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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 May, 2004, 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK
Are we all Thatcher's children now?
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

The expression "we're all Thatcher's children" needs updating.

Margaret Thatcher
Thatcher's legacy is alive and kicking
The former Tory prime minister's legacy is so powerful, it is now suggested we have a generation of Thatcher's grandchildren.

That was most recently claimed by a teachers' leader who put much of the trouble in Britain's schools down to parents brought up during Margaret Thatcher's rule.

It is the most negative spin on Thatcherism, the notion that she encouraged a climate of selfish, uncaring greed.

According to Pat Lerew, the president of the NASUWT, modern parents were at school "when there was no such thing as society and it was everyone for themselves".

Teachers in the 1980s were seen as "failures in the success race", she told the union's annual conference, in Llandudno.

Good Samaritan

"Small wonder then that the children of the day grew up with attitudes that have now manifested themselves in their own children.

"This drive to be first and the devil take the hindmost attitude has bred an inevitable rise in aggression and bullying," she said.

Tony Blair
Blair adopted some of Thatcher's reforms
It is the widely held view of Thatcherism, and the attitudes she encouraged, that her critics would say she amply demonstrated herself when she made the famous quotes about "no such thing as society" and that the Good Samaritan could only engage in his act of kindness because he was rich.

It is a view of her legacy that persists to this day. There is, of course an alternative view.

That is, that the first woman prime minister grabbed Britain by the scruff of the neck, took on vested interests such as the unions and shook industry, business and ossified institutions until they squealed.

She pioneered privatisation, encouraged enterprise, freed people and business from an over-intrusive state and promoted self-reliance and family values.

Radical reforms

At its most basic, it is said, she modernised Britain.

And, as he freely admits himself, Tony Blair accepted much of that was necessary.

In many ways, he can be cast as Thatcher's most obvious political offspring.

Far from New Labour attempting to undo her revolution, the prime minister attempted to use it as a base for his own radical reforms.

Privatisations continued, and were even taken into realms undreamed of by the previous administration.

Private cash was brought into the public services like health and education in a way never previously countenanced by the Labour party.

And, of course, any suggestion there was an alternative to a free market economy was entirely off the agenda.

But New Labour held both views of Thatcherism at the same time.

It was to be about accepting the positive advances and changes made by her Tory government while rejecting the divisive, individualistic literally "anti-social" aspects of her doctrine.

It is probably true to say, therefore, that Thatcherism entered the DNA of Britain - both politically and socially.

So, to that extent, we are probably all Thatcher's children and grandchildren.

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