Thatcherism: A price not worth paying.


600px-Anti-Margaret_Thatcher_badge,_1980s

Famously, Norman Lamont, Tory Chancellor under John Major, epitomised the care-free Tory attitude to the misery inflicted by an economic shock therapy and recession drawn up in Downing Street:

“Rising unemployment and the recession have been the price that we have had to pay to get inflation down. That price is well worth paying.”

– In 1979, inflation was at 13.4%. When she left office in 1990, it was at 9.5%. For that 3.9% drop in inflation, the UK experienced a staggering 3,500,000 unemployed in 1982, from 1,400,000 only three years prior; destroyed ex-mining towns like Easington in County Durham which still hasn’t recovered and is known as the most deprived town in the North of England; the systematic destruction of communities in Britain like the ‘ghost town’ of Toxteth, and South London suburb of Brixton; suffering, according to the Scarman Report from lack of decent, affordable housing, no amenities, terrible levels of crime, no real educational opportunities, instead leaking roofed schools having to fund raise constantly for the very basics, huge unemployment rates, and the heavy handedness of the Metropolitan Police which the later MacPhearson report labelled as “institutionally racist“, along with a huge increase in poverty, child poverty, inequality, suicides, and homelessness, alongside the unleashing of dangerous financial speculators and easy credit. According to affluent Conservatives, that is all a “price worth paying” for a 3.9% drop in inflation. This tells you all you need to know about Thatcherism and its priorities.

“I know these tax measures will not be welcomed by all; ways to reduce the deficit never are. But we must show we’re all in this together. Yes, the deficit is still far too high for comfort. We cannot relax our efforts to make our economy safe. But Britain is heading in the right direction. The road is hard but we’re making progress.”

– said the Tory Chancellor George Osborne as he announced that a new round of Thatcherism forced upon the British public by a government without a mandate in 2010, was failing miserably. Austerity in Britain, he announced, would now have to last until 2018, rather than the previously predicted 2015, when everything would be wonderful again. More public sector cuts, more people forced to work stacking shelves for multi-national companies who don’t have to pay them, more disabled people told they have too many ‘spare rooms’ and must pay more, more people struggling to live, all to fill the horrendous deficit leak created by the very people who support and fund the Tory Party. We have no money, was the cry of the Chancellor, and the insistence of the Tory Party for the past, well, since time began.

So how strange it is that the Tories, insistent that there is no money to help the disabled, the most vulnerable, the unemployed that they so shamefully threw onto the scrap heap; can find enough money in the public purse to fund a £10,000,000 funeral for an ex-Prime Minister that half the country utterly despised. A woman who once said:

“The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”

…. is now, ironically being given a tremendously over indulgent Socialist funeral, including a mass of Heads of State (I’m not sure if any of Pinochet’s family are invited), the Royal Family, 2000 guests, with full military honours and 700 military personnel. It will be a private affair apparently, paid for by the taxpayer, and not by “The Honourable Sir Mark Thatcher” – himself worth over £40,000,000. A Free Market Party, and a very wealthy family, demanding a Socialist funeral. HURRAH for Thatcherism!

Not only that, but instead of waiting until Monday, when MPs would be hanging around Parliament anyway after recess, the Prime Minister broke protocol, despite the Speaker of the House raising concerns that it was inappropriate to break that protocol for a huge 7 and a half hour love fest. When James Callaghan died during a Parliamentary recess, they waited until the next time Parliament met, for tributes. When Churchill died, 45 minutes was set aside for tributes in Parliament. Not only that, but staging the Tory Tribute day in Parliament cost the taxpayer – on top of the horrendously inflated funeral costs – expenses worth £3,750 per MP. For this one day, plus the funeral, how many people could have been kept in their jobs? How many of the 7000 nurses made redundant could have been retrained?
It’s okay! Shout the Tories. Foreign Secretary William Hague insisted the funeral expense was acceptable because:

“When it comes to money, the rebate she negotiated for this country from the EU has brought us so far £75 billion.”

– Great! I’m sure those who ended up homeless after being kicked out of closed mental institutions, and left to deal with it themselves, will be delighted to hear that she saved us £75bn. Even more so given that a report by the Tax Justice Network into tax abuse, found that tax avoidance, when added together with tax evasion costs us £69bn. The very people she promoted as the great wealth creating saviours of Britain, evade and avoid taxes worth close to the amount she secured from the rebate.

