Why TINA has Ruled Britain for 30 Years

When contesting for power and afterwards in office Mrs Thatcher had a powerful ally, TINA.  I forget when or in what context she first deployed TINA but her theme: “There Is No Alternative” became for me at least a kind of poster child for her World-view and her approach to government.

At the time I only dimly grasped that something was going on beyond the simple ability to build a policy platform out of opinion poll gleanings so I am indebted to Joe Brewer and George Lakof of the Rockridge Institute for illuminating it in this important article first published back in February.

Brewer and Lakoff’s key insight is that there are two dimensions of policy – ‘Material Policy’ – the familiar stuff of specific plans for health care, education, the economy etc. – and ‘Cognitive Policy’ which is the ideas, frames, values, and modes of thought that inform the political understanding of material policy.

Hence, Material Policy is built on a foundation of Cognitive ideas and the fact that these are often implicit and unconscious only adds to their power.  Thinking ‘out of the box’ is hard enough at the best of times and nigh on impossible when we don’t even realize that we have been put in a box and that the lid has been slammed shut and nailed down for good measure.

In deploying TINA Thatcher displayed an instinctive grasp of the crucial importance of ‘Cognitive Policy’ – a concept which the Lib Dems more than 30 years later still haven’t got to first base with.

Many hated the material policies spawned by TINA (including many in the Conservative Party) but unless they could successfully challenge TINA (which they couldn’t – it requires a coherent alternative World-view and this is not easily derived) their challenges were dismissed as ‘special pleading’ or the like.  Thatcher brushed opposition aside like a supertanker through a flotilla of smaller craft.

Labour was powerless.  After the debacle of the Winter of Discontent it could hardly argue that it had an alternative.  Even after Kinnock had rebuilt the organization and  Blair made the Party electable again there was remarkably little new thinking.  TINA got a makeover and a slight tilt to the left but the essence was unchanged.

For the Lib Dems the results were, if anything, even more toxic.  Already struggling to fight out from under the weight of years of socialist cognitive policy (briefly: big government run by us can and will solve all the World’s ills), this was too much for a Party with slender resources and a too-fragile grasp of its own heritage.  It resorted to a never-ending guerrilla campaign which, although brilliant in its inception, became almost an end in itself.   I suspect that the allergic reaction of Lib Dems to the whole Thatcherite project combined with weak (virtually non-existent) cognitive policy leadership convinced many of them that economics in particular is somehow grubby and something that ‘nice’ Lib Dems should best avoid.  The result has been to challenge for the title of the ‘Stupid Party’ traditionally belonging to the Tories while most the Liberals I have met in the last few years see no reason to join the Party.

The challenge is now to put that right and that means tackling the cognitive challenge head on and not, as David Boyle recently put it: …”falling back on the current combination of inserting minor policy suggestions into the media and then campaigning on empty”.

Fortunately, things seem at long last to be looking up slightly.  Nick Clegg has put in hand the Bones Commission which will hopefully get to the bottom of why Cowley Street has so disastrously underperformed for the last 20 years (IMHO) and he is beginning to say the right things on devolving power, small government and fairer taxes although not yet on the EU.

My diagnosis is, and always has been, that many of Britain’s ills stem from a lack of liberalism in government over many decades, a deficiency that has been particularly acute in the 30 years since Thatcher came to power.  Now is the time to put that right and the place to start is developing a clear cognitive policy that encapsulates the sort of liberal values that our forebears would recognize.


One response to this post.

  1. […] tide became difficult for even the most determined individual and neo-liberalism become the ruling cognitive policy.  A better opposition might have evolved a coherent alternative but tragically, none did.  From […]


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