This piece was written in celebration [sic] of the passing of Margaret Thatcher in 2013. But the awful truth is that by March ’15 the administration of David Cameron had been busily building on and even extending the legacy of this dreadful woman, with terrible consequences for the British people.
Mrs Thatcher was an unmitigated disaster for our country.
Forget the Falkland Islands (who needs ’em?) and the fact that she was a female: does that make me feel better? I could only feel better if she had never been born.
A flashback to the 1980s: countless lives wasted or ended prematurely through mass unemployment, the once-in-a-lifetime bonanza of North Sea oil squandered, national resources and public services put in the hands of unaccountable private businesses, the UK’s ‘family silver’ sold off cheap, black marketeers and the spiv economy, destruction of industries, families and communities wrecked, debts piling up, ex-dictators given shelter, “greed is good”, rocketing interest rates, property speculators, train crashes, ferries sinking, fire on the Underground, football stadium tragedies, social strife, inner city riots, class division, royal weddings, bastards and fornication – all of it soundtracked to ghastly electronic music, robotic dances and vapid videos whose artificiality somehow aptly reflected the unnaturalness of the times…. Welcome to daily life under jolly old Maggie!
People say: “Ah, but she turned things round, she was a conviction politician who knew her own mind”. Rubbish, Thatcher was a grocer’s daughter from Grantham, a humourless, bossy Conservative with a foghorn voice, carefully toned down when necessary by the PR men to project her ‘caring’ image (she didn’t actually ‘care’ at all), a chemistry graduate with a sketchy knowledge of economics, in thrall to the wonky monetarist theories of Milton Friedman, which didn’t work and did untold damage. Almost Thatcher’s first act in government was the mean, penny-pinching move to abolish free milk for young school children. That set the tone for what was to come.
So utterly disastrous were her policies for the British economy that, just three years after she came to power, unemployment had more than doubled, from one-and-a-half million to well over three million. Every year on Budget Day, the sheepish Geoffrey Howe would be wheeled out to say yet again that while the monetary targets had been missed by a mile, things could only get better. Eventually they did: the Lawson bubble of the mid-’80s coming round as part of a natural economic cycle, the result of ‘hot’ money accruing from property speculation (pricing many Brits out of the housing market for ever, along the way) and the abolition of the City’s well-worn rules and safeguards. Chickens would come home to roost some 20 years later, after Mr Blair’s New Labour had become a little too cosy with the bankers, taking their lead from Thatcher’s regrettable example. But in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan followed a very similar path to Thatcher and in the process, turned America from being the world’s greatest creditor nation into its biggest debtor. Quite a trick!
The lasting, deep corruption afflicting pretty well all of us as a result of Thatcher’s ‘legacy’ is the crass monetization of every single sphere of human activity – its worth reduced to a simple equation of profit and loss. So anything you can think of – art, history, philosophy, science, the natural world, sport, space exploration – its only value to Thatcher and her ilk is how many dollars can be screwed out of it. This cheapens humanity, drains the spirit of honest endeavour and sucks the lifeblood out of any activity performed for its own sake. It loses any intrinsic value because all must be measured against the imperatives of the ‘market’. We see the results all around us: the social provision of a modern western state increasingly replaced by arbitrary, random acts of charity (turning back the clock a hundred years to Victorian times) higher education reduced to vocational needs, big loans and debts, cultural events dependent on commercial sponsors, public transport put out to tender to the lowest bidder, hospitals and town councils run by accountants, parks devoid of responsible, socially beneficial keepers, civic pride consigned to the museum – and the media run by wealthy tycoons bent above all on pushing their profit margins.
Indeed, the role of the press in selling ‘Maggie’ to the public cannot be overestimated – Rupert Murdoch’s Sun in particular was writing the script. In return, that vile antipodean reptile enjoyed massive police protection to move his seedy little operation from Fleet Street, the home of genuine journalists, to Wapping, a world of its own which might as well have been an offshore island. As we know, the incestuous relationship between the tabloid press, the upper ranks of the Police and the government continues to this day, the recent phone-hacking scandal demonstrating how deep its roots are, offering the public a momentary, illuminating little peek into a sordid, surreal world of back-slapping, blackmail, bungs and lies.
Arch-philistine Thatcher surrounded herself with bully-boys and sycophants: Tebbit, Parkinson, Brittan etc. Her opponents tended to be cultivated people with a social conscience: Michael Foot, Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams, the younger generation of Kinnock, Owen and Steel – all vilified in the tabloid press on a regular basis – and any of them would have done a better job, since they at least would have listened to reasoned argument, something that the simple-minded, pig-headed PM would not. Among Conservatives, the so-called ‘wet’ members of the Cabinet like Michael Heseltine feared and loathed Thatcher, perhaps even more than the opposition, and they took the first opportunity presented by the furore over the Poll Tax to stab her in the back. Not before time!
