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‘Conservative Party’s Love of Margaret Thatcher has Ruined Them – and Britain’s Economy’

Political author Will Hutton tells Byline Times why the Conservative party is in such a mess – and what voters need to do at the next General Election to “put a stake through its heart”

Margaret Thatcher at Westminster Abbey
The Conservative Party’s admiration for Margaret Thatcher, pictured above at Westminster Abbey, has been blamed for its demise. Photo: Michael Melia / Alamy

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The Conservative Party is a “series of cults” that can’t be governed and their plummeting popularity – and the state of the UK’s services and economy – is due to their admiration for Margaret Thatcher, a renowned political writer has suggested.

Will Hutton, author of influential works including, The State We’re In, 1996, and The World We’re In, 2002, detailed the Government’s demise and gave his blueprint for a more prosperous Britain in an interview with the Byline Times Podcast that’s available for download now.

The former Editor-in-Chief of The Observer joined host, Adrian Goldberg, earlier this month to speak about his new book, This Time No Mistakes, How To Remake Britain, and called for an alliance of the progressive left to remove the Conservatives from power at the next election, expected to be in January 2025.

A YouGov and MRP poll on 3 April found that the Conservatives – if the country were to vote in a General Election the following day – would get 155 seats, down from a January projection of 169. Labour, the poll found, would win 403. Some polls have suggested the Conservatives could win fewer than 100 seats.

Will Hutton with his new book, This Time No Mistakes, How To Remake Britain. Photo: Adrian Goldberg/Byline Times

While the ‘Iron Lady’ is lauded in political circles for her lasting impact on the UK during her 11 years as Prime Minister from 1979-1990, the fallout from many of her radical economic decisions is still being felt today. Thatcher stewarded incredible rises in inequality, led deindustrialisation, and left Brits depressed and angry in what Hutton called, in some cases, an act “of vandalism”.

Hutton says she made four “gigantic mistakes” that left the UK “reeling” and brands her the “pernicious author” of the country’s decline.

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“As Lord Nigel Lawson said at the time, a country can survive one mistake, but four mistakes of that type, of that seriousness, have led to where we are in 2024,” the author told the Byline Times Podcast. “But as I say, Margaret Thatcher is venerated within the Conservative Party, which has been in power since 2010. She is also held up as a model by many in the Labour Party, perhaps not by ordinary Labour Party members, I should say, but by successive leaders of the Labour Party, so if her reign was so disastrous, why now is she still revered?”

The “multiple problems” the UK suffers from have “roots in her wrong thinking” to put her ambitions and preferences “at the heart of the economic, social and moral universe,” Hutton said, before adding that “all those areas that were badly hurt by her, were to vote Brexit 30 years later, but for no lasting gains”.

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Hutton believes the reason the Conservatives are “in such trouble as a political party, is because you venerate this woman who was the author of our decline”.

We’ve been misgoverned around a kind of misunderstanding of how you get capitalism to work and its interdependence with a strong society for 45 years. And we end up where we are in 2024.” Echoing the title of his book, Hutton added: “So this time, no mistakes.”

“It’s very hard to think really, of one policy success in the last 45 years that’s sprung from this philosophy (Thatcherism).”

Hutton’s book is a rallying cry for a fairer Britain, one where capitalism serves the interests of the people, and explains how the right and left got it wrong over the last century. He argues that the UK’s “inability to invest in itself is at the heart of our problems”.

“The malevolent thread linking the grievous errors of the last 45 years is the attempt to create the utopia of free markets and a minimal state,” promotional material for the book reads.

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“The terrible consequences scar our country today. We need an alternative economic and political philosophy, especially if we are to ward off a nihilist populism. Two great traditions – ethical socialism and progressive liberalism – can be brought together to offer a different way forward,” Hutton argues.

In his interview with Byline Times, Hutton went on to decry Britain’s “deeply unfair” electoral system that has “allowed” the Conservatives to dominate and “commit a long series of great, avoidable errors”.

The Conservative party, Hutton says, “doesn’t work” and that’s “led to a collapse, really, in the kind of internal cohesion of the party” and “turned it into a federation of cults”.

Hutton cited the fact that there has been 16 housing ministers since 2010, amongst a myriad of other personnel changes, which has meant the party simply couldn’t “get a line of sight on what it is you need to do to get growth going to create good jobs to kind of bind British society together to have any influence on the world.” He added: “They just don’t know what to do.”

Labour, Hutton argued, needs to unite around central ideas, like the Conservatives have around “one nation Toryism and Thatcherism”: “We’ve never managed to put together, on the kind of liberal left a philosophy which allows us to kind of cohere. And win election after election after election and appeal to the mass of the British.”

Hutton called for voters to put aside their preferences in the coming election and vote tactically to ensure the Conservatives can’t “resurrect itself” and stay in power. To win less than 100 seats in the House of Commons will be the “stake through its heart”, he said.

Britain has had “acres and acres and acres of time in which governments were occupied by the Tory party, and it hasn’t done us any good as a country, as an economy and as a society, culminating in Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. Two disgraces actually as Prime Ministers. Disgraces.”

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In his book, Hutton said he has tried to outline how a “kind of feasible, achievable change is centred around getting capitalism to work for the common good, and to grow the economy”.

“Let’s construct a social contract that stretches from housing, through education, through health, through the criminal justice system, so that everybody has both a floor below which they can’t fall, and the opportunity to make the best of themselves and live lives they have reason to value, that I think speaks to the majority of the British, that’s my conceit,” he told Byline Times. “You look at attitude surveys and value service, that’s where most people are at, they kind of get it. And that’s what the books about and I’m saying, ‘let’s do it. This time, no mistakes’.”

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