Thatcher: The Downing Street Years - Netflix

A history of the eleven years which Thatcher spent as Prime Minister of the UK.

Thatcher: The Downing Street Years - Netflix

Type: Documentary

Languages: English

Status: Ended

Runtime: 60 minutes

Premier: 1993-11-10

Thatcher: The Downing Street Years - Premiership of Margaret Thatcher - Netflix

Margaret Thatcher served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from May 1979 to November 1990. She became Prime Minister after serving as Leader of the Conservative Party since 1975. In domestic affairs, she is best known for her sweeping policies concerning the affairs of the economy, including the privatisation of most nationalised industries. In foreign policy, she fought a war against Argentina and played a key role with President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in ending the Cold War. By the late 1980s, she was alienating many senior members of her Cabinet by her opposition to greater economic integration into the European Community. She also alienated many Conservative voters and Members of Parliament with the imposition of the local poll tax. As her support fell away, she was challenged for the party leadership and persuaded by her Cabinet to withdraw from the second round of voting, resulting in the end of her eleven-year tenure as Prime Minister. Notwithstanding the fact that Thatcher remains a domestically polarising figure, she usually ranks in the top five of British prime ministers.

Thatcher: The Downing Street Years - Poll tax - Netflix

Thatcher was fiercely committed to a new tax—commonly called the “poll tax”—that would apply in equal amounts to rich and poor alike, despite intense public opposition. Her inability to compromise undermined her leadership in the Conservative Party, which turned decisively against her. Thatcher sought to relieve what she considered the unfair burden of property tax on the property owning section of the population, and outlined a fundamental solution as her flagship policy in the Conservative manifesto for the 1987 election. Local government rates (taxes) were replaced by the community charge, popularly known as the “poll tax”, which levied a flat rate on all adult residents. Almost every adult, irrespective of income or wealth, paid the same, which would heavily redistribute the tax burden onto the less well-off. She defended the poll tax, firstly, on the principle of marginality, that all voters should bear the burden of extra spending by local councils, and, secondly, on the benefit principle, that burdens should be proportional to benefits received. Ministers disregarded political research which showed potential massive losses for marginal Conservative-voting households. The poll tax was introduced in Scotland in 1989 and in England and Wales in 1990. This highly visible redistribution of the tax burden onto the less well-off proved to be one of the most contentious policies of Thatcher's premiership. Additional problems emerged when many of the tax rates set by local councils proved to be much higher than earlier predicted. Opponents organised to resist bailiffs and disrupt court hearings of community charge debtors. One Labour MP, Terry Fields, was jailed for 60 days for refusing to pay.

An indication of the unpopularity of the policy was given by a Gallup poll in March 1990 that put Labour 18.5 points ahead. As the crisis deepened and the Prime Minister stood her ground, opponents claimed that up to 18 million people were refusing to pay. Enforcement measures became increasingly draconian. Unrest mounted and culminated in a number of riots. The most serious of these happened on 31 March 1990, during a protest at Trafalgar Square, London. More than 100,000 protesters attended and more than 400 people were arrested.

Constitutional commentators concluded from the tax fiasco that “the British state [became] dangerously centralised, to an extent that important policy developments can now no longer be properly debated”. The unpopularity of the poll tax came to be seen as an important factor in Thatcher's downfall, by convincing many Conservative backbenchers to vote against her when she was later challenged for the leadership by Michael Heseltine. Following Thatcher's departure, her former chancellor Nigel Lawson labelled the poll tax as “the one great blunder of the Thatcher years”. The succeeding Major government announced the abolition of the tax in spring 1991 and in 1993 replaced it with Council Tax, a banded property tax similar in many respects to the older system of rates. Former Trade and Industry Secretary Nicholas Ridley agreed that Thatcher had suffered a massive defeat over the poll tax, but he argued that Major's repeal “vindicated the rioters and those who had refused to pay. Lawlessness seemed to have paid off”.

Thatcher: The Downing Street Years - References - Netflix

Tagged , ,