The Tories’ three election victories under Thatcher were all gained against a seriously divided opposition and with the slavishly uncritical support of the mass-circulation daily newspapers except two, The Guardian and the Daily Mirror. Thatcher could never have won without the (irrelevant to most of us) ‘Falklands Factor’ and the hysterically jingoistic tabloid newspaper coverage that designated any socialist opponent as a ‘loony lefty’. In ’87, with the opposition now even more divided in the aftermath of the terrible miners’ strike, the deadly AIDS virus was conveniently dressed up as a pantomime villain to ‘threaten’ the nation. Game, set and match.
Yet in none of these elections did more than 25% of the electorate actually vote Conservative – that is, 3 out of 4 people did NOT vote for Thatcher, quite sensibly. The skewed electoral system ensured that a narrow victory in the popular vote was transformed into a platform for near-dictatorship. Thatcher’s defenders say: “At least there were fewer strikes!” (somehow conveniently overlooking the miners’ strike – the most divisive issue in this country since the 1640s civil war) but it’s hardly a surprising statistic, considering so many companies were going bust or being closed down, left right and centre. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bath-water!
The real tragedy however is the vast oil revenues coming on tap in the early ’80s which should have been used to regenerate British industry. Instead they were pocketed by Thatcher’s friends or dribbled away. Neglect? See the housing, schools, NHS, the inadequate transport system (especially the railways) which we still suffer today. London Transport had served the capital well for 40 years: it was broken up (and has since been pieced back together, as TfL). The Serpell Report even recommended closing down most of the rail network and replacing it with buses; Thatcher was mad enough to want to try it. When she agreed to the Channel Tunnel project, she unthinkingly assumed it was going to be a road tunnel, of course.
The Brighton bombing of 1984 demonstrated how deeply hated Thatcher was, both at home and abroad. Bullying Argentina into giving up its legitimate claim to the Falklands is somehow regarded as a great triumph. In fact Britain would have been happy to negotiate them away, until somebody jumped the gun and planted a flag. Thatcher blundered over the future of Hong Kong in negotiations with China, not realizing that the 99-year lease due to expire in 1997 applied only to the outlying part of the territory, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island having been ceded in perpetuity; and the Chinese were preparing to extend the lease. Thatcher signed away the whole lot without demur, and the government in Peking couldn’t believe their luck.
In Europe, Thatcher hectored our partners and stood aloof, resisting closer integration and making the UK a near-pariah in the European community. Some see this as a good thing – but there’s no doubt that for years, the UK lagged even behind Ireland in terms of money spent on, for example, infrastructure investment. (The recent turmoil in Spain, Greece and Italy is not down to the European currency so much as dubious local accounting practices and factors ‘beyond our control’ like the reckless, unlawful casino banking going on for years in the USA.)
History is written by the winners and so whatever is, must be; we cannot alter the past. But here, myth has overtaken reality, and the accepted line is badly in need of revision. When David Cameron says Thatcher put the ‘great’ back into Britain, it grates! Empty rhetoric and palpable nonsense, it’s also ironic, since Dave plans to hack off its head by making Scotland independent, a cynical ploy designed to cut the number of Labour MPs at Westminster. Cameron represents the figurehead of an aimless, amoral, bankrupt government that’s pure Thatcherite. It has no workable economic plan whatever for recovery beyond ‘austerity’ (do they know that cutting from the bottom generally topples the tree?). Austerity means picking on the poorest people in society like the sick and disabled, whilst emaciating local councils, privatizing emergency services and dismantling the NHS, as they always insisted they wouldn’t.
Tragically, we are still paying a heavy price for Thatcher’s egregious follies. Let’s be clear: Thatcher was a nasty, bigoted, misguided, malevolent, reactionary milk-snatcher, who decidedly made the poor poorer not by accident, but as a deliberate act of policy. From somewhere near the dawn of time up to 1980, the gap between rich and poor had slowly but steadily been narrowing; after that, it began to widen again, for the first time in modern history: truly a remarkable achievement.
Perhaps nothing symbolizes the chronic failure of Thatcherism better than the Concorde tragedy. A hollow, antisocial, ludicrously expensive experiment was brought crashing to earth by a fatal flaw in its design that no one seemed to have noticed. Doesn’t that sum up Thatcherism to a T?