Lady Thatcher - 30 years on
How did Lady Thatcher change British business? “Wiv”, as the immensely popular Harry Enfield comedy caricature of the time might have said, “Loadsamoney!”.
A good part of the Thatcherite revolution can be traced back to changes in the way that money became available, was used, and influenced ordinary lives. It may not have won respectability — Enfield’s Loadsamoney character was meant to be cruelly ironic — but money was freed from tiresome shackles. Some people had more of it, and many others felt more comfortable about enjoying it publicly. For the luckiest, gleaming Porches and brick-sized mobile phones were flaunted.
Eye-catching reductions in tax rates put more money into the pockets of earners, while cash was squeezed out of benefits and public services. A primary aim of the Thatcher Government was to bring inflation — a force that undermines the credibility of cash — under control.
Economic policymakers also watched the supply of money closely, believing that some degree of rarity would enhance its value. At the same time Thatcher’s treasurers did away with so-called exchange controls, the barriers that put strict limits on the amount of money that people and companies could bring in and out of the country.
The new freedom to export and import money bred the internationalisation of business. It aided the establishment of multinational companies, fuelled corporate mergers and acquisitions, and fostered global trade. As the socialist experiments with command economies crumbled, so people, ideas, goods and services joined capital in the newly liberalised business environment.
It was on Thatcher’s watch that Britain moved towards closer economic unity with Europe, although the Single European Act did not come into force until 1992. By freeing the movement of goods and services around the European Union it made business easier to conduct across borders that previous generations had fought to defend. But concerns about regulatory burdens and social costs — concerns shared by Lady Thatcher — also changed the way that business was conducted in this country.
Business thanked Thatcher for breaking the overmighty power of unions. In the 1970s companies seemed to be run for the benefit of employers. The interests of others who ought to be centrally involved in corporate life — shareholders, customers and suppliers — were sidelined. But while most will agree that union power needed to be reduced, Thatcher also allowed shareholders — owners — to wield too much influence.