Majestic Maggie?

April 14, 2013 5:06 pm

King Charles iMargret Thatcher. The only political leader in Britain whose time in office is automatically referred to as a “reign”. Her time in office can be considered akin to the 11 years of tyranny to rival that of Charles 1st, the last UK monarch to wield real executive power. Like the intrepid King, Thatcher repeatedly acted outside of the advice and support of parliament, large segments of the public, and even her own party. Both embroiled their people in some questionable conflicts overseas and had inflammatory relations with Ireland. Extremely unfair and unpopular taxes were implemented on the command of each, as were the attempts to destroy any institutions with the potential to oppose their power. Much as Charles stuck fast to his faith in “the divine right of Kings”; Thatcher, despite dramatic declines in her popularity, refused to give up her position of power. With infamous “Iron Will”, she continued to operate and implement the ideology SHE believed to be right – however unpopular. In both cases, their persistent unruliness and refusal to acknowledge the failings of their economic and social policies, eventually led to a desertion of support even from within their own ranks. The dramatic nature of their consecutive falls from grace has immortalised both figures in the history of British society. In the case of Thatcher, however, the wounds are still raw. The legacy of grievances committed under her reign, much like Civil War grudges, will permeate views of the British people for years to come and divides the country as much now as ever.

However, portrayal of Thatcher as a milk-robbing, society smashing dictator is perhaps unfair and certainly exaggerated. To claim she acted against the will of the people, when so many individuals elected, re-elected and – oh would you look at that – elected again to have her as their leader is somewhat nonsensical. However much you, or more likely your father/mother/grandparent may have disagreed with her policies; we can’t deny that Thatcher was in power in a democratic country. She had the support of a significant enough section of the public to be able to implement those laws, and certainly made no secret of the political ideology she was going to champion. Furthermore, Thatcher was educated and given a position of power during a period when the neo-liberal rhetoric was championed as a fundamental truth by the greatest economic theorists around. Thatcher, suffered just one parliamentary defeat whilst in power, on Sunday Trading Laws, demonstrating the extent to which her approach was embraced by the political, and public, realms at the time. Equally, although cries of “milk-snatcher” will likely echo around debates on her politics for years to come; were someone to suggest the re-introduction of 11am milk in primary schools, they’d likely be laughed out of the Lords. Indeed, there has been no major drive – from Labour, Tory, or Coalition governments – since to reverse the legacies of Thatcherism and the Iron Lady ceased to have an active influence on politics well over two decades ago.

Doubtlessly, Thatcher’s ministerial era initiated a series of policies, initiatives, and ideologies, which have fundamentally altered the nature and infrastructure of British society. Her close ties with Regan formed that “special bond” with the USA, a friendship with the playground bully, which has its own connotations for how the UK is perceived internationally. The destruction of Trade Unions, privatisation of industries, sale of council houses, and multiple other neo-liberal policies revolutionised the UK into the market based economy that we experience today. The de-regulation of the banks, in the context of the modern financial crisis, and ever-increasing income inequalities of modern Britain can be (and frequently are) attributed to the impact of Thatcherism, and the anger of union strikers vibrates as violently now as it did then.

Thatcher’s legacies will continue to have as yet untold impacts on the future direction of our nation. Debate, discussion, and criticism of
Thatcher’s policies and approach to governance is not only acceptable, but essential, in order for us to evaluate, change, and move on. We can learn from mistakes, and successes, made under Thatcher if we choose to, and her death may have led to a valuable re-assessment by society of what it wants and believes in. Our government is currently 50% Conservative, and many of the policies started by Thatcher are very much still being promoted. Our banks, despite a financial crisis, remain unregulated; income inequality is at its highest since the 1920s; benefits and cuts on welfare spending are hitting hard the most vulnerable in society; and sneaky little bits of legislation are slowly moving us towards an eventual privatisation of our one remaining social institution; the NHS! Given the amount of anger and resentment the memory of Thatcher is able to spark, one would hope that society will convert some of that energy into a re-evaluation of what it is we want from our government, and how we want to be remembered as a society. We have the power and opportunity to influence the politics of today, the death of the woman who denied its existence, could be the catalyst for “Society” to remember its responsibility to itself.

