The Conservative manifesto for the 1983 election has been described as ‘one of the thinnest on record’, and it soon became the received wisdom that the want of radical proposals meant that the first and second sessions of the new parliament were partially wasted;1 such verdicts reflect the expectation which Mrs Thatcher had created rather than an accurate verdict upon the government’s performance. The legislative achievement would have astonished earlier generations of Conservatives who had thought that their creed was more to do with not adding to the Statute book. But the majority of the measures passed were to do with dismantling the structures of the consensus; the same might be said of the major confrontation of this period, the facing down of the miners’ strike. Commentators who thought that the privatisation of British Telecom, British Gas, the British Airport Authorities, the Naval Dockyards and the Royal Ordnance Factories, plus the abolition of the Greater London and other Metropolitan Councils, along with legislation which made union ballots for leadership elections compulsory, were insufficiently radical, clearly harboured unrealistic expectations. Yet the disappointment does catch something of what may be the eventual verdict upon Mrs Thatcher’s second administration — that, for all its energy and activity, it seemed to lose its way. For this there were two main reasons: the nature of some of the legislation; and problems of a more human kind.
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