The New Right ,Families and Households

Russell Haggar

Site Owner

The New Right ,Families and Households

Very Useful Resource: Student Support Materials for AQA AS Sociology: Unit 1: Families and Households by Martin Holborn and Liz Steel [Collins Publications]

For a recent restatement of New Right views from Iain Duncan SmithNew link added October 2017 – Click Here

For a useful basis for further discussion NEW link added 10/12/12– Click Here

For information on the Troubled Families Programme  New links added 19/10/16

Click Here    Click Here    Click Here

For Thinking Allowed on Troubled Families. New link added 9/11/2016– Click Here

For research on the intergenerational transmission of unemployment New link added 19/10/16

Click Here    Click Here

For several more links on Underclass Theory New links added 19/10/16– Click Here

For link to the Centre for Social Justice and Breakthrough BritainNew link added 3/11/2016– Click Here


  • Introduction
  • The Growth of Ideological Divisions within the Conservative Party
  • The New Right , Families and Households
  • Assignment: The New Right, Families and Households


  • Introduction

In this document I first provide some  information on Conservatism, Thatcherism and the New Right distinguishing between its neo-liberal and neo-conservative elements . In the next section I try to summarise the content of New Right ideology more succinctly and then describe  the New Right approach to the analysis of families and households. In the final section of the document I  include some questions which might provide the basis for a written assignment and/or for class discussion and thereby enable students, with the help of their teachers, to make their own evaluations of New Right analyses of Families and Households.



However as an alternative you might like to use the above link to move directly to The New Right, Families and Households and to look at the development of New Right ideology within the Conservative Party after you have studied the information directly related to the  New Right, Families and Households.

  •  The Growth of Ideological Divisions within the Conservative Party

 For much of the post 2nd World War period the Conservative Party was led and dominated by so-called Right Progressives or One Nation Conservatives such as R. Butler, I. Macleod, H. Macmillan and Q. Hogg who harked back to the Disraelian tradition of One Nation Conservatism and were prepared to accept pragmatically  the expansion of state activity ushered in via by the 1945-51 Labour government programmes involving selective nationalisation, expansion of the welfare state, Keynesian economic policies and tripartite decision making. Once in Government the One Nation Conservatives broadly retained these Labour  initiatives while emphasising that the most profitable sectors of the economy would remain in private control and  they also supported the continuation of economic inequality believing that private property was a pre-requisite for liberty and that capitalist economic inequality could best promote economic growth and rising living standards. However they also recognised that full employment and the expansion of the welfare state were necessary to improve health, housing, education and to reduce poverty if the UK was to be a cohesive One Nation community.

Consequently although the Right Progressive/ One Nation Conservatives did of course reject many of the details of Labour policy  it has been suggested that from the late 1940s  to the end of the  1960s a bipartisan political consensus existed between Labour and Conservative parties in relation to the most important areas of government policy.

Increasingly , however, and especially from the 1970s onwards the views of the Right Progressives were challenged  by the  New Right thinking associated especially with the theoretical ideas of academics such as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman  and with their development in the UK in pro-Conservative think-tanks such as the Institute of Economic Affairs , the Adam Smith Institute and the Centre for Policy Studies. Among the first modern UK Conservative politicians to espouse elements of New Right thinking were Enoch Powell and Keith Joseph although it was only when Mrs Thatcher,[ having become leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 ] consolidated her hold on power in the early 1980s that New Right ideas became more influential in government. It is ,however, important to note that processes of government are so complex that it is impossible for any government to be ruled  entirely by ideology and strong supporters of the New Right have frequently criticised Mrs Thatcher to adhere to the principles more vigorously than she did. Nevertheless successive Thatcher governments were certainly influenced by New Right ideology to some extent.

Mrs Thatcher and her supporters were very critical of the Right Progressive tendency which dominated the Conservative Party during the period of the so-called post war consensus prior to Mrs. Thatcher’s ascendancy. The Thatcherites claim that successive Conservative governments of 1951-1964 more or less accepted the policies and institutional frameworks developed by the Labour governments of 1945-1951 which had resulted in the so-called post-war “Butskellite consensus between Labour and Conservative governments from 1945 until perhaps 1970.

