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“The Thatcher Revolution” by Earl A. Reitan Response Essay

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Updated: Apr 26th, 2022

Introduction

This paper reviews a book titled The Thatcher Revolution: Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair, and the Transformation of Modern Britain, 1979-2001 by Earl Aaron Reitan.

The book, which was published in 1997, examines the domestic policies of Margaret Thatcher and her successors, John Major and Tony Blair and their implications for the British society. In particular, Reitan explores the evolution of the “New Labor” movement as well as its successes and failures1.

This essay will begin with a concise summary of Reitan’s book that highlights its central themes. The next section of the essay will be the critical analysis part, which will illuminate on issues such as the sources of information for the book, how professional it is, and the credibility of the sources used.

The critical analysis section will also evaluate how readable is the book as well as how well it is written. The final part of the paper will be the conclusion, which will recap the highlighted ideas and state the book’s strengths and weaknesses.

Book Summary

In The Thatcher Revolution: Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair, and the Transformation of Modern Britain, 1979-2001, Reitan chronicles the revolutionary changes that occurred after Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s prime minister in 1979 to Tony Blair’s reign in 2001.

In the first four chapters, Reitan recounts in detail the rise and fall of Margaret Thatcher as the British prime minister. The author writes how Thatcher’s talent was identified as a youth in her 20s. At the time, she held the view that no woman would ascend to the position of a prime minister.

Her life in politics began in 1961 when she was appointed as an Undersecretary in Harold Macmillan’s government2. Following the 1964 defeat of the Conservative Party, Thatcher was appointed the spokesperson of the party on matters of housing and land.

She later became the shadowy treasury spokesperson where she opposed the government’s income control policies.

Margaret Thatcher first became the Conservative Party’s leader in 1975 before becoming the British Prime Minister in 19793.

She served in this position until 1990. Before becoming the Prime Minister, Thatcher was a barrister and a Finchley’s Member of Parliament. Reitan recounts how Thatcher joined Edward Heath’s government in 1970 as the Secretary of State for Education and Science4.

In the 1975 Conservative Party elections, Thatcher emerged the winner ahead of Heath. She went on to win the 1979 elections to become Britain’s Prime Minister.

Thatcher, inspired by Sir Keith Joseph’s free-market policies, implemented a number of economic and political reforms to reduce unemployment and help Britain recover from the recession.

She advocated for financial deregulation, reduced government intervention, privatization of state corporations, and enhanced labor mobility. Because of her inflexible brand of politics, Thatcher became increasingly unpopular during her first term in office.

Despite poor domestic ratings, Thatcher was re-elected for a second term in 1982. The author argues that her re-election has everything to do with her stand on the Falklands War5. She was re-elected again in 1987, but resigned from the premiership after losing her seat as the leader of the Conservative Party6.

In chapter five, Reitan describes Thatcher’s economic reform policies and their impacts on the British economy.

He describes how her European and domestic economic policies, including the “poll tax” led to unemployment, especially for those involved in heavy manufacturing industries such as the iron and steel sector, which were privatized.

At the same time, other industries like the National Health Service were nationalized as part of Thatcher’s reforms. The author also recounts how John Major (her successor) and Tony Blair continued Thatcher’s legacy making it a ruling consensus in the 1990s.

The author explains how the policies of the Labor Party, under the leadership of Major and Blair, were influenced by Thatcher’s revolution of the 1980s. Earl Reitan reckons that the two leaders abandoned the manifesto of the Labor Party in favor of Thatcher’s revolutionary policies.

He claims that both leaders supported Thatcherism during their respective administrations. They promoted privatization, changes to social welfare, and price controls.

They were also Eurosceptic and failed to see the problems with the Thatcher revolution. Earl Reitan reevaluates the nature of Thatcher’s revolution as well as its impacts in Britain and Europe during her reign.

In sum, the book provides a balanced assessment of the evolution of Thatcherism in the 1980s and its impacts on British politics, governance, and economy.

The author examines how a consensus of the leaders in the 1970s gave rise to ‘Thatcherism’, which obliterated the post-World War II political ideologies and shaped the policies of later leaders like John Major and Tony Blair.

The book revolves around the Margaret Thatcher and her life in British politics. It provides a detailed background about Thatcher’s political career and traces her policies through successive administrations.

Analysis of the Book

As already stated, Earl Reitan’s book, The Thatcher Revolution is an evaluation of the economic and political history of Britain from 1979 to 2001. The author’s analysis of this significant historical period is both balanced and factual. He draws from a broad range of sources to support his argument.

Memoirs and archived material make the bulk of the sources that Earl Reitan uses in his book.

He cites Thatcher’s own views about the 1989 Tailor Report where she says, “The broad thrust is devastating criticism of the police. Is that for us to welcome? Surely, we welcome the thoroughness of the report and its recommendations”7.

The use of verbatim reports makes the book a credible and reliable reference regarding the British political history.

Earl Reitan is a brilliant historian who has a vast experience in British political history. He authored the 1997 masterpiece, Tory Radicalism, where he offers a detailed and insightful analysis of the public policies introduced by Margaret Thatcher and John Major during their respective reigns8.

The Thatcher Revolution is a revised version of the Tory Radicalism by the same author. In the new book, Earl Reitan extends his incisive analysis to include Tony Blair’s first administration. The author explores the economic policies of each leader’s administration and identifies their impacts on the British society.

Kent, Worcester describes the book as “a compact and balanced assessment of British political history from 1979 to 2001”9. In his book, Reitan relies on his earlier version to expand his argument about the implications of Thatcher’s rule in Europe and Britain.

