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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Too centralised by half
Jenkins seeks to answer two questions; first, what exactly was Thatcherism? This he defines as two revolutions; privatising the old nationalised industries and utilities; and bringing the discipline of market forces into public services. Both were pursued single-mindedly by the previous four premiers. Jenkins' narrative is scaffolded around these themes which gives it a...
Published on 25 July 2009 by Mr. David Cheshire

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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Return of the Zombie Flesh Eating Seventies
Simon Jenkins has written a book about Margaret Thatcher and the three following prime ministers - Major, Blair and Brown. His contention is that the three latter merely extended her policies even though the last two were Labour politicians and were therefore supposedly opposed to her. It's not really much of a surprise except to those living on the most superficial level...
Published 11 months ago by G. J. Mcintyre


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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Too centralised by half, 25 July 2009
This review is from: Thatcher and Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts (Paperback)
Jenkins seeks to answer two questions; first, what exactly was Thatcherism? This he defines as two revolutions; privatising the old nationalised industries and utilities; and bringing the discipline of market forces into public services. Both were pursued single-mindedly by the previous four premiers. Jenkins' narrative is scaffolded around these themes which gives it a nice edge. There are some revealing details; Thatcher rounds on the board of British Rail: you're all crap, she says, otherwise you'd be in private industry. Jenkins is also revealing on Blair; like Thatcher he had no hinterland, little culture and no history. Brown with his dourness and inability to communicate leads Jenkins to wonder why he ever sought a career in politics; the electorate will no doubt soon resolve this oversight. Jenkins' second question is: why has it failed? Despite the millions put in the public still think public services are rubbish. Why? Jenkins' answer is interesting; every stage in the Thatcher reforms whether by Maggie or Tony/Gordan invoke red tape by the ton; centralism is the curse of the British body politic argues Jenkins. The state far from receding grows and grows leviathan-like, every more intrusive, ever more clumsy and inept, ever more disapointing of the unrealistic expectations it generates in an ever watchful public/press. Our atomised, centralised democracy (as predicted by the insightful de Tocqueville) contrast poorly with the civic involvement of the USA or Europe; these are not perfect but Jenkins feels they deliver the sort of locally accountable public services that Thatcherism whether of the mother or of the sons never can. This book offers an interesting and often revealng narrative and the beginning of what could be an interesting debate. We pride ourselves as being the cradle of democracy; but Jenkins points out that Major won the biggest ever popular majority in British parliamentary history (yes, MAJOR!) yet got for his trouble a fwo figure Commons majority that knobbled him for good. Clearly Jenkins is right to suspect that our democracy is less fit for purpose than we think and overdue for some fundamental re-thinking.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Two revolutions of the modern Leviathan, 15 Feb 2010
By 
J. Vernon (Surrey, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Thatcher and Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts (Paperback)
In a bookshop my hand hovered over a copy of `Atlas shrugged' which had been strongly recommended to me by a friend, but I veered away, put off by the ponderous size of the book; instead I picked up this book, since it seemed to have tangential relevance to the same themes. I wanted to learn more and think more about `Thatcherism', a political movement which has dominated my adult life. I would say from the start that I have tended to view `Thatcherism' with overall approval, though tempered with reservations and criticisms.

Simon Jenkins is well placed to give a detailed and insightful narrative of the whole movement (if that is the right word), and the level of detail is astonishing. He sweeps from the early 1970s, when the UK was struggling politically and economically, through to the accession of Gordon Brown to power - though the book came out before the current financial crisis. His amusing and persuasive argument is that the dominant political philosophy in this country is unbroken from Thatcher to Brown - hence the title and the cover picture of Thatcher walking along, with eager pupils - Major, Blair and Brown - scurrying after.

He explains vividly the origins of Thatcher's political views, giving due weight to other key figures, such as Geoffrey Howe, Nigel Lawson and Keith Joseph. Surprisingly he portrays Thatcher herself as a timid and reluctant `Thatcherite' up to her second election victory in 1983. Quite rightly, he points out the many gaps between her stirring, stern rhetoric and what she actually did.

The first revolution that Jenkins identifies is the traditionally understood drive to change the UK fundamentally by privatisation, increasing entrepreneurial incentives, reducing the overweening power of the unions and so forth. Many interesting details and trenchant opinions are embedded in this account, many critical. He points out the self-serving untruths in Thatcher's autobiography along the way - such as her later assertion that she always believed in a strong defence policy, whereas the truth is that her government had plans for swingeing cuts in defence just before the Falklands war (including selling one of our aircraft carriers to Argentina!).

The second revolution he identifies is far less positive - the massive centralisation of power and increase in bureaucracy that she initiated. Here her central contradiction becomes starkly clear: she believed in revolutionising the state by giving power back to individuals, but because she thought so many organs of government were incompetent and tainted with socialism - especially local government - she then proceeded to gather more power into her hands in order to effect the changes she wanted to see. She could not let go and be true to her theoretical beliefs. She felt she was the only one who saw things correctly, and knew how to change them.

Jenkins' detailed account of how power was centralised in the Treasury and the number 10 cabinet office - something that went into overdrive under John Major - provides many facts and views of which I had not been fully aware. The argument of continuity of policy under the Labour party government is convincing. The drive for more central control then led to a myriad of `targets' and endless reforms. The increasing waste and incompetence of central government, especially under Gordon Brown's treasury and John Prescott's various roles, are bitterly savaged.

By the end of the book, we have a hideously compelling picture of the modern `Leviathan' which hunkers over our lives today, with a bloated public sector, gross waste of resources, infantile targets, endless inspections/ audits/reviews and higher taxes. Jenkins then brings out his proposal for a third revolution, which is to devolve more power to local government. He makes useful comparisons with the structures of local power in many of our European neighbours. He is generally approving of Scottish and Welsh devolution, and sees great potential in the very local structure of civic involvement, down to parishes and town councils. He likes the idea of city Mayors. It is a call to the revival of local democracy and civic pride.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cutting edge political analysis, 27 May 2012
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This review is from: Thatcher and Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts (Paperback)
Thatcher & Sons is not a history book, though it is a book about history. Simon Jenkins has written a penetrating account of the political theory that has dominated the British political scene for the 30 years. Jenkins' fundamental contention is twofold. First that there were two defining strands to what has become known as 'Thatcherism', and second that her successors, John Major, Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown, were all themselves Thatcherites, who carried through the political revolution that she articulated and set in motion.

The first strand (Simon Jenkins calls them 'revolutions', which is a little over the top) is the one most people associate with Thatcherism - reducing the power of the unions, privatization of parts of the British state, and encouraging capitalism. The second strand was increasing centralization and the destruction of local democracy. In many ways the second 'revolution' was an inevitable outgrowth of the way the first privatizations were handled.

Most of the privatization was actually done by Major, Blair, and Brown - Thatcher's main achievement was to make this possible by destroying the power of the unions. There were roughly three categories of services run by the government that Thatcher and her heirs privatized. The first was a bunch of relatively small services that don't directly impact on the average person, for instance the British Standards Institute and the Ordinance Survey. These were privatized with little obvious problems.

The second category was the utilities - gas, electricity, and water being the most obvious. Utilities have always been a problem. They are natural monopolies, which means you either run them yourself, as many municipalities have opted to do over the last 150 years, or you heavily regulate them. Thatcher and sons opted for the latter, and thus started on an unending round of regulation and the central setting of 'targets' to be met.

Third came a group of large industries, such as rail, coal mining, telecoms, and health. The first three were privatized, each with its own central regulator. Health was different. The population of the UK has a love/hate relationship with its National Health Service (NHS). At one level they are fiercely attached to it, and will fight to keep it. However, the endless waits for, and the dehumanizing nature of, NHS hospitals infuriated them. Thus an all out assault on the NHS was not on the cards, even for the arch nationalizer, Tony Blair. The result was an attempt to nibble the NHS to death. This took the form of a combination of outsourcing many of the non-patient facing services, combined with heavy regulation from the center, not to mention more reorganizations than you can shake a stick at.

Having got a taste for regulation, and combining that with a strong distrust of local democracy, Thatcher and her successors turned Britain into one of the most centralized and closely regulated states in the world. Simon Jenkins' book is the story of how all this came to pass, and a keen analysis of the details. His analysis is the correct one - centralization isn't working, and neither is heavy handed central regulation. His prescription is also, in a way, correct - that we need to return to having services run and controlled by local democracy.

Unfortunately there is little in the way of any idea how this can be achieved. He seems to have the idea that what the national state has taken away the national state can give back. Sadly, that isn't true. Politicians never give power back to the people - for a start they don't trust them. Politicians always believe they know best, and power carries its own insidious intoxication. Local communities will have to wrest back their power and authority from the state, but how they might do that is a story yet to be told!