According to the Thatcherites the Right Progressive Conservatives had themselves encouraged the growth of an excessively bureaucratic state; they supported economically inefficient nationalised industries at the expense of the private sector and they relied on flawed Keynesian techniques of macroeconomic management. Their  reliance on tripartite or corporatist bargaining processes undermined the ability of government itself to manage the political process; they had helped to destroy individual initiative because of their acceptance of high rates of income taxation which reduce incentives to work, save and invest; and they had permitted the growth of an  expensive, inefficient Welfare States which create exactly the kind of dependency culture which prevents individuals from helping themselves possibly leading to the development of a so-called Underclass.  In effect, because Conservative governments between 1951-64 and 1970-74 had made no serious attempts to reverse the Labour policies of 1945-51, subsequent Labour administrations of 1964-1970 and 1974-1979 were able to push the UK even further along the road toward what the New Right regarded as the eventual socialist nightmare.

Mrs Thatcher’s version of New Right ideology has involved a combination of neo-liberal and neo-Conservative ideology in that as well as accepting the importance of the private market mechanism she and her supporters have believed that a strong state would be necessary to re-establish law and order and maintain it in the face of significant industrial disputes such as the miners’ strike of 1984 -85, to increase expenditure on defence in order to counter the perceived USSR threat and strengthen the role of central government in the provision of state education which was believed to be failing to meet the needs of the capitalist economy. Consequently Andrew Gamble has argued, very importantly, that Mrs Thatcher’s beliefs may be summarised as involving a belief in the free economy and the strong state.

Supporters of the neo-liberal elements of New Right ideology argued that a greater emphasis on individualism especially in economic affairs was necessary to secure greater economic efficiency which ultimately would generate rising living standards for all. Therefore nationalised industries were to be privatised as a means of securing greater reliance on the market mechanism; rates of income taxation [especially the higher marginal rates of income tax paid by higher income earners] were to be reduced in order to increase incentives; rates of unemployment benefit were to be reduced in order to increase self –reliance and restrict the growth of the so-called welfare-dependent underclass; trade union power was to be reduced and Keynesian policies were to be discarded and the goal of full employment abandoned as Mrs Thatcher concentrated on the reduction of the rate of inflation for which Keynesian policies were held partly responsible.

Meanwhile supporters of the neo-conservative elements of New Right Ideology were likely to express traditionalist criticisms of the so-called permissive society of the 1960s and to call for a reassertion of traditional values in relation to issues surrounding the nature of the family, the output of the mass media, the education system, religion, law and order, controls over the consumption of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs, defence of national sovereignty [for example in relation to the EU], the protection of the environment and immigration controls.

  • The New Right: Neo-Liberalism and Neo-Conservatism: A Checklist

Dimensions of Market Liberalism

  • Support for Individual Freedom
  • Support for the Market Mechanism and the Private Sector
  • Support for Economic Inequality combined with Equality of Opportunity
  • Against Socialism
  • Against the Post-War Consensus
    1. Support for lower levels of government spending and lower rates of taxation
    2. Support for Monetarist rather than Keynesian methods of macroeconomic management.
    3. Support for privatisation as an alternative to nationalisation
    4. Support for lower levels of spending on welfare>
    5. Support for the privatisation of welfare services
    6. Support for Private Health care and Private Education
    7. Support for “Quasi-Markets in State Health and Education services
    8. Supporting the reduction of  local government autonomy
    9. Supporting the reduction of  “excessive” trade union power


Dimensions of Neo – Conservatism

  • Support for Traditional Sources  of Authority
  1. Support for the State
  2. Support for strong, punitive approaches to law and order
  3. Support for traditional approaches to morality often but not always related to Christian religious beliefs
  4. Opposition to “liberal permissive society”
  5. Support for censorship to defend public morals
  6. Support for the traditional nuclear family
  7. Support for “traditional” approaches to education
  8. Support for “national culture” rather than multiculturalism
  9. A tendency to Euroscepticism on the grounds that closer ties with the European Union  will undermine British sovereignty



From the above list of issues it is clear that within the New Right considerable tensions are likely to exist as between neo-liberals and neo-Conservatives such that whereas neo-liberals are strong supporters of individual freedom subject to the condition that it must not result in behaviour that harms others neo-conservatives believe that  traditional values and institutions have an important role to play in channelling individual behaviour in socially beneficial directions. In the next section I summarise the main elements of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism and indicate how these important divisions within New Right thought influence the New Right analyses of families and households.

