Computer Models and Thatcherist Futures: From Monopolies to Markets in British Telecommunications

Jacob Ward*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's 1984 privatization of British Telecom was a landmark moment for neoliberalism. It served to popularize and vindicate the sale of state utilities around the world. This article shows how computer models of the future were central for British telecommunications', and thus for Britain's, transition from social democracy to neoliberalism, from monopoly to market. The British telecommunications network was a key interest in both the social democratic and neoliberal British state's plans for the digitalization of Britain. I argue that computers were crucial to the rise of neoliberalism, both as a managerial tool that simulated futures of free markets and as a technology that symbolized and supported the contraction of the British state. This article traces the history of the British telecommunications system's Long Range Planning Department, which was at the heart of British Telecom's privatization. In doing so, it argues that the history of technology is in a unique position to study how tools such as computers both forecast and symbolize the political power of the future.

Original languageEnglish
Article number763585
Pages (from-to)843-870
Number of pages28
JournalTechnology and Culture
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


  • business
  • industrial dynamics
  • science


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