct that were not commensurate with the social market economy they wanted Britain to adopt. Certain ways of behaving seemed to these authors to represent attitudes consonant with an older version of the market society in which classes confronted each other and government’s role was to arbitrate between conflicting interests in the marketplace. For neoliberals, exchange in the marketplace created value: all participants, by exchanging, could increase their capital or self-worth, whether businesses, entrepreneurs or consumers; there was a continuity of ‘proper’ thinking between the entrepreneur and the consumer. What this perspective required then was a fundamental change in the practice of government; it would need to govern for all forms of entrepreneurialism and against a nonmarketed, non value-adding side of the economy. From 1974 to 1979, the Centre for Political Studies (CPS), a think tank operating from within the Conservative Party, took on the task of putting together such a new political programme. This is the topic of the current chapter, which is asking how the CPS thought the economy should be governed. The CPS was an overtly ‘political’ think tank, given its connection with the Conservative Party, designed, according to one of its co-founders Nigel Vinson, to ‘articulate in political terms what the IEA had been thinking.’2 From its inception in 1974 up until 1979 it was the think tank of a political party in opposition, not actually in government. Its job was essentially to prepare for government; it was a think tank for the politicians who were to be at the centre of the Thatcherite political programme: Keith Joseph, Geoffrey Howe, Nigel Lawson and of course Margaret Thatcher herself. In this capacity, its primary role was to

support the speech-giving programme of Thatcher and Joseph, particularly the latter, as he went around Britain making speeches to audiences both hostile and receptive. Nonetheless, these speeches had a double role, both aimed at winning support but also directly aimed at the key problematic; that is how to foster an environment in which people shared the attitudes that the New Right believed were consonant with civilization and progress. To this extent, if one takes the Foucauldian position that government is always concerning itself with the conduct of the governed, these speeches represented the actual job of government; an attempt to change behaviour, not just an attempt to win support for the cause. This, at any rate, was the explicit strategy of the Stepping Stones project, written at the end of 1977 by John Hoskyns and Norman Strauss at the CPS. For them, winning the election in 1979 had to mean that attitudes had already changed; the election itself was to be a sign that the majority of the country was ready for something different. Nonetheless, the point of this chapter is to demonstrate that certain themes that had been constantly in play in IEA writings since the late 1950s were also present at the CPS. Of course one way to establish this would be to trace the personal interconnections between the staff of the IEA and CPS, showing how specific ideas circulated. But the aim here is different: it is to demonstrate that the CPS practised a neoliberal governing mentality and that this was evidenced in the words that were written and spoken by members of the CPS in the 1970s. Certain themes are thus apparent: the consumer and entrepreneur were the rational agents in the economy, much trade union activity was not commensurate with the realities of modern society, and although the existence of the social world was not denied, it was argued that it could never be embodied in the state. The chapter itself is divided into three sections. Section 4.1 deals with the first two years of the CPS’s existence up until 1976, a period in which its publications were dominated by the speeches of Keith Joseph. The language in these two years portrays a fairly classical liberal view of the economy, although in 1976 Joseph was becoming increasingly explicit about how active the government would have to be; as he put it, ‘monetarism was not enough’. Section 4.2 deals primarily with the Stepping Stones project, itself a document that tackled head-on the CPS’s views on trade unions. In the last part of this chapter, section 4.3, Thatcher’s speeches and opinions are dealt with directly. This section draws out an underlying theme of Thatcherism, that society very much existed in the minds of the New Right but that it needed to be privatized and remoralized in order to function properly.