  • The New Right, Families and Households

For link to the Centre for Social Justice and Breakthrough Britain – Click Here

It is widely accepted that the political ideology of the New Right contains two interconnected but also sometimes contradictory strands of political thought: neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism. I shall first summarise the main elements of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism and then describe how these political beliefs influence New Right analyses of families and household.

The core elements of neo-liberalism are support for individualism, laissez faire and limited government intervention in economy and society. Neo-liberals believe that individuals are rational and therefore the best judges of their own best interests and that they should be allowed the maximum possible individual freedom to determine their own behaviour subject  only to the restriction that their behaviour should not harm others. They believe also that economic efficiency and rising living standards [including rising living standards for the poorest ] can best be achieved in capitalist economies based upon high levels of laissez faire and that the economic inequalities generated in these capitalist societies are both inevitable because they derive primarily from genetically determined differences in talents and abilities and desirable because they generate the financial incentives to work save and invest leading to faster economic growth, some of the benefits of which will “trickle down” to the poor. Meanwhile although governments should act to facilitate the organisation of capitalism, the maintenance of social order and effective defence against any foreign aggressors, further government intervention is potentially counterproductive  because it may undermine individual freedom, stifle initiative and divert scarce resources from the dynamic private sector of the economy into the overly bureaucratic and wasteful public sector.

The core elements of neo-conservatism differ in several respects from those of neo-liberalism. Whereas classic liberals are all in favour of free individualistic decision making, conservatives suggest that this kind of individualism is a recipe for near anarchy and that individual freedom, albeit limited, can best be guaranteed via respect for traditional norms, values and institutions. They claim that traditional  institutions and patterns of social behaviour which have stood the test of time must have done so because they have been socially beneficial  which leads neo-Conservatives to support the maintenance or at most only gradual change in the existing social order which implies support for traditional sources of authority, traditional patterns of social and economic inequality, traditional institutions and traditional values. They are therefore likely to be supporters of strong but limited government, the Monarchy and the Aristocracy, the Church, the traditional family and traditional education.

  • Neo-conservatism, Families and Households

This general neo-conservative support for traditional values and institutions leads them to see the nuclear family as potentially an important source of social stability providing emotional security and effective socialisation of the young much as in the functionalist theories of Talcott Parsons. Many neo-conservatives would support also the traditional gender division of labour based upon Parsons’ distinction between the “instrumental male” and the “expressive female” whereby men are more suited to the world of work and females more suited to child care and other emotional tasks. However neo-conservatives would also argue that many nuclear families do not currently function as effectively as Parsons’ theory implies.

Also, of course, neo-conservatives are highly critical of the growth of what they describe as the liberal permissiveness of the 1960s and its influence on personal relationships leading to increased family diversity. According to neo-conservatives these trends have undermined traditional moral values [which, for neo-conservatives are often seen as deriving from Christian religious ethics] and resulted in the creation of unsuitable family forms which cannot fulfill the functions of “the family” which are necessary for the stability of society more generally.

Thus pre- marital heterosexual relationships, the legalisation of homosexuality, the growth of lone single parenthood, the increased rate of cohabitation rather than marriage, the growth of separation and divorce and the official recognition of single sex civil partnerships and subsequently single=sex  all signal for neo-conservatives a crisis of traditional values and a crisis of the nuclear family which threaten the foundations of society itself. Indiscipline in schools, educational underachievement, youth unemployment, social security fraud, vandalism, anti-social behaviour, drug and alcohol abuse and more serious criminal behaviour all derive at least to some extent from the decline of the traditional nuclear family. The solution, according to the neo-conservative New Right is “the remoralisation of society”: the reassertion of traditional moral values which will increase support for the traditional nuclear family based upon life-long marriage. [The Marriage [Same Sex Couples] Bill passed through the House of Commons in 2013  with a comfortable majority but whereas both Labour and Liberal Democrat parties were strongly in support of the Bill the Conservatives were deeply divided with more Conservative MPS voting against the Bill than in favour.]


