Baroness, community charge, companies, company, council, death, economy, Euro, European, Eurozone, house, housing, industries, industry, manufacturing, Margaret, milk, Monetary, Mrs, national utility, parties, Party, Paul Krugman, Poll Tax, privatisation, privatise, public relations, riot, Saatchi & Saatchi, snatcher, social, street, Thatcher, trade, union, utilities
It isn’t every day that a former Prime Minister dies – and even rarer that we witness the death of one who affected the UK in such a fundamental way as Baroness Thatcher.
As I write this, the outpouring of tributes and discussion of her achievements in the mass media are in full swing – mostly concentrating on what their editors would define as the ‘good’ she did for our country. Most of the TV channels and papers are run by right-wingers, of course – so you can expect them to be dripping with adulation.
However, as I commented on Facebook yesterday evening, street parties broke out in Brixton and Glasgow, celebrating her demise (I understand celebrations took place in Leeds and Liverpool, and possibly many other cities, towns and villages across the UK). They had bands, they have people handing out milk (remember, she was the ‘Milk Snatcher’ before she was PM), they were chanting “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie – dead, dead, dead” and popping champagne.
There was a humour – a sense of wit – about it, not only in what was going on (the milk, for example) but also the locations (there were riots in Brixton during her tenure, and Scotland was where the hated Poll Tax was piloted).
But I said it is also tragic “that a person should do so much harm in her life, and be so hated by the people she was elected to represent – more than 20 years after she left office – that her death is marked by spontaneous celebration and, literally, dancing in the streets”.
That comment thread has now been read by more than 15,000 people (usually I get one or two thousand through my Facebook door). A question I posted has received more than four times as many votes saying she harmed the country as say she improved it (47 – 11).
What DID she achieve?
According to Paul Krugman’s blog, it’s debatable whether she achieved anything, in terms of the economy.
“Thatcher came to power in 1979, and imposed a radical change in policy almost immediately,” he wrote. “But the big improvement in British performance doesn’t really show in the data until the mid-1990s. Does she get credit for a reward so long delayed?”
Good question. In fact, her two-and-a-half terms in office constituted an extremely rocky road for those of us who had to live through them (and I was one)! My opinion is that this is because she was not interested in improving Britain’s NATIONAL prosperity.
No – the Thatcher crusade was ideological. She wanted to thrust her form of Conservatism so far down everybody’s throat that it would take decades for any other way to be accepted – and she succeeded beyond her wildest dreams.
Let’s look at the policies that most clearly demonstrate this ideology.
She sold off Britain’s council houses. The cheap, rented social housing that accommodated those of us who earned the least were sold wholesale during her premiership – and not replaced. Mrs Thatcher is said to have had a dream to create a Britain full of homeowners. Sadly, this is not what happened. Instead, the majority of council houses were sold off to private landlords who then rented them out again – at higher cost. The lack of replacement council houses meant that the country’s poor had no alternative but to rent at the higher level, meaning they had less disposable income than before the sell-off. The rise of housing associations to fill the social housing gap has meant an extra layer of bureaucracy between the tenant and their elected representatives, who can now claim that any abuse of power by landlords is nothing to do with them.
She broke the unions. Some say this was vitally important, as the unions had become too powerful and were able to bring the country to its knees whenever they felt like it, calling strikes on a whim – and there is mileage in this. But it’s also possible to say that business bosses and members of the Thatcher government provoked confrontation in order to justify the erosion of union power – this is certainly true in the case of the mineworkers’ strike of 1984-5. There is an argument that National Coal Board chairman Ian MacGregor was paid millions of pounds to engineer the confrontation. The result was that the unions were stripped of many of their rights, meaning working people had nobody left to stand up for them in wage negotiations. It is a direct result of this that workers’ wages have risen by just 27 per cent over the last 30 years, while bosses’ salaries have multiplied by 800 per cent, and the gap between the country’s richest and poorest has grown, massively.
She stripped the UK of its manufacturing industries. What can be said about this? Thatcher saw much of Britain’s private industry as uneconomical, unprofitable. She oversaw a switch to service industries and finance – boosting this with bank deregulation. It is this move, which took place in the USA at around the same time, that led to the financial crisis of 2008 and the austerity measures which the current Coalition government is using to hammer the poorest in the modern UK.