Daily-Mirror-front-page--Thatcher-dies-1820712

What is not right, or excusable, is to celebrate and revel in the event of Thatcher’s death. The very fact that anyone could think it is appropriate to greet the news of someone’s death, whatever they thought of them, with celebration and champagne is disturbing in itself. That so many people have organised and participated in Thatcher “death parties”, and the poor taste in which they have been held is a discredit to society and paints a very poor image of British people. Hate her policies, hate her legacy, hate her ideology; hate her as she was when Prime Minister of Britain! But don’t lower yourself to revel in what is in essence the death of a frail defenseless old lady. The woman who was in power, who either “saved” or “savaged” British society, long since departed from the reality of the Thatcher who saw out her last days without her husband, sickening, and suffering from dementia. Historical figureheads who were controversial will always spark debate, conflicting views, and criticism; but the reality of who they were is something only the individual themselves can know. Valuable though remembering and evaluating the past can be, it’s empty if not used to improve the future.

History can be re-written. History is open to interpretation. History can be learnt from (if we choose to take the lesson). But History, essentially, is History. Today, a family is grieving. Whatever she was to you, Margret Thatcher, the mother, the friend, the vulnerable little old lady, that is the person who has died and that is not a cause for celebration.

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  • DavidL

    DavidB

  • DavidL

    Nicely balanced Ella. I do have one point to add to your discussion though. Before Mrs T came to power the decline in Britain’s heavy industrial base was already well under way.
    For instance more mining jobs had already been lost before her first term in office than in the three terms she had. That is often forgotten when Mrs T is accused of single-handedly destroying that industry and others! The simple truth which her political opponents chose to ignore was that it was possible to produce coal, iron & steel and ships cheaper elsewhere in the world than here in Britain due to the cheaper labour costs in other countries like Japan, Poland etc. So Britain’s decline in those areas was completely inevitable unless we had Government’s that chose to spend our taxes on increasingly huge subsidies to prop them up. She determined not to do this and was opposed by the likes of Arthur Scargill who tried to hold the country to ransom by strikes.
    The previous socialist governments were too close to and in fear of the unions to make the necessary changes to this country to make us competitive. She did this, and although it must have been a horrible time if you were employed in one of those industries, it was inevitable and entirely right that she did, if Britain was not to go bust.[which it nearly had done]
    In my humble view, the unpopular mistake her Government made was in not providing enough backup support for those who were made redundant at that time. Her government’s moves to readjust our economy into the modern industries where we could compete might have been even more successful if greater help and incentive had been given to those areas which had suffered the most from the decline of coal, steel and shipbuilding. However there is no doubt that her actions to readjust our old uncompetitive industrial base were necessary.

    • David Malawi

      Couldn’t have said it better myself David – thank you for this. And good article Ella, I respect your stating that those celebrating her death are in the wrong.

  • ChrisRobinson

    Yes, those industries were in decline. They were nationalised but headed by, in many cases, by their former private owners but certainly by managers and boards of directors who completely refused to invest and modernise industrial plant on a par with, say, Germany’s. The Labour governments wh owere responsible for nationalisation did not do so on a genuine socialist basis. They did not implement democratic control by the people who actually worked in the industries! Hence those industries were purposely run down which gave them the excuse to close them down. By the time Thatcher came to power, she was determined to speed this process up which threw people into unemployment whereas at least the Labour governments attempted to find work for people elsewhere. Her brief was to de-industrialise Britain to weaken the unions and lower wages. She wanted our economy to be based on the specualtion of the City of London by de-regulating the banks, a policy continued by the Blair/Brown governments. The results of which we see today.

    Now, instead of using our taxes to invest in manufacturing, they are used to ‘prop up’ the millionaires and the very bankers who neasarly bankrupted us while they still award themselves obscene bonuses. Proper investment would slash unemployment, thus cutting the benefit bills AND creating more tax payers. Her policies, and those of all her successors, were wrong.

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