  • Neo-liberalism, Families and Households: Charles Murray and the Theory of the Underclass

The American political scientist Charles Murray’s theory of the underclass does contain elements of neo-conservatism but, as we shall see, it is influenced also by neo-liberal aspects of New Right ideology. Murray  has  claimed in relation to the USA that an underclass of perhaps 5% of the USA population exists whose members are disproportionately Black or Hispanic and who prefer to rely on welfare benefits rather than to seek employment and are also disproportionately likely to be involved in [often drug related] crime

According to Murray excessive welfare benefits encourage some young women to opt for lone single parenthood and these women are seen as responsible for socialising their children into a culture of dependency on welfare benefits  while the absence of fathers is seen as denying the children the example of a regularly employed male role model who might also be able to “discipline” growing teenage sons more effectively than can lone single mothers. Thus, in summary excessive welfare benefits result in the growth of lone singe parenthood and the absence of fathers from the household and these are the factors which lead to the intergenerational transmission of the culture of dependency in the USA and according to Murray all of these trends are increasingly evident in the UK.

Murray’s theory might be seen as in part influenced by neo-conservatism in its claims that the traditional heterosexual nuclear family with its positive male role model is best able to socialise children in preparation for their adult responsibilities but it also contains important elements of neo-liberalism in its conclusions about relationships between the family and the state. Thus Murray accepts much of the classical and neo-liberal analysis of the state in general and of the welfare state in particular. As indicated above he argues that it is over-generous welfare benefits for single parents which itself encourages the growth of single parenthood which in turn results in the intergenerational transmission of a culture of dependency leading to the perpetuation of poverty

Poverty in this view can be alleviated only by reducing the generosity of welfare state benefits and this view is linked to the neo-liberal view of the state in general which suggests that the overall scope of the state should be reduced so that more resources are made available for the dynamic private capitalist sector of the economy and rates of taxation can be reduced resulting in increased financial incentives, greater economic efficiency and rising living standards for all as the benefits of economic growth “trickle down” even to the poorest members of society. We see therefore that Murray’s theory contains elements of neo-conservatism but that it is also based, to a considerable extent  upon a broadly neo-liberal analysis of relationships between the state and society.

  • The New Right: Contradictions and Tensions between Neo-Conservatism and Neo-Liberalism

There are, however, some contradictions and tensions between neo-conservatism and neo-liberalism within the overall New Right analysis of families and households. Whereas neo-conservatives believe that traditional values and traditional institutions are necessary to restrict excessive individualism neo-liberals support the freedom of individuals to behave in non -traditional ways so long as their behaviour does not harm others. Thus neo-liberals would be more likely than patriarchally inclined neo-conservatives to support increased female employment opportunities [ both for single and married women ] as a means of promoting meritocracy and increased economic efficiency and to support cohabitation, divorce, lone single parenthood and same sex relationships on grounds of individual freedom and choice only rejecting these options if, [as they believe especially likely in the case of lone single parenthood] they impose unnecessary financial burdens on the state.

Conservative parties influenced by New Right principles have had to attempt to find what they consider to be a reasonable balance between the principles of neo- conservatism and neo-liberalism. It has been argued that in practice in the 1980s the then  Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did sometimes use neo-conservative rhetoric in support of the traditional nuclear family but that she was influenced more by the neo-liberal belief in individual freedom and recognised  the practical economic necessity of increased employment of both single and married women, the apparent impossibility of reversing the growth of family diversity and the need to ensure that her statements on “the family” did not antagonise the many voters who did not espouse neo-conservative views. Consequently by the late 1980s Mrs. Thatcher’s governments’ family policies were often criticised as misguided by staunch supporters of neo-conservatism. [In her study Feminism and the Family [2000] Jennifer Somerville provides an interesting analysis of Thatcherite family policies.]