She privatised national utilities. The share sell-offs were, on the face of it, intended to make it possible for every British citizen to buy shares in the companies that provided power, telecommunications, water and so on. In practice, the poorest couldn’t afford it, and those on middle incomes saw the shares as a short-term investment, believing they would be able to sell their shares on for many times the amount they paid, a few months later. This has led to the vast majority of shares in the privatised utilities falling into the hands of – you guessed it – the very, very rich. Another publicised intention of the sell-off was that, as private companies, these organisations would deliver a better service at a lower price. This was a fantasy; it never materialised. Look at British Rail (which I admit was privatised after Mrs Thatcher left office, but is a great example of the trend): Not only do users pay much more for their tickets now than when it was publicly-owned, but the subsidy paid to the private rail companies by the government has multiplied massively as well. Result: Rich shareholders become very much richer. Poor users struggle to cope with rising prices.
Can you spot the trend here?
She changed taxation to make the poor pay more. I refer, of course, to the infamous Poll Tax. Mrs Thatcher claimed in 1989 that a flat-rate tax for local services – with everybody, rich or poor, paying the same amount – was fairer. The public – who had already been fooled by the council housing sell-off, the public utility sell-off and the breaking of the unions, and were therefore sick of being hoodwinked – claimed otherwise and refused to pay. The public won and Mrs Thatcher was consigned to the waste basket of politics soon after. The current Coalition government is working hard to ensure that this policy is carried out, with the so-called ‘Pickles Poll Tax’ – the council tax support scheme that ensures everybody pays council tax. Meanwhile, efforts to ensure the rich pay less are going ahead, with Corporation Tax cut by a quarter during the lifetime of this Parliament, and the ‘Millionaires’ Tax Break’ cutting the top rate of Income Tax from 50p in the pound to 45p.
She kept Britain out of the Euro (or more accurately, European Monetary Union). This was her one sensible policy, history has proved. There is much to be said in favour of a free-trading zone where countries can trade amongst themselves at favourable rates – but monetary union cannot be a workable part of that, when the countries involved are at hugely varying stages of development. Mrs Thatcher was right to oppose it and the fact that the UK is not mired in the current Eurozone crisis, except as a member of the EU with trading interests to protect, is to her credit.
By now, dear reader, you are probably wondering how Mrs Thatcher lasted so long, if her policies were all so divisive, and so clearly trained on impoverishing the lower classes. The answer is simple: She was excellent at public relations. The fact that she was the UK’s first-ever female Prime Minister was a huge publicity boost for her, and she built on it by nurturing an image of herself as ‘The Iron Lady’ – a Prime Minister of firm convictions who knew that what she was doing was absolutely right for Britain (“Right for the goolies of Britain,” as Graeme Garden joked on Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue at the time). The PR-reliance was clear from the start – the Conservative Party hired the Saatchi & Saatchi agency to run its 1979, 1983 and 1987 election campaigns. It is notable that this partnership dissolved during the 87 campaign and Thatcher’s premiership ran out of steam shortly afterwards.
To sum up, I’ll leave you with the comment I placed on the New York Times website, in response to that paper’s piece about Mrs Thatcher’s death:
“Having lived through the Thatcher years and the changes her government perpetrated on British society, allow me to assure you that there is little reason to heap praise upon her.
“The entire thrust of her thinking was to ensure that the rich and powerful became richer and more powerful, and the poor – especially those with intelligence and/or ability – would be denied any chance of prosperity or success.
“What’s the American Dream all about? Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness? Everybody created equal, with opportunity for each according to their ability or achievement, regardless of social class or circumstances of birth? The Thatcher government is a rejection of all those aspirations, as is the current Cameron government, which is its natural successor.
“The Thatcher government deprived people of their liberty by creating a large underclass of unemployed people and using the threat of unemployment to depress workers’ wages.
“As a result, they did not have the disposable funds to take advantage of the sell-offs of national utilities such as British Gas and British Telecom.
“She sold social housing but did not build any to replace it.
“She used the police as a tool of political repression, rather than as guardians of the law.
“She used taxation in a similar manner, crippling the poor with punitive measures such as the hated Poll Tax – a flat-rate charge, effectively a tax cut for the rich, but a huge tax hike for the poor.
“That was her fatal error, of course.”
Goodbye, Baroness Thatcher. Hopefully your passing will trigger a reassessment of your career, so that we can all move on from the political nightmare your policies created for the vast majority of middle- and working-class people whose only political mistake lay in entrusting their future to you.
