Mrs Thatcher’s death renders conflicting emotions. Russell Brand’s picture of a frail Alzheimer’s victim pathetically tending roses in a Temple courtyard to whom one’s heart goes out Remembering Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s Unmaternal National Matriarch contrasting so dramatically with the Iron Lady of political legend.
On balance however, I’d argue her legacy has been a disatrous one for the UK, and, ironically, one that will end in the destruction of all that she herself believed herself to be her achievments. As Piers Storey has reminded us, even Norman Tebbitt thinks the Tories went too far in their pursuit of the NUM (quoted in Francis Beckett and David Hencke, Marching to the Fault Line. The Miners’ Strike and the Battle for Industrial Britain (Constable, 2009), pp. 261-262.). To those who say, “she broke the power of the unions”, I’d ask, “Yes, but to what end? And at what cost?” – breaking the power of the unions was acheived by engineering a massive recession between 1979 and 1981, one that took a full eight years to recover from, in terms of GNP; and which arguably, we’ve never recovered from, in terms of employment.
Indeed Michał Kalecki predicted as far back as 1943 (The political consequences of full employment, Political Quarterly 14:4 reproduced at http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/kalecki220510.html), that full employment would eventually lead to employers deciding unions had too much power, and that they would finally find an economist (step forward Milton Friedman), who would declare on their behalf that the current ‘situation was manifestly unsound’ :
In this situation [full employment] a powerful alliance is likely to be formed between big business and rentier interests, and they would probably find more than one economist to declare that the situation was manifestly unsound. The pressure of all these forces, and in particular of big business – as a rule influential in government departments – would most probably induce the government to return to the orthodox policy of cutting down the budget deficit. A slump would follow in which government spending policy would again come into its own. (Kalecki, 1943)
The return of mass unemployment returned fear into the lives of working people: fear of unemployment, of poverty, of old age – to say nothing of the isolation engendered by the destruction of community “there is no such thing as society”. It also, long-term, wrecked the British economy; & nowhere is that more evident than in the fall-out from the credit crunch of 2009 – the realisation that UK plc has nothing to sell to the rest of the world other than financial services and tourism (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/4929712/Gordon-Brown-advisor-says-City-all-important-and-rest-of-the-country-can-be-turned-over-to-tourism.html). The fact that this brutal truth gets hammered home under a Labour administration is neither here nor there – it’s just one of the grim ironies of history.
But the final irony? The fact that the political success in breaking the power of the unions is leading inexorably to the breakup of the UK itself (as the son of a Welsh father and an Irish mother, I take no pleasure in this, btw, I’d hate to have to be forced to have my nationality reduced from ‘British’ to anything less). But the fact of the matter is that Mrs Thatcher forced through her recession with the support of only around 4 in 10 of the population, nearly all concentrated in SE England (winning share of Conservative vote in 1979 44%; 1983, 40%; 1987, 40%). By her third term in office there was maybe only one Conservative MP left in either Scotland or Wales (there were certainly none during the Major years). The rise of the SNP and Plaid Cymru were the inevitable consequence. Mrs Thatcher’s little England mentality will in the end indeed result in the creation of a little England, instead of the great Britain she so devoutly wished for.
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