As aforementioned, Earl Reitan consulted a broad range of sources in writing this book.

The Ronald Reagan archives are among the most important sources that the author uses because they contain original information about the British history under the revolutionary leaders who served in the Conservative and Labor administrations.

The archives contain original (primary) information and thus, they are invaluable sources that the author used in the book. Earl Reitan also uses magazine articles, political biographies, and personal accounts in his analysis.

He quotes the Sunday Times and Thatcher’s own writings to describe the Queen’s relationship with the Conservative leaders.

Thatcher wrote “I always found the Queen’s attitude towards the work of the Government absolutely correct… stories of clashes between ‘two powerful women’ were just too good not to make up”10. The author also consulted British historians and American scholars to write this masterpiece.

Earl Reitan’s book breaks down the British political history from 1979 to 2001 into twelve chapters that focus on specific aspects of politics. Moreover, the author organizes his ideas in a systematic manner, which allows the reader to comprehend his argument.

It also makes the book highly readable. The book begins with a preface that describes the origins of the Thatcher revolution and its impact on British and European politics. The author also informs the reader that the book is an expanded version of an earlier text that also recounts the British history from 1979 to 1997.

The preface is followed by an introduction, which provides a background of the British politics after the end of World War II. In the aftermath of World War II, Winston Churchill formed a coalition government comprising of the Liberal, Labor, and Conservative parties ostensibly to complete the war against Japan11.

The author traces the evolution of these political parties in the introduction part. He then goes on to detail the British political history in the subsequent chapters.

The introduction gives the background to Thatcherism. This allows the reader to understand the key political arrangements and ideologies of the post-war Britain. It enables the reader to understand the fundamental aspects and workings of British politics in the 1970s.

The first five chapters of the book explain what Thatcherism was and how it affected Britain. They describe the transformations that the British society underwent under Thatcherism.

Earl Reitan summarizes the changes advocated by Thatcher as “a diminished role for government, fiscal responsibility, reduction in the powers of the unions, free enterprise in a market-driven economy, tough control of crime, and public disorders, tight management of the welfare state, and sturdy British patriotism”12.

Thatcher after becoming the British Prime Minister in 1979 was faced with many challenges. According to Kavanagh (1987), economic problems were the most pressing issues at the time13. The country was experiencing stagnated economic growth, high inflation, and increasing unemployment rate.

Reitan, in chapter two, explains how Thatcher’s restructuring of the economy helped reduce inflation rate from 10.5% to 5.4% in 198214. However, the privatization of a large number of state-owned firms failed to reverse the high unemployment rate.

The book provides details of the British political history in a chronological way, which enhances its readability. It traces Margaret Thatcher’s political career and her roles under Heath’s government. This allows the reader to understand the events that shaped Thatcher’s political ideologies.

The author also describes in detail how John Major, Thatcher’s successor, preserved her legacy by continuing with the revolutionary economic reforms. In chapter eleven, Reitan explains how Tony Blair also continued the economic policies of Thatcher, his political mentor.

In the last chapter, the author provides an evaluation of Thatcherism. Here, the author assesses the impacts of Thatcher’s economic policies on the country’s politics. He draws evidence from his analysis in the first twelve chapters to present his argument.

The chapter also recaps the contents of the entire book. Earl Reitan links Thatcher’s neoliberal economic policies, which favored deregulation and privatization, to the rise of capitalism in Britain.

At the center of the economic reforms was the idea of capitalism, which emphasized on limited government involvement in trade15.

It is through the author’s evaluation that the reader understands the post-war Consensus, Thatcherism and its impacts, and the continuation of Thatcher’s policies by John Major and Tony Blair.

Conclusion

One of the major strengths of the book is its presentation of the British political history from 1970 to 2001 in a chronological order. Earl Reitan breaks down this historical period into a series of chapters, which makes it easier for the reader to understand the book’s contents.

The author also gives his own evaluation in the last chapter, which illuminates on the key issues covered in the other chapters of the book. The fact that the author relies on an earlier book and other reliable sources of reference also lends the book credibility.

However, the book does not adequately show the economic benefits of Thatcherism in Britain. Overall, the book is a good and insightful text on the British political history from 1979 to 2001.

Bibliography

Kavanagh, Dennis. Thatcherism and British Politics: The End of Consensus? New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Reitan, Earl. Tory Radicalism: Margaret Thatcher, John Major, and the Transformation of Modern Britain, 1979-1997. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1997.

Reitan, Earl. The Thatcher Revolution: Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair, and the Transformation of Modern Britain: Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002.

Worcester, Kent. “Ten Years of Thatcherism.” World Policy Journal 6 (2002): 297-320.

Footnotes

1 Earl, Reitan, The Thatcher Revolution: Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair, and the Transformation of Modern Britain: Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002), 17.

2 Ibid., 24

3 Ibid., 15

4 Ibid., 32

5 Ibid., 89

6 Ibid., 178

7 Ibid., 89

8 Earl, Reitan, Tory Radicalism: Margaret Thatcher, John Major, and the Transformation of Modern Britain, 1979-1997 (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1997), 4.

9 Kent, Worcester, “Ten Years of Thatcherism.” World Policy Journal 6, (2002): 298

10 Ibid., 167

11 Ibid., 56

12 Ibid., 98

13 Dennis, Kavanagh, Thatcherism and British Politics: The End of Consensus? (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 77.

14 Reitan, 79

15 Worcester, 299

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