Margaret Thatcher, the Tories, free markets, and populism

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney

When I visited the Tory Party conference in 2011, I spoke with as many Tory politicos, advisors, hangers-on as I could. One Member of Parliament was clearly something of the liaison between David Cameron’s administration and the right wing of the Tory Party.

This MP spoke of Cameron’s win as returning the party to its rightful owners. He meant this in terms of class, frankly.

Back in the day, the Tories drew their party leaders from Eton College: Sir Anthony Eden, Harold MacMillan, Sir Anthony Douglas-Home. Then somehow a true commoner got in there — Ted Heath, the son of a carpenter and a maid. The next Tory PM was Margaret Thatcher, a shopkeeper’s daughter.

Thatcher was a real ideologue, relatively speaking — and my MP interlocutor in Manchester four years ago took it as a given that the two go together.

Within the universe of Tories, the nobles and upper-class folks will be more pragmatic and moderate, while the self-made people, the working class are more likely to be ideologues, and free-marketeers.

Cameron, an Old Etonian, is a bit of a “wet,” as they say, pushing. As one profile put it:

Before he became prime minister, Mr. Cameron defined his political credo as “compassionate conservatism.” He seemed to be signalling a desire to restore the Conservatives as the party of noblesse oblige.

Returning the Tory Party to the Etonians meant stripping it of its free-market ideology. The Party of Margaret Thatcher was the party of shopkeepers’ daughters and Milton Friedman.

We’ve seen a similar dynamic in our GOP. The Rockefeller Republicans tend to be Rockefellers, Chafees, Fishes.

Free-markets and populism go together well, I think.

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