As a preacher in a trinitarian religion I like to enumerate things in threes, but I find it difficult to reduce comments on the political legacy left by Margaret Thatcher to fewer than four.
First was the waste of the opportunities created by North Sea Oil. For almost all of the post war years Britain had been plagued by balance of payments difficulties and under-invested in both the public and private sectors. North Sea Oil, which came "on stream" towards the end of the 70s, gave us a marvellous, some even claimed God given, chance to put these right. As an exporter rather than importer of oil we could sort out or rickety economy without the constant danger of a sterling crisis, the royalties from oil production could be used for long overdue investment in our infrastructure, and public support given for technological innovation. Instead the revenues were squandered on maintaining levels of unemployment which at one time exceeded 3 million.
Secondly innumerable public assets, including our gas, our water and telephone communications service, were flogged off at knock down prices to the private sector on the pretext of creating a nation of shareholders (most of the shares quickly went into institutional hands) and the pretence that they would be more efficient if they were privately owned. Building Societies were allowed to "demutualise," and individuals with the necessary funds put savings in as many as possible in order to benefit from a windfall. These formerly responsible mutual societies turned themselves into banks and sowed the seeds for our present financial crisis. The Trustee Savings Bank, which didn't seem to be owned by anyone but provided a safe haven for the savings of ordinary people, was forced to sell itself off. Council housing was sold to their occupiers at massive discounts, leading to the present shortage of social housing.
Thirdly was the confrontation with the miners. For several years the previous government under James Callaghan had been working quietly with the previous head of the miners' union, Joe Gormley, to close mines which were now uneconomic, without confrontation and ensuring that the communities which were affected were supported and alternative employment sources found. It is unfortunate that Gormley was succeeded by the pig-headed Arthur Scargill (though most of his predictions, which seemed wildly alarmist at the time, have turned out to be correct) but with Mrs Thatcher the politics of consultation and compromise were thrown to the winds. At the first meeting of her cabinet a massive pay increase was approved for the police, presumably to ensure that in any upcoming confrontations they would be on "her" side. The miners became "the enemy within" and perhaps the most shameful episodes in British post war history are those charges by mounted police on striking miners. One picture I find especially poignant is of policemen bussed in from outside the mining areas, sitting in their coaches and crinkling their banknotes of "overtime" in the windows to taunt the miners outside. These incidents marked the end of any "one nation solidarity" which had lingered on from the war years.
Finally the philosophy of deregulation, particularity in relation to the financial sector, which the City of London referred to as the "big bang," permitted the use of retail bank accounts for speculative purposes. Private greed became an acceptable ethic, huge inequalities of earnings were not just tolerated but lauded, and this self serving arrogance, lack of morality and disregard of the needs of society eventually lead to the collapse of our banking system and our present economic woes.
As our first female prime minister Margaret Thatcher deserves special recognition. She is to have a "ceremonial" funeral. I hope that when it is televised at least one of the TV channels will provide us with an alternative, the film "Billy Elliot," so that we have reminders of the decency of most ordinary people and the damage which has resulted from her premiership..