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Are you a Thatcherite?

Will Hodges examines the significance of the Iron Lady and her policies for today's young people

David Cameron's television sound-byte, "We are all Thatcherites now" was catchy, but it might have caused some confusion for those who were very young, or perhaps not even born, when the former prime minister left office. So what does being a Thatcherite actually mean?

Broadly speaking, a Thatcherite can be defined as someone who believes in free markets, a small state, low taxes and a strong private sector, and it's an ethos that's very much in vogue in global politics right now, from the coalition's emphasis on "big society", to the current efforts of European politicians to rework what some might say are outdated economies into more flexible and globally competitive models.

The good, the bad and the ugly

So what influence, if any, has the Iron Lady's brand of politics had on today's young people? Two students I spoke to at a boarding school on the outskirts of Oxford were keen to offer their views on what Thatcher meant to them.

"Everyone studying economics learns about Margaret Thatcher from day one," says Joe, currently in the Upper Sixth and hoping to study business at university. "She's seen as controversial but generally as having done a lot of good for the economy at a time when things were in pretty bad shape."

Stewart, also studying economics, offers an alternative view. "My parents grew up near Liverpool during the 1970s and 1980s and have no time for Margaret Thatcher. While people in the south were getting rich, lots of families were out of work and struggling to survive," he explains.

Generation hexed?

But, to return to today, what will the coalition's brand of Thatcherism mean for these young people's job prospects? There were some benefits to Thatcher's economic reforms, but it's worth remembering that her leadership coincided with one of the worst periods of unemployment in the post-war era. And the coming years, with the public sector cuts beginning to take effect, will be testing ones for graduates seeking work.

Joe, however, seems optimistic. "I've always had plans to run my own business and the coalition seem determined to help people to do that. My parents worked for themselves, and it's partly thanks to Thatcher's policies [her government cut corporation tax and removed red tape around starting a company] that they were able to."

But Stewart says, "it's a daunting prospect being young right now. They say the cuts are only to public sector enterprise, but there a lot of companies that relay on the state for support and stand to be affected. I'd consider staying on at university until things improve, but now with the top-up fees that's no longer a realistic option."

So being a Thatcherite might not be as in vogue as Mr Cameron would have us believe, it seems. One thing is clear, however: despite her passing, the Iron Lady continues to make her presence felt.

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