It is of course all part of an illusion the Right is trying, and failing, to create in which Margaret Thatcher saved the UK… and the World, from the evils of people being nice to each other.

Compassion! Is the crying call of all Conservatives this week. What a strange week it must be for them. A Party that have attempted, for thirty years, to wipe ‘compassion‘ from the collective mind, and replace it with an ‘if you can’t help yourself, no one else should‘ attitude, now call for compassion from those who suffered the most under her disastrous reign of ‘me me me‘, demanding they help to collectively pay for the funeral. Irony at its finest right there. I stick by my original point on the day she died, that outward displays out celebration so soon after her death, can only work to upset her family. I don’t particularly care about ‘respect’ for Thatcher herself. But a part of me sees the outward displays of celebration, as an ironic product of a uncompassionate society she inspired in the first place. Another part of me however, cannot condemn the public displays of celebration.

I have seen the quote: “Some policies hurt some, but also helped others, you can’t win over everyone“. How simplistic. How empty a statement. How ignorant. It ignores the extent to which those who fall into the “hurt” category, were actually “hurt“. The deliberate underfunding of mental health institutions in order to give a reason to close them down, replacing them with the cheap and nasty “care in the community” philosophy that saw ex-patients homeless and living in boxes, whilst others simply had medication thrown at them and told to fend for themselves. Many patients were neglected because the closures didn’t coincide with expansion of mental health services by GPs and psychiatrists. So, in reality, cuts to mental health and care. This does not get to be so flippantly written off as “some policies might hurt some“.

But then, Conservatives not caring about those with mental health issues, is unsurprising, given that today we find out that those beacons of social responsibility and compassion, ATOS have declared Meena, a 30 year old with the mental age of a three year old, with celebral paulsy, who can’t walk or talk; fit for work. Atos basically believe she is scrounging disability welfare. Care in the Community Part II. Thatcherism+ . Is this the “compassion” Tories this week have been demanding? The callousness of Thatcherism, is absolutely alive today… and it is the Tory Party, and it is the Liberal Democrat Party.

In another remarkably odd and short sighted statement filled to the brim with fallacies; we’re told from commentators on our TV that people in their mid-20s cannot possibly have anything negative to say about Baroness Thatcher, because we’re too young, or that we weren’t born yet. What an extremely simplistic argument. I hope someone is on the phone to Alison Weir, making sure she was alive in the 1500s, given that she the NERVE to write negative aspects of the policies of Henry VIII. The entire study of history – if it includes negative thoughts from the historian – is illegitimate, if we are to take the ‘you’re too young‘ attitude on board.
The irony here becomes apparent when the same people, many young themselves, tell us we’re only in our mid-20s, then go on to tell us how “Britain was dying in the 1970s“. Or “She beat those pesky unions“. Turns out you are allowed to have a negative opinion about historical events and figures, as long as those negative opinions are Tory opinions.

And how short sighted to tell 20-somethings that they couldn’t possibly be affected by the policies of Thatcherism. In 1986, the mass deregulation of the financial sector, known contemporarily as “the big bang”, an attempt to make London the financial capital of the World. Long term partnerships and personal banking, replaced instantly by a short term, high risk, big bonus carrot with no stick. Partner this with her home equity withdrawal policy, (representing 104% of GDP growth during her term) and suddenly we see a financial sector allowed to get away with all kinds of dodgy gambling, whilst the public were all handed one big credit card. Easy credit, North sea oil, broken communities still not repaired, huge poverty rates, and a dysfunctional financial sector was her legacy. The right to buy, whilst I find it hard to argue with as a policy, did not go hand in hand with new house building. As noted in the Independent:

“More than 1.25 million tenants took advantage of the “Right to Buy” scheme, which raised £18bn and converted thousands of Labour voters into Conservatives – though as council-housing stock shrank, homeless beggars appeared on the streets for the first time in 30 years.”

– in 1989, her ill-thought out housing policy, led to a huge housing crash. Interest rates crippled many. It continues to be a problem today. The housing market is a mess. A cult of home ownership, whilst local authorities had no ability to invest in new developments. Which in turn, led to the exceedingly wealthy buying up old council homes cheap from tenants who made a huge profit themselves, and offer them out at prices only other exceedingly wealthy can afford.

