Thatcher Did Believe in ‘Society’

The media got very excited yesterday about a line in Boris’s latest video update, where he says the country’s response to Covid-19 shows “there really is such a thing as society.” Immediately journalists jumped upon the remark as if to say this signals a step change from Thatcherite “no such thing as society” mantra…

David Cameron used a similar ‘break with Thatcherism’ line first, in his 2005 Conservative Party leadership victory speech. The then newly-elected Leader of the Opposition made a point of saying “There is such a thing as society, it’s just not the same thing as the state.” Many of the same pundits declared Thatcherism dead then too…

The problem with this analysis is that Margaret Thatcher would have wholeheartedly agreed with the ‘society’ lines from both Boris Johnson and David Cameron. Her quote about society has long been ripped from its original context. In reality, her comments about individuals taking responsibility for their own actions go hand-in-hand with a caring, generous, warm, and even ‘big’ society…

“they are casting their problems on society and who is society?…

… it went too far. If children have a problem, it is society that is at fault. There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.”

In a later explanation to the Sunday Times, Downing Street said:

“She prefers to think in terms of the acts of individuals and families as the real sinews of society rather than of society as an abstract concept.”

The widely acclaimed sermon from Bishop of London Richard Chartres at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral should have put the ‘no society’ misinterpretation to bed in 2013:

Guido suspects her enemies will continue to choose to ignore what Thatcher actually believed, instead taking seven words from one interview with Woman’s Own as the be all and end all…

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