She failed in her dream of using economic policies to create a society of citizens who believed only in individualism. Via New Left Project, Tom Mills writes:
Much has been made of the ideological power of Thatcher’s political vision, but in reality she did not seek to persuade people that ‘there is no alternative’. Rather she forced people to accept as much by attacking the social bases of collective action and ideas, emasculating those institutional forms that could make building any alternative possible or even imaginable.
Like the Marxists she despised, Thatcher believed that ultimately it is the material conditions of life that determine political consciousness, and she sought therefore to bring about institutional changes which would carry with them an ideological reorientation. Hence why in an interview for the Sunday Times in May 1981 she made the chilling remark that, ‘Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.’
The policy innovations in the Thatcher years represented a profound shift towards a political economy based on rising asset values rather than income. This, it was hoped, would tie people materially and ideologically to the capitalist system and create what Thatcherites, echoing Harold Macmillan, liked to call a ‘property-owning democracy’.
It is clear from public opinion data that neoliberal policies remained remarkably unpopular under Thatcher and that the public remained stubbornly committed to the old social democratic consensus. Be that as it may, the failure to win over people’s ‘hearts and souls’ did not derail Thatcher’s political project. Hegemony need not be built on popular consent and whatever Thatcher’s ambitions, it was never necessary to win us over to neoliberal ideas – only to neutralise any effective resistance.
As Colin Leys has noted, ‘for an ideology to be hegemonic, it is not necessary that it be loved. It is merely necessary that it have no serious rival.’ Thatcher succeeded in defeating all her serious rivals, but she was never loved, and she knew as much.
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