Stuart Hall on Thatcher, hegemony and all that jazz

From an essay in the latest (Sept 2011) Soundings:

One counter-intuitive feature was that, in the dark days of her electoral unpopularity, Thatcher brilliantly summoned to the rescue, not market rationality but an archaic British nationalism. The Falklands War allowed Thatcherism to play, when required, from two different ideological repertoires, with resonance in apparently opposing reservoirs of public sentiment: marching towards the future clad in the armour of the past. ‘The market’ was a modern, rational, efficient, practically-oriented discourse, inscribed in the everyday. Nationalist discourse, with its imperialist undertow (what Paul Gilroy calls its ‘melancholia’, the unrequited mourning for a lost object), was haunted by the fantasy of a late return to the flag, family values, national character, imperial glory and the spirit of Palmerstonian gunboat diplomacy.

Ideology is always contradictory. There is no single, integrated ‘ruling ideology’ – a mistake we repeat again now in failing to distinguish between conservative and neoliberal repertoires. Ideology works best by suturing together contradictory lines of argument and emotional investments – finding what Laclau called ‘systems of equivalence’ between them. Contradiction is its metier.

Andrew Gamble characterised Thatcherism as combining ‘free market’/‘strong state’. Many believed this contradiction would be Thatcherism’s undoing. But, though not logical, few strategies are so successful at winning consent as those which root themselves in the contradictory elements of common sense, popular life and consciousness. Even today, the market/free enterprise/private property discourse persists cheek by jowl with older conservative attachments to nation, racial homogeneity, Empire, tradition.

and see this from Stephen Knight’s 1990ish book “The Selling of the Australian Mind”

Thatcher’s use of nationalism has been bitterly effective Early in her career, she attacked unions for acting against the British people. No British people in the unions, of course: national elision, elegantly done. Later on, with evergreen effectiveness, she played the old Foreign Affairs card for an election on the back of the Falklands task force. Few were brave enough to resist that tide of emotional manipulation. And such deep national feeling may be a positive role in times of great difficulty for some lonely people, with emotions as unemployed as their working skills.
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