For all that final weakness it is a thundering good read, from an ace political commentator. Highly recommended.
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Penetrating critique but falls down on the elixir of "localism", 8 Jan 2007
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With this well-written and insightful book, Jenkins confirms his status as probably Britain's leading broadsheet columinist on matters political. Here, he has a compelling thesis and follows it through chapter after chapter, and only the latter couple of chapters are somewhat of a letdown. The continuation of Thatcher's 1980s deeds, via Major, Blair and, most probably, Gordon Brown, is documented well, with judicious use of figures and concrete examples to underpin the trenchant views of the author. The mismatches between the two distinct Thatcherite revolutions are stressed throughout this book, though reference to Andrew Gamble's excellent 'The Free Economy and the Strong State' would have been instructive. Many of the problems and inefficiencies supposedly brought about by command and control centralism (or, in the early postwar decades summed up as 'The man in Whitehall knows best') are exposed here, including some major and very costly failings under Brown's watch at the Treasury. It becomes clear from this evidence that ministerial accountability is one of the hollowest words in the British political vocabulary.

While the supposed panacea of 'localism' does not really convince, we can at least be sure that we are right to be highly sceptical of leading politicians pronouncing ad nauaeam about the virtues of devolving power and reinvigorating local governance. The words 'clutching' and 'straws' spring to mind. Also, despite the post-1997 devolution settlements, the political culture in Britain still seems highly centralised and one fears that the good citizens of Britain are not ready to somehow embrace a localist philosophy as a way of overcoming the pathologies of heavily-centralised management of public services. Indeed, much evidence points to a generally declining interest in political participation, with local politics perhaps bearing the brunt in terms of pitiful local election turnout levels. Central or local, regional or supranational, public administration everywhere is a complex business and devolving a swathe of powers to local councils - whatever their territorial basis - is not necessarily the magic potion that Jenkins, despite his preeminence as an author and commentator, so fervently believes it to be.

A very interesting read, but, as with many analyses of the failings of how Britain is governed, it offers a comprehensive diagnosis, but remains unconvincing in the remedy it offers.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful summary of insane government, 10 Aug 2013
By 
Mr. W. P. Murphy (Reading, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Thatcher and Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts (Paperback)
Simon Jenkins' wonderful account of the Blessed Margaret and her acolytes reads like a crazy parody of the classic TV comedy on British politics "Yes Minister". The funniest and most depressing pages of the book describe the demented control freakery of Tony Blair and his ministers as they attempted the futile and money-wasting task of micromanaging every aspect of public services. Not even the superbly talented writers of "Yes Minister" would have dared to invent the line on Page 284: "...in a single year English schools received 3,840 pages of instructions (including one guidance note called a 'bureaucracy-cutting toolkit').

Almost every page records unbelievable events which might have caught the headlines for a day or so, but are now utterly forgotten. Did we (the British taxpayer) really pay £500 million in fees to negotiate the franchises for the London Tube (Page 262)? This £500 million was for fees - not a penny spent on real trains, rails, signals or stations. Did John Reid, the Health Minister, really appoint 12 'tsars' to help run the National Health Service (Page 318)? Did they have any impact on the care of real patients or help real doctors and nurses do their jobs? Who knows or cares?

The stereotypical view of Thatcher as a privatiser and small government enthusiast is in contrast to the practical consequences of "Thatcherite" policy. Page 260 lists six new government organisations which were created to cope with the Private Financial Initiative.

The book is a sobering catalogue of the results of concentrating power in one national centre, remote from human scale democratic control. No wonder that all the three major British political parties are well on the way to well-deserved extinction. Why play any active role in a local party when the centre has all the power and money and can pursue any crackpot policy free of local influence? Simon's concluding chapter declares (Page 344): "The localist route to democratic revival is plausible." Plausible, in the sense of rational and believable, it might be. Plausible, the sense of likely to happen, it most certainly is not.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A recipe for apoplexy, 7 Jun 2013
This book continues the themes in Accountable to None, an earlier book by Simon Jenkins. The story is one of incompetence driven onwards by ignorance and arrogance by Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown. Two approaches dominate: privatize or centralize. Thatcher's successors were worse than their ideological idol. The result: huge waste; huge inefficiencies; huge centralisation in an attempt to control activities that should be left to local democracies, teachers and doctors. If you want to understand how we got where we are and why, Jenkins book provides a blood-boiling account of how Britain has been mismanaged for the last 30 years. You'll have to look elsewhere to explain earlier mismanagement.