  • New Right Analyses of Families and Households: Some Points of Evaluation.
  1. Neo-conservatives are strong defenders of traditional values and institutions as maintaining highly desirable existing structures of power and authority and contributing to social stability as a whole all of which implies that industrial societies should continue to be organised according to capitalist and patriarchal principles. Neo-liberals are also strong supporters of capitalism but they may well also support the increased employment of women on grounds of meritocracy, economic efficiency and individual freedom and their belief in individual freedom means that they do not automatically support traditional values and institutions. However in practice New Right thought does involve a combination of neo-conservatism and neo-liberalism which means that it does retain aspects of neo-conservative traditionalism.
  2.  Marxists of course would criticise New Right thought  as simply a variant of ruling class ideology devoted to the maintenance of capitalism which they believe to be an unequal, exploitative, unjust economic system while feminists would criticise the patriarchal elements present in neo-conservatism and to some extent in neo-liberalism arguing for example that little of significance was done in practice to improve female employment opportunities during the years of UK Conservative government 1979-1997., a view which Conservative government supporters reject.
  3. Neo-conservatives would argue that in principle the traditional nuclear family can promote both individual happiness and social stability and that the growth of alternative family forms amounts to a crisis of the family and of society more generally. However critics of neo- conservatism have argued that economic necessity and the strength of the factors leading to the  growth of family diversity may well mean that it is now impossible to re-establish the former dominance of the nuclear family .
  4. In any case  the possible dysfunctions of the nuclear family have been emphasised by radical critics such as Leach, Laing and Cooper, by Marxists and especially by Feminists and these arguments may be used to suggest that alternative family forms may in many cases be viable and preferable alternatives to the nuclear family and that there is an ongoing necessity for improvement in personal relationships within many nuclear families if they are to promote the happiness of their members.
  5. Charles Murray’s theory suggesting that excessive welfare benefits promote the growth of lone single parenthood which in turn promotes the growth of a welfare-dependent underclass has also been subjected to several criticisms. Sociologists certainly agree that single lone parents are especially likely to experience poverty but the following points may also be made in criticism of Murray’s views.
  • Only a small minority of single mothers become pregnant intentionally
  • Young unmarried women recognise that lone single parenthood is likely to lead to poverty and unlikely to lead to preferential allocation of housing by local authorities.
  • The vast majority of lone single parents  would prefer too be employed rather than dependent upon welfare benefits which are low in relation to average wages. Some lone single parents may face employment difficulties because they are poorly qualified and because of the relatively high costs of child care not because they are unwilling to work.
  • It is not clear that the absence of a father present in the household necessarily discourages boys from acceptance of the necessity of future employment in preparation for parenthood. Most boys recognise that they can secure reasonable living standards only through employment and that a life on social security benefits is decidedly the second best option. It is lack of available jobs rather than unwillingness to work which is the main cause of young male unemployment and Murray. according to his critics , is blaming the victims of unemployment for an economic problem which derives from the structural organisation of capitalism as a system.


  • Conclusion

This concludes the information on the New Right, Families and Households. You will find out more once you have studied patterns of family diversity and New Right approaches to government social policies as applied to families and households. Meanwhile I hope that you will find the following questions useful.

  • Assignment: The New Right, Families and Households

The following questions may be used as a basis for a written assignment and/or for class discussion.

  1. Explain briefly how New Right ideology became increasingly influential in the British Conservative Party from the 1970s onwards.
  2. It has been said that New Right ideology contains elements of both neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism. List 2 neo-liberal elements of New Right ideology.
  3. List 2 neo-conservative elements of New Right ideology.
  4. Are New Right theorists sympathetic to or critical of the capitalist system?
  5. How might Marxists criticise the New Right analysis of capitalism?
  6. Why do neo-conservatives support the traditional nuclear family?
  7. Why are neo-conservatives critical of what they describe as the liberal permissiveness of the 1960s?
  8. Why are neo-conservatives critical of increasing family diversity
  9. According to Charles Murray what is the most significant reason for the growth of single parent families?
  10. Why is Charles Murray critical of the growth of single parent families?
  11. What, according to Charles Murray , should be done to reduce poverty?
  12. How, according to Charles Murray , can reductions in taxation and in welfare spending increase the efficiency of capitalism?
  13. Are neo-conservatives and neo-liberals in agreement as to the gender division of labour in society?
  14. Why might neo-liberals disagree with neo-conservatives’ opposition to cohabitation, lone single parenthood, divorce and single sex relationships?
  15. Are New Right opinions about families and households influenced more by  neo-conservatism or by neo-liberalism?
  16. Compare Functionalist and New Right perspectives on families and households.
  17. How might Marxists criticise the New Right perspective on families and households?
  18. Why might Feminists criticise New Right perspectives on families and households?