Charles Gow, son of Ian Gow, the Housing Minister under Thatcher, brought up 40 of the 120 ex-council flats in one block in Roehampton. It was the very unsustainability of the Thatcherite revolution in housing, in finance, with regard industry, and it is the new era of ‘everyone for themselves, and fuck everyone else’ attitude amplified as ‘good’, that allows us in our 20s to be able to speak of the effect she had on us and why we do not like it. I wrote of the riots in London in 2010:

An entire generation has been told that we must own stuff. That the purpose of life is to consume. We are given easy credit to fuel the debt needed to sustain an economy and a prevailing social wisdom built around consuming. People who have very little, who are told they will always have very little, living in areas where the opportunities are bleak at best and non-existent at worst, are still encouraged to consume. The materialist mindset that has dominated all other thought processes for far too long, must not be ignored as a contributing factor to the unrest; this can be seen quite evidently with the looting of non-essential, luxury goods. We are what we buy. And that is a problem. A generation of young people have had luxuries dangled in front of their faces by incessant advertising, only to be told they would never be able to afford them; well that temptation exploded and now they can get those desirable consumer items for free.

– We have been made to think that everything policy must please the new invisible God that we call “the markets”. What are “the markets” thinking? How will “the markets” react? “The markets” are now everything and this requires uncompromising, unthinking, unquestioning consumerism fuelled entirely by debt. Those who promote this culture as good, as desirable, who tell us that the poor and the unemployed are ‘scrounging’ or ‘unwilling to help themselves’ or ‘a drain on the tax payer’ are the very same people, like Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke who think it acceptable to claim tax payer money, despite his £60,000+ a year salary, on expensive lunches, and his own personal TV licence. Or for cleaning a moat. Or for redesigning the kitchen in Downing Street. The Thatcherite revolution hailed the beginning of a something-for-nothing culture at the very top of society, that could see the trickling up of wealth come about via credit-on-tap for the rest of the Country. Concentrated wealth in the hands of very few people, is not a positive progression. It cannot be spun to be a positive progression. It is a disaster, and it is all Thatcher gave us. Those who climb the ladder on a well funded public framework, only to hoard their money away in an off-shore account, refusing to pay back into a system that afforded them the opportunity to rise in the first place. But keep consuming, to keep the tax avoiders wealthy. Here’s a Topman Store Card, courtesy of Sir Philip Green, whose company which owns Top Shop is registered to his wife’s name, in Monaco, for tax avoidance purposes.

We, in our 20s can have a say on Thatcherism, because we live in a Country shaped by Thatcherism. It is where we grew up. Eighteen years of Conservative rampant-individualist rhetoric and policy shaped the Country, the schools, the opportunities, the way of thinking, that my generation grew up on. The recession caused by the housing boom, alongside huge interest rates, and poll tax caused my family to lose our business and our home. I am certain this qualifies me to have some sort of opinion on the Thatcher years.

North Sea oil revenues, that account for over 15% of the increase in GDP from the Thatcher years was a stroke of luck, not policy. Market liberalisation policies have nothing to do with the oil revenues, but everything to do how they were used to fund tax cuts for the wealthiest.

Breaking the horrendous abuses of power by self-indulgent trade union bosses is one thing; creating a job market in which job security is a thing of the past, wages stagnate for decades, and a future Tory government is freely able to push young people into unpaid work for any sort of Welfare, using to to show “improvements” in employment figures, suggests that Thatcherism didn’t just kill the unions… it killed the labour movement in general. It killed labour, whilst empowering finance capital, which is just as, if not far more destructive than the unions ever were.

Away from the economy, we’re presented with social conservatism at its most heinous, with that nasty little ‘Section 28’ offering which stated:

“A local authority shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”

– Section 28, I’ve heard referred to as simply “a product of its time” by Thatcher apologists attempting to act as if they can’t be held responsible for the horrid homophobia this bill promoted. As if the context of its time is important. Well, no it isn’t.
Section 28 was not a product of its time. What an oddly selective view of history. It was supported by the church, the Mail, and the Tories. What a vast selection of the population! And the exact same section of the population, who still have massive issues with homosexuality. It was a product of Conservative party homophobia. Practically every other notable political party campaigned heavily against it, it had many big named celebrities raising the profile of the issue, it had certain Tories even arguing against it, one of which resigned from the party and joined Labour, a vast proportion of the press at the time actively worked against it. It was contentious even at the time.