For me the most blood-boiling was the waste incurred by an unaccountable Chancellor Brown who had not the faintest idea how to achieve his objectives. We are talking billions of pounds of tax payers money that were never accounted for. Jenkins titled his book to indicate that we have had the same policies since Thatcher. Case proven.

And still the quest for greater control continues. Jenkins argues for greater localism and a return to local government of powers and funding. In the words so popular amongst broadcasters: "that isn't going to happen any time soon".

Well-written and argued though I would have liked a more numbers based approach to some issues; hard to judge the case with sweeping prose rather than some numerical data.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shockingly good book, 9 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Thatcher and Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts (Paperback)
Despite author being moderate conservative liberal, this is an excellent exposé of recent uk politics. It's an era we need to break free from and best way to start is to understand the errors of the last 30 years, but no signs of current bunch doing any more than repeating the mistakes with an added tinge of the good old British Empire - old Etonians probably not a formula for modernising success!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Politics as they are, 16 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Thatcher and Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts (Paperback)
This is a good book in which the author analyses the last forty years or so of British politics. He takes a dim view of politicians and puts forward his own solution which is a devolution back to the past of local councils. The book as befits a distinguished journalist reads well. It is damning in its detail and should be read by everyone concerned with government. It is depressing to see how intolerant the politicians are of those who disagree with them and also their inability to leave well alone.
One element I disagree with is the author's painting of the seventies as terrible. There is an element of conventional wisdom about this. The decade has to be terrible so as to show Thatcher as being wonder woman. It is rather more boring than that and the author is right in saying that The Falklands saved her.
With this caveat this book is recommended.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quite a devestating summary of the recent political past, 26 Oct 2007
This review is from: Thatcher and Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts (Paperback)
While I really enjoyed reading this account, I found - as is often the case with up-dated books - it fell a little short of putting the most recent developments (i.e. Brown taking over) into the same sharp focus as the Thatcher and Blair premierships. Having said this, I was thoroughly impressed by the sheer amount of background information and detail often quite casually offered. Just to give one example - the money the Blair government spent on "consultants" is abolutely staggering. I wish real insiders like Simon Jenkins would "let rip" one day, and actually share the full amount of insight they have with the reader.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very useful critique of Thatcherism, 7 Jan 2008
By 
William Podmore (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Thatcher and Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts (Paperback)
Simon Jenkins, past editor of The Times and the Evening Standard, has written a fascinating book on Thatcherism which, he observes, is not a style of leadership but a political direction. He claims that Blair and Brown are its `willing prisoners'.

Thatcher attacked all workers and all professions - doctors, nurses, teachers, judges, steelworkers, police and miners. She stripped local government and the civil service of their independence and democracy.

Since 1990 we have suffered Thatcherism without Thatcher. Jenkins shows how Major and Blair continued Thatcher's policies across the board. He calls Blair `Thatcher's most devoted follower', but he makes a very strong case that Brown is even more so.

His Chapter 17, `Gordon Brown Thatcherite', shows how Brown has mortgaged the government's current and capital accounts to balance the books and has sold forward contracts to private firms to supply services through his PFIs and PPPs. The government borrows dear now, workers pay dearer later.

Thus Brown shifted investment in public institutions `off the books', hidden from the public borrowing total, a technique that he copied from his banker friends like Gavyn Davies of Goldman Sachs. The Office of National Statistics now classifies 60% of PFIs as off-balance-sheet. Britain's gross off-balance-sheet public debt was £110 billion by 2003. Brown has imposed on us not just stealth taxes, but stealth debts too.

By 2005, Brown had forced the NHS to borrow £6 billion for PFI schemes, with another £11 billion to come. Less than 30% of the touted increased `health spending' goes to health care. 20% of hospital budgets go to servicing bank loans, far outweighing any promised compensatory `efficiency gains'. Most of the rest pays for the last decade's 60% increase in support and administrative staff, so it goes straight through the NHS and out the other side to private subcontractor firms.

Jenkins claims that Thatcher conducted two `revolutions' - freeing capital and strengthening the state - two aims which he sees as contradictory. But in fact she launched a single counter-revolution, strengthening capitalism's power, in order to defeat trade unions and their sources of strength in manufacturing industry.
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Thatcher and Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts
Thatcher and Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts by Simon Jenkins (Paperback - 6 Sep 2007)
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