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Margaret Thatcher set Britain’s decline in motion – so why can’t politics exorcise her ghost? | Andy Beckett

MPs on all sides pay homage, while her failures – which lie behind many of the crises we face today – are forgotten

An old spectre is haunting Britain yet again – the spectre of Thatcherism. Although she became Tory leader almost half a century ago and was sacked by her party in 1990, since when this country has changed hugely, Margaret Thatcher still obsesses the Tories. Rishi Sunak says he is a Thatcherite, and so do almost all those jostling to replace him: Kemi Badenoch, Penny Mordaunt, Priti Patel, James Cleverly, Grant Shapps and Suella Braverman.

Most other Conservative MPs remain Thatcherite in their basic assumptions: about the need to deregulate markets, regulate the lives of the poor, pursue aggressively nationalistic policies abroad and fight domestic culture wars. This outlook is shared by many Tory members and voters, most rightwing thinktanks and almost the entire rightwing media. Meanwhile the party’s strengthening rival, Reform UK, sounds increasingly Thatcherite, campaigning against “record taxes, wasteful government spending and nanny state regulations”. Arguably, her hegemony is more complete now in conservative parts of Britain than it ever was during her contentious leadership, about which the right was often divided.

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