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‘Everyman a capitalist?’ or ‘Free to Choose’? Exploring the tensions within Thatcherite individualism.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
JournalHistorical Journal
Early online date15 Aug 2017
StateE-pub ahead of print - 15 Aug 2017


It is widely recognised that ‘the individual’ was prioritised by the Thatcher governments. However there has been little analysis by historians of exactly how the Thatcher government conceptualised ‘the individual’. In this paper we attempt to remedy this deficiency by undertaking a case study of a key Thatcherite social policy reform: the introduction of ‘Personal Pensions’. This approach allows us to understand the position of ‘the individual’ on the functional level of Thatcherite policymaking. In doing so we argue that there was no coherent or fixed Thatcherite concept of the individual. Instead we identify three fundamental tensions: (i) should individuals be capitalists or consumers; (ii) were they rational or irrational; and (iii) should they be risk-taking entrepreneurs or prudent savers? These tensions themselves reflected, in part, conflicts within the diverse tapestry of post-war neoliberal thought. Ultimately we demonstrate that the ideal of creating a society of entrepreneurial investor capitalists was discarded when faced with practical constraints, and that this cemented the Thatcherite preference for giving individuals the freedom to choose within a competitive market.


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