Tuesday 9 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher's legacy.

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..


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. The previous comment was deleted because of a typing error, not for illiberal censorship. Here is the corrected (I hope) version.

      My friend John Cole has sent the following comment by Email:

      The only point I would add is that the Falklands War was probably unnecessary. Not only was there the financial cost but more importantly the loss of life and the scarring, physical and mental, of those who survived. Let us not forget the "Belgrano", which was steaming AWAY FROM the exclusion zone. If we wish to continue British ownership of the Falklands then there is an on-going revenue cost - the price for continuing to fly in the face of geopolitical reality. The whole thing was great for our national pride and ego but is there not something wrong with the psyche of a nation which has to rely on unlikley military victories ten thousand miles away to maintain its self-respect.?

      I remember reading in the months after the Falklands victory a book put together largely from the letters of a young naval officer sent home to his wife. The officer was killed towards the end of the conflict. I think the book was called "A Message From the Falklands" - I think Rosemary may have it. The book is powerful and poignant as the letters reveal the thinking of the officer
      as he works towards the conclusion that the campaign is futile and unworthy of the costs.

  2. One of the debates about Margaret Thatcher is whether she was a Tory or some kind of old-fashioned Manchester Liberal, as her background and economic policies, as well as some of her own claims and those of her supporters suggested. There was certainly a fundamental contradiction in Thatcherism whereby its neo-liberal economic policies undermined its conservative social outlook. Andrew Gamble's characterisation of the essence of Thatcherism as 'the Strong State and the Free Market' seems to me about right, and of course is far removed from historical Liberalism. Equally much of the time she was at odds with old-style Toryism and One Nation Conservatism. Not surprising that her limited and incoherent vision left a divided Conservative Party and a legacy of economic and social consequences that we are still grappling with today.

  3. This is very good:

  4. And this one from the New Statesman:


  5. This blog by an Oxford professor on the economics of the Thatcher years is also worth a read: