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e-cyclopedia Thursday, 29 April, 1999, 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK
Thatcherism from A to Z
The 80s: East and West meet
The UK has changed remarkably since Baronness Thatcher's 1979 election as prime minister. As she celebrates the 20th anniversary, E-cyclopedia provides a glossary of some of the terms that characterised her rule.

Adam Smith's influence was felt throughout the 1980s, despite having been dead for nearly 200 years. In fact he was rather like the invisible hand which he said guided the free market. The institute named after him was influential in persuading the Thatcher government to use its power towards laissez-faire (the doctrine of government leaving things well alone).

E-cyclopedia
Black Monday was the day in October 1987 when the stock markets crashed - second in size only to the 1929 Wall St crash. It is not related to Black Wednesday, which came some years later. But it was important because the low interest rates which followed are credited with stoking the boom in house prices, which gave then Chancellor Nigel Lawson all sorts of inflation headaches.

Collective responsibility (which says once a decision has been made by the cabinet, all ministers should support it) was the convention behind one of the era's most dramatic moments, when Michael Heseltine finally had enough of Mrs Thatcher, and stormed out of the cabinet. It was all the more memorable for his catching television cameramen unawares.

Dear Bill, the fortnightly opening to a letter in the satirical magazine Private Eye chronicling the inside of the Thatcher world purporting to be from Denis to his old friend WF Deedes. Lots of gin and golf and talk of "The Boss", they were actually written by the late John Wells and Richard Ingrams. The slightly batty character they invented for Denis is one he later said he was happy to play up to.

Dear Denis
ERM took on a new meaning in the Thatcher years - from being a representation of uncertainty, indecision and vacillation. It came instead to mean the uncertainty over joining the European Exchange Rate Mechanism - a system to bring stability to EU currencies - which the UK did join in 1990. It left it again in 1992, on Black Wednesday (q.v.), when George Soros made more than $1bn betting against the pound's devaluation.

Falklands were the islands not many had heard of in 1981. By 1983 the whole country knew them intimately, even the names of the streets in the 8,000-mile-away Port Stanley. (Shackleton Drive, Ross Road and John Street.)

Greenham Common, rather than Clapham Common, was once synonymous with the word cruise. Greenham's fame was thanks to the American missiles sited at the air base there, many of which are now presumably being sent to Belgrade. Greenham Common women, who camped at the airbase in protest at the missiles, became a familiar target for tabloid attacks.

Handbagging became a technical term for asserting oneself, if not literally whacking one's opponents. Most famously used when Mrs Thatcher reportedly banged her hands on the table in a European summit, demanding the UK be given a rebate on its contributions. She got it, and the UK still has it. It's worth £2bn a year. That was some handbag.

Mrs Thatcher goes for a spin with the army in 1986
Iron Lady was a soubriquet she revelled in. She once said: "I stand before you tonight in my green chiffon evening gown, my face softly made up, my fair hair gently waved. . .the Iron Lady of the Western World." She later softened up, deciding Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was a man she could do business with.

Joseph, Keith - the late high priest of Thatcherism, the man credited not just with inventing the concept of Thatcherism, but also its cornerstone (from which William Hague's Tories have now backtracked) - privatisation.

The old battlebus, in 1987
Kenny Everett, the man who introduced UK television audiences to the joys of video trickery and Cleo Rocos, also well-remembered for walking onto the stage of a Young Conservative's meeting at the height of Cold War tension, shouting: "LET'S BOMB RUSSIA!" Later said he had taken his huge foam hands to the Tories because "they asked me first". Trumped only by Ronald Reagan who, during a microphone test, said he had outlawed Russia and had authorised nuclear strikes.

Loony Left turned out to be a big recruiter for the Tory cause in the early 80s. A term used by the tabloids, applying mostly to Labour-run councils in London, attached to alleged policies which would later become known as "political correctness". Folklore has it that these included banning black bin liners and black coffee.

But what is money?
M0, M1, M4. Nothing to do with the M25, but these terms much concerned those running the country during the monetarism of the Thatcher years. Most of it's even too tedious for economic specialists, but if one believes the money supply controls the economy, one badly needs a proper definition of what money is. Is it just the cash in people's pockets? Or does it include their savings in the bank too? Thankfully the terms are once again the preserve of bankers and economists.

No such thing as society, there are families and individuals, Mrs Thatcher famously said, attracting further ridicule and - rather like George Bush's "Read my lips - no new taxes" - came back again and again to haunt her.

Spycatcher Peter Wright
Official secrets became an unofficial debating point when the government went to the ends of the earth (well, Australia) to try to keep them secret. Former spy Peter Wright wanted to reveal lots of secrets about MI5's behaviour in the 1960s, but Mrs T wasn't keen.

Poll tax had been the cause of the Peasant's Revolt in 1381, when Wat Tyler led England's first great popular rebellion. Rioting in Trafalgar Square followed Mrs Thatcher's poll tax, giving a whole new meaning to "community charge". Her successor John Major abolished it and replaced it with the council tax.

Quangos took on a new importance under Mrs Thatcher, as local authorities found their power curtailed, and some - like the GLC - were abolished altogether. Quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations took up some of the slack, leading to claims that too many yes-men and yes-women were being installed. (After the last election, then Welsh Secretary Ron Davies promised a purge, sparking the memorable headline Last Quango in Powys)

Mrs Thatcher and Denis, Downing St, 1979.
Rejoice, rejoice, Mrs Thatcher told the nation during an impromptu press conference in Downing Street when South Georgia was recaptured by the UK after it and the Falklands had been invaded by Argentina. The words were also uttered by her long-time enemy former Prime Minister Edward Heath when he heard that Mrs Thatcher had been deposed in 1990. Except that he said it three times.

Strikes were the defining feature of the Winter of Discontent (1978/9) on the back of which Mrs Thatcher was first elected. She curbed trade union power, outlawed secondary picketing, insisted on secret strike ballots: showdown time was against Arthur Scargill and his National Union of Mineworkers in 1984/5.

Tina - not Thatcherism's guardian angel, but an acronym for another conference address and smack of firm government. "There is no alternative," she said, technically meaning there was no choice but to suffer the economic misery the country went through in the early 80s, but also cunningly giving her political opponents (inside and outside her party) a slap in the face.

Geoffrey Howe goes into bat with Mrs Thatcher in 1989
U
s, One of. Tory Wets were not "One of us", the criteria for membership of Mrs Thatcher's inner circle. Norman Tebbit was. Michael Heseltine was not. Nicholas Ridley was. Kenneth Clarke was not. She thought John Major was. It's not sure whether John Major thought he was.

Votes were what counted, and Lady Thatcher now prides herself on never having been rejected by the British people - she won pretty well in 1979, hugely well in 1983, and very well in 1987. It was only her own party that got rid of her, replacing her with Mr Major in 1990.

Young William Hague impresses in 1977
We are a grandmother, she said with Denis at her side, announcing the birth of Mark Thatcher's son Michael in 1990. For satirists who had long said Mrs Thatcher was seeing herself more as the monarch than the prime minister, the appropriation of the royal "we" was a gift.

X-rated films became a thing of the past under Mrs Thatcher, the certificate being replaced by the "18" certificate in 1983. But that did not stem what she saw as a endless tide of films which enervated and corrupted the nation's youth, and the tabloid press got in a moral panic about video nasties. In response she set up the Broadcasting Standards Commission, and the 9pm watershed became a landmark. Nevertheless things which 1979 would have regarded as a bit much are now commonplace on TV - lesbian kisses, gay sex, Vanessa.

"You turn if you want to," Mrs Thatcher told the Conservative Party conference in 1981 when there were calls for her to change her policies, adding: "The lady's not for turning." A pun on Christopher Isherwood's play The Lady's not for Burning, it was typical of the polish she and advisor Gordon Reece gave to her conference addresses.

Zero inflation was Thatcherism's Holy Grail. In the years after the Opec oil price rise in 1973, Mrs Thatcher saw stable prices as the key to establishing economic success. Its pursuit marked a fundamental shift away from full employment as the aim of government policy. The thing about the Holy Grail, though, is that the medieval knights did not find it. Neither did the UK achieve zero inflation - in fact in the early 80s there was both high inflation and high unemployment.

The E-cyclopedia can be contacted by e-mail at e-cyclopedia@bbc.co.uk

See also:

29 Apr 99 | Thatcher Anniversary
26 Apr 99 | Thatcher Anniversary
26 Apr 99 | Thatcher Anniversary

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