Brian Lovett said:
Steady Mike, you are danger of becoming “a person of interest!”.
Concise analysis as usual.
Mike Sivier said:
I could be involved in a criminal investigation as a result of comments in this article? If so, British law enforcement will have stooped to a new low. It’s practically limbo-dancing already.
Erica Petterson said:
Please could you explain why you could be involved in a criminal investigation as a result of comments in the article.
Mike Sivier said:
I think Brian was making a humorous comment, rather than being strictly serious. A ‘person of interest’ is someone involved in a criminal investigation, and I took his comment as suggesting that I could be treated as a criminal for daring to say anything critical of our ex-leaderene, Baroness T.
Erica Petterson said:
Thank you for this article. I have read it again and it puts into words much of what I wanted to say.
Mike Sivier said:
Thank you very much!
Roberta West said:
You sum up the damage this poor excuse for a woman did to our country, very well Mike! I have shared. The only criminal investigation that should go on, is what her best buddy, David Cameron is doing now, in her footsteps!
Mike Sivier said:
Most kind. I agree with you about Cameron.
Erica Petterson said:
Thanks for your reply. I misunderstood but with all the propaganda about how much Mrs Thatcher did for the country given out by right wing dominated media, I was beginning to wonder if I was the only person who thought she damaged the country almost beyond mending.
I was one of the people who thought unions were out of control and voted Conservative in my ignorance. I didn’t realise the high price to be paid for that thought. I think the worse contribution she made was to divide people and turn them against each other. A method this government is using now. That ideology which states that some people, by virtue of their more fortunate position and status, are more deserving than others less fortunate, is what put people into Workhouses and kept them there.
Henrietta Sandwich said:
You realised, too late, that you could also be on the receiving end of Tory policies. Serve you right.
Mike Sivier said:
Let’s not have any unfriendliness, please. Erica is saying she learned from her mistake. “There’s more rejoicing in Heaven for a single sinner who repents”, don’t you know?
Erica Petterson said:
No Henrietta, no need for your remarks as I was making a very genuine statement. I think it was 40 years ago I voted for E Heath, so have had a long time to ‘repent’ and learn about the Labour movement. It seems to me that if someone is so ready to jump on someone as you did on my remark, they might be in the wrong camp.
Smiling Carcass said:
This is all I had to say-
Margaret Thatcher- her legacy.
Much has already been said and written; much will be. I don’t intend to go over old ground, repeating what others are already saying. I think this sums it up.
Whatever your views, whatever you think of her and however you view her policies, almost all commenter’s have agreed she divided a country. Is this the job of a Prime Minister; is this democracy; is this a legacy to be proud of?
That monster devastated our valley… It devastated millions, including innocents and children… It literally tore communities apart even to this day and beyond…
The CONDEMS and especially IDSIOT are finishing what it started…
I don’t hate anything or anyone; it’s a destructive emotion wasted when it could be channeled in to better purpose…
Last summer I was diagnosed with COAD after a medical ‘incident’ which was a complete shock… It’s caused by damage from two bouts of bad pneumonia, rhabdomyolysis and industrial related disease; in that, as a child, teen and young adult, I lived very near (100 yards) a deep shaft mine and a coal processing plant (500 yards)…
We all dealt with the dust and my issue with it was picked up by a very good GP who had the time and interest to listen and ask the right questions…
Thousands in mining and heavy industrial communities must be affected and don’t even know until something else triggers investigation… If I could, I’d be ecstatic if the jobs were here… They’re not, and we have paid a heavy toll…
RIP to the monster who took our lives away… May you pay for all eternity with Hades himself as your task master… Charon is waiting, you can jump the queue and , metaphorically, I hope you have his fare…
Phil The Folk said:
You excell yourself Mike, well done! And as for Erica Pettersen..done worry you were not alone ..i was fooled aswell and regreted shifting my vote within a year. I was younger then is my only excuse, and not so politically aware.
Erica Petterson said:
Thank you for your sensible and kind remark.
Phil The Folk said:
You’re welcome Erica…we all get fooled sometimes for many reasons. Henrietta’s response was unwarranted and spiteful! When people are busy busy doing what they do to earn a crust, they don’t have time to keep their eyes on what’s actually going on around them, which is the way government wants it of course. They are comfortable in their little bubble. Thankfully in a way Thatcher bursed my bubble and opened my eyes, and since I’ve sufferred illhealth and homelessness thanks to her policies I’ve actually been in a privilaged position, that is to say, that I’ve been able to sit back and take serious note of what has been going on around me, and my conclusion is that the whole system stinks!
