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Inaugural Lecture, Professor Paul Corthorn

June 21, 2024
Canada Room and Council Chamber, Lanyon Building, Queen's University Belfast
17:00 - 18:00

Thatcher’s Cold War: The Battle of Ideas

This lecture explores the ideological manner in which Margaret Thatcher, Conservative UK Prime Minister between 1979 and 1990, interpreted the Cold War. While Thatcher’s embrace of the ‘Special Relationship’ with the United States and the overall trajectory of her foreign policy are well known, far less attention has been given to the distinctive contribution Thatcher made to the public argument about the nature of the Cold War itself. Thatcher first used the term ‘the battle of ideas’ explicitly to describe the Cold War in a speech in Ottawa, Canada, in September 1983. This was a direct response to the comment made by Soviet leader Yuri Andropov earlier in the year about the competition for ‘hearts and minds’ in an ‘ideological struggle’. Yet the term also encapsulated the way in which Thatcher had increasingly understood the Cold War from the late 1940s: as a fight against Socialism and state control and for both the market economy and political democracy that straddled international and domestic affairs. Probing Thatcher’s evolving understanding of the Cold War, this lecture casts light generally on her views of the economy and international relations (including their theoretical underpinnings) and more specifically on a range of other issues: the Empire and Commonwealth; the European Community/Union; nuclear weapons and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament; religion; and the centre-right groupings of political parties in the European Democrat Union and the International Democrat Union. In doing so, this lecture sets Thatcher’s position fully in the connected context of inter- and intra-party politics, and the longer-term development of Conservative ideas. It also provides a detailed examination of a succession of advisors (comprising academics, writers and journalists as well as party figures, civil servants and diplomats) in helping to formulate Thatcher’s position.

Paul Corthorn is Professor of Modern British History at Queen’s University Belfast. He has worked extensively on the politics of the Left and on various aspects of the Cold War in Britain. His first book, In the Shadow of the Dictators: The British Left in the 1930s, was published in 2006. He is co-author of The Politics of Consumer Credit in the UK, 1938-1992 (Oxford University Press, 2018). His most recent book, Enoch Powell: Politics and Ideas in Modern Britain (Oxford University Press, 2019), was extensively reviewed in the international press. Paul Corthorn has been joint editor of the Labour History Review since 2012. He is Principal Investigator (PI) of the research project on ‘Conservatism and Unionism in the UK, 1968-1997’, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and running from 2023 to 2026. His next book, Thatcher’s Cold War: The Battle of Ideas, will be published by Oxford University Press.

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Friday 21 June 2024, Lecture 5pm - 6pm, followed by a drinks reception.

The Canada Room and Council Chamber, Lanyon Building, Queen's University Belfast.

This event is hosted by the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics, Queen's University Belfast.




School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics
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Event Organiser Details
Name Lorna O'Connor