A product of its time, also suggests that they’ve since progressed. Let’s not forget that Cameron finally abandoned his support for S28 after winning the leadership, eerily coinciding with his new PR “Progressive Conservative” narrative, that has sinced failed to materialise. Prior to that, in 2000 he’d called Labour “anti family” for wishing to repeal it, and as late as 2003, he openly support Section 28. The cynic inside me, conversing with the rampant anti-Tory inside me, may question Cameron’s sincerity in his apparent new found love of homosexuality. It seems oddly timed to appeal to a more progressive social public, a way to detoxify the Tory party if you like.
Let’s not try to soften the inherent homophobia in the rank and file of the Tory party behind a creative rewriting of history. Product of its time? Yes, if that “time” has lasted about 60 years, still ongoing, and belonged exclusively to one particular homophobic section of society.

Quick side note: Pinochet – wondrous. Mandela – terrorist.

There is curious paradox to Tory rhetoric on the impact that Margaret Thatcher had on the country. In one breath they tell us she had a the greatest impact on the country of any Prime Minister in the 20th Century; which of course requires long term effects. But if you mention just one of the endless list of negative long term effects of her policies, we are told “oh you can’t blame her for that, afterall, she left power 23 years ago!” if you mention unemployment, homelessness and poverty, they say “oh you can’t blame her for that, that was from the 70s“…. which seems to suggest, she didn’t have such a big impact after all. They can’t have it both ways.
I fully accept that she had a huge impact on this country. Far more so than perhaps any since Atlee. But unlike Atlee, I find the impact that she had to be poisonous.

Perhaps one glaring example of the long term effects of Thatcherism, come from the lips of the Chancellor himself:

“our generation’s inspiration”

– That goes some way to explain what a complete failure he has been.

Long term effects aside, we are now daily made to hear how incredibly popular and wondrous she was, from not only those much loved heroes of the Right Kelvin MacKenzie and Jeffrey Archer, but also the very people in her own Party who conspired to backstab and bring her down. The very people who had her standing on the steps of Downing Street in tears as she left for good. There is no compassion in the Tory Party. Let’s never forget that. Norman Tebbit slyly took a dig at the Tories who conspired behind her back to bring about her downfall, now turning out to praise her on every TV and radio show they can get to, when in the Lords, he said this:

‘My regrets? I think I do regret that because of the commitments I had made to my own wife that I did not feel able either to continue in Government after 1987 or to return to Government when she later asked me to do and I left her, I fear, at the mercy of her friends. That I do regret.’

– Left to the mercy of her friends. What a sad indictment of the Tory Party.

The major effect Thatcher has had on the country, it seems to me, is that a vast sway of the population are quite unnervingly willing to ignore the terrible suffering caused by her neo-liberal politics. Willing to ignore the fact that poverty rose from 13% in 1979, to 22% in 1990. They are willing to ignore that the suicide rate under Thatcher hit 121 per million, only once more, briefly had it reached a higher point… under MacMillan, another Tory. They are willing to ignore that just under 2 million children were in poverty in 1979, compared with just under 4 million by 1990; the ability to shrug off the fact that homelessness rose from 57,000 households in 1979, to 127,000 in 1990; all of that is completely ignored and replaced by a ‘Thatcher Saved Britain’ narrative in which she rode in on a horse, defeated the big bad unions, and made Britain great again! The amplification of the prevailing idea that we don’t need to take note of how a society treats and protects its most vulnerable, is a strictly Conservative amplification. That willingness to ignore such horrific suffering, is a legacy in itself. The 1970s were not working. But Thatcherism was not the answer. It never will be. None of it, was a price worth paying.

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3 Responses to Thatcherism: A price not worth paying.

  1. Carnun says:

    I cannot stand, in any debate, the “well, you’re too young to understand” pseudo-argument.

    “Then you should be old and wise enough to know better” is my stock response.

    Sure, I don’t remember the seventies. I wasn’t around for the time of the Dinosaur’s extinction either, but I can tell from fossil evidence that they existed (and just hope that the Tories and Thatcherism are going the same way).

    I’m 16. Forgive me for reading up on it all – and feeling the repercussions – this early.

  2. Allatsea says:

    Beautiful, clear writing. Your stuff is a pleasure to read. I could comment on Twitter but I am afraid of your sketchy followers. Would have to block them all first! Keep up the good work. And Carnun – good on you – you must be informed to know what you are fighting.

  3. Thank you! I appreciate it 🙂

    I do have a few sketchy followers!

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