Let’s not forget her staunch friendship with Pinochet. Just because she was a women doesn’t excuse her for her hatred towards the working class.
Nor should we forget her staunch relationship with Jimmy Saville who spent 11 Xmas days at chequers over the same number of years.
I think its high time the victims of Conservatism had something good to celebrate! 8th of May will be a day to remember and celebrate. I am shocked that the government would think I, as a tax payer, would want to contribute in any way to getting rid of her decomposing body though. Surely it would be more fitting to send her on one of the ships sending all our lansfill rubbish to China or somewhere like, along with all the rest of British industry!
Mike Sivier said:
APRIL 8 – not May.
Apart from that, well, Hunter S Thompson always said that, instead of the naval funeral he wanted, Richard Nixon should have been flushed down a river with the rest of the … (I’ll leave that sentence unfinished for the sake of good taste).
Reblogged this on kickingthecat.
To me.Most of our problems started Post 79,when her reign of hell began.I remember all of it.
Reading in the Daily Mirror, the daily death toll,down to people committing suicide through no hope,down to her and Keith Josephs Neo Liberal agenda.Much in the same we as we now have Callums list.
She made many wealthy people more wealthier.And many poor people poorer.Again,much like today.
Pre 79 I could get jobs very easily,I worked in both construction and engineering.And could always find work.Well paid at that.
After she got in,I had long periods of unemployment.As did many others.
People say that youngsters don’t want to work,apart from the fact that work is in short supply.I think some had to mentally adjust to mass unemployment.To think of the work ethic of their fathers,would have drove some crazy.
When you send of endless applications.As I once did when the building trade blacked me.Without even getting a reply it is soul destroying.I eventually got work with a foreign company,that new nothing of the blacklists.We know now,that blacklists were operated.
She represents to me,all that is wrong with this country.The greed,The I,Me,Now as Kinnock put it.
I am glad I am getting old,the Rat Race is getting worse.I despair for my Grandson,I really do.
Norman Walsh said:
The best assesment of thatcher I’ve read so far thank you
It has been sickening watching Labour grovel before the right-wing press yet again and praise that woman and what she did to this country. Labour are still running scared of the right-wing media and will almost certainly continue to dance to their Thatcherite tune if they are re-elected.
Glenda Jackson’s speech was a tour de force and a welcome respite from the disgusting revisionism and fawning tributes we had been subjected to. The way she maintained her composure while the Tory jackals heckled her and tried to drown her out by shouting over her was superb. It’s just a shame that the rest of the Labour party lacks her strength of character, her principles, her conviction and her concern for the victims of Thatcherism. If they did, we might have a chance of having a decent country.
What has been truly laughable and pathetic, has been the right-wing’s sanctimonious call for “respect to be shown” to the deceased and their feigned moral outrage and hysteria over people celebrating the death of the White witch who mercilessly, spitefully and gleefully destroyed whole communities without remorse, right on the heels of them cynically and obscenely using the deaths of six innocent children to whip up public support for the complete destruction of the welfare state. Their hypocrisy and lack of shame is quite amazing and nauseating.
PhilThe Folk said:
Yes, sickening indeed Mike. Right on Glenda I say..watched her on Youtube!
My nearest labour MP didn’t speak highly of her in the local paper,.he was opposed to all her policies. Heard a good suggestion today, which was for people to go to her funeral, not to make trouble, but turn their backs as the procession passes, just as she did on the British people? Also had a great ding dong with a relative on FB yesterday over her post admiring Thatcher. I reminded her of the destruction she did to my life and the country..didn’t realise we were so diametrically opposed, or should I say not very bright. Don’t think she’ll be talking to me anytime soon, but it was kind of fun though 🙂
“Turn their backs as the procession passes, just as she did on the British people”
Sounds like a good idea I would love to see that. I wonder if the cops would try and arrest people for turning their backs? lol
Phil the Folk said:
I suppose they could all ware a facemask on the backs of their heads, so it looks like they haven’t turned away…would that fool the police?? 🙂
Phil the Folk said:
Ahhh just thought..the facemasks could be of Arthur Scargill!!