Thatcher and Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts
By Simon Jenkins
Allen Lane, 2006, 384 pp.
If the test of any revolution is how enduring it proves to be, then, as Jenkins sees it, the Thatcherite revolution has been a spectacular success. The British columnist calls former Prime Minister John Major, current Prime Minister Tony Blair, and likely future Prime Minister Gordon Brown Margaret Thatcher's "sons" and argues that they have embraced her two revolutions. The first was economic, a matter of freeing the British economy through tax cuts, privatization, and labor-market liberalization. The second consisted of the centralization of power in the hands of the government and the prime minister personally. On both counts, Jenkins says in this thoroughly researched and interesting study, Thatcher's "sons" have stayed the course. It is hard to deny Thatcher's influence on her successors -- especially the equally pro-U.S., pro-free-market Blair, who ruthlessly confronted opponents of reform within his party just as Thatcher did in hers. But as Jenkins himself would no doubt acknowledge, the family-lineage thesis overlooks some real differences among the four, not least in terms of personality, attitudes toward Europe, and policies on regional devolution (Blair gave more power to authorities in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and London than Thatcher ever would have). Jenkins' argument that a third revolution is now needed -- to strengthen local government in Britain -- is likely to be a tough sell. After waiting a decade to come to power, a future Prime Minister Brown is unlikely to want to relinquish it.