Had you asked me five or ten years ago what I thought of Margaret Thatcher then I would have let forth a stream of invective and only subsided as my blood pressure reached a critical point.
But now on reflection I am not sure I could do the same. That is not to say I do not loathe every facet of Thatcher’s governments, but I feel we should avoid overly simplifying our reactions to her demise.
I think it is necessary to separate out the person from the politics and the wider consequences.
Looking at the latter first. It is hard to describe to contemporary generations what Britain was like some 40 years ago. Not only in terms of lack of technology, variation or the comparatively insular nature of society back then. Whole books have been written on the political, economic and social legacy of Thatcherism, instead I would sum those changes up in two words, privatisation and profit.
When you look at fragmented British society with its extremes of wealth and poverty that is a legacy of Thatcherism. Where other European countries have public utilities running public services Britain has a range of private monopolies, which yearly attack people’s pockets. Other countries have joined up transport and infrastructure, Britain has Thatcher’s legacy.
Nevertheless, she cannot take all of the blame, numerous politicians, some even found in public life today (Michael Portillo is but one example) were key advocates of Thatcher’s myopic policies back then.
Thatcherism has had a profound political influence in Britain, all major political parties eventually succumb to its ideas, one way or the other. The notion that the market could fix everything, or nearly everything, has been adopted by both Conservative and Labour Party. Tony Blair, was obviously from the outset an admirer of Margaret Thatcher, brought those maligned policies into the Labour Party. This can be seen by the fool hardly and dangerous changes to the NHS over the past 16 years.
But the adoption of manic pro-market politics cannot be blamed solely on Thatcher. While she was a vehicle and obvious face of those wretched ideas, others chose to pick up the policies and articulate them, with the resultant mess that we see in Britain today: scarcely any manufacturing, poor public services, poorer infrastructure and a seriously divided society
Margaret Thatcher was a singularly clever individual, who crawled her way to the top of the Conservative Party. When they had no use for her she was stabbed in the back and thrown aside.
If newspaper reports are to be believed, she suffered numerous ailments, the loss of a husband and serious dementia which is punishment enough for one person
But the other individuals, who articulated or benefited from her policies, have greater culpability.
Thatcher alone was not to blame for Britain’s adoption of vicious pro-market attitudes. Thatcher alone was not to blame for profiteering. Thatcher cannot be blamed, solely, for a financial sector, which is a law unto itself. She, alone, cannot be blamed for the lifelong misery, unemployment and destitution which resulted from her and subsequent governments’ policies.
Many, many others are to blame, as well.
She died as a sad, confused individual. A failure.
More is the pity that the pro-market nonsense she articulated can not be buried at the same time.
Update 1: The Guardian letter’s page provides a fair selection of views on Thatcher’s legacy. Dr J Frank Walsh is probably the wisest, although Martin Pugh is a close second.
Update 2: This is worth reading, Inequality before and after Thatcher: what really happened.
Update 3: Russell Brand has some surprisingly good observations:
“The blunt, pathetic reality is that a little old lady has died, who in the winter of her life had to water roses alone under police supervision. If you behave like there’s no such thing as society, in the end there isn’t. Her death must be sad for the handful of people she was nice to and the rich people who got richer under her stewardship. It isn’t sad for anyone else. There are pangs of nostalgia, yes, because for me she’s all tied up with Hi-De-Hi and Speak and Spell and Blockbusters and “follow the bear.” What is more troubling is my inability to ascertain where my own selfishness ends and her neoliberal inculcation begins. All of us that grew up under Thatcher were taught that it is good to be selfish, that other people’s pain is not your problem, that pain is in fact a weakness and suffering is deserved and shameful. Perhaps there is resentment because the clemency and respect that are being mawkishly displayed now by some and haughtily demanded of the rest of us at the impending, solemn funeral are values that her government and policies sought to annihilate. “
Update 4: Channel 4’s FactCheck: the Thatcher myths.
Update 5: MPs get to claim for eulogising, or something like that!
Update 6: Roy Hattersley is far too polite, but makes a fair point on compassion and Tories.
Update 7: One of the best compilations thus far, 42 reasons why Margaret Thatcher will not be fondly remembered.
Update 9: Glenda Jackson is magnificent:
““But by far the most dramatic and heinous demonstration of Thatcherism was certainly not only in London, but across the whole country in metropolitan areas, where every single shop doorway, every single night, became the bedroom, the living room, the bathroom for the homeless.
“They grew in their thousands. And many of those homeless people had been thrown out onto the streets from the closure of the long-term mental hospitals.
“We were told it was going to be called Care in the Community. What in effect it was was no care at all in the community.
“I was interested to hear about Baroness Thatcher’s willingness to invite those who have nowhere to go for Christmas. It’s a pity she did not start building more and more social houses after she entered into the right to buy, so perhaps there would have been fewer homeless people than there were.
“As a friend of mine said, during her era London became a city Hogarth would have recognise. And indeed he would. “
Update 10: Giles Fraser points out the consequences of Thatcher’s deliberate policies:
“The financial crash of 2008 was largely her doing. In deregulating the stock exchange, tearing down the regulatory checks and balances that kept the City in check, and by encouraging a “greed is good” mentality, she sowed the seeds of a terrible hubris that reached its nemesis as banks had to be part-nationalised in order to be saved. How ironic. “
Update 11: Huff Post on MPs’ allowances and Thatcher.
Update 12: Who can forget Thatcher and the fascist dictator, Augusto Pinochet? They had a strong friendship.
Update 13: This clip from Glenda Jackson is marvellous:
“The 21-page dossier released under the 30-year rule by the National Archives shows Savile’s extraordinary access to the highest echelons of British society, chronicling lunches and personal letters between Mrs Thatcher and the DJ in the 1980s.
They show how Savile curried favour in political circles and was granted invitations to Chequers with the then Prime Minister. Savile, who was invited on the basis of his fundraising for Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire, where it has subsequently been suggested he also carried out abuse, wrote a letter of effusive thanks to Mrs Thatcher after one lunch in 1981. Written on headed notepaper featuring a picture of himself and advertising a charity run completed two years earlier, Savile wrote: “My girl patients pretended to be madly jealous and wanted to know what you wore and what you ate. All the paralysed lads called me ‘Sir James’ all week. They all love you. Me too!!” “
Update 15: This has a certain grim humour, Margaret Thatcher’s Funeral: Her 9 Friends Who Sadly Won’t Be Able To Make It.
Update 16: Apparently, Thatcher has inspired one aspect of popular culture. The song ‘Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead’ has almost reached number 1, or so the Indy reports:
“Lady Thatcher’s death could propel The Wizard Of Oz track “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead to the top of the charts.
Those who saw her death as a cause for celebration have prompted a download surge for the track.
Within 48 hours of the former Prime Minister’s death, the song has entered the official UK chart at number 10.
It is expected to climb higher as a result of a Facebook campaign being set up to encourage sales.
The Facebook group, encouraging people to download the “Witch” song to get it to number one, already had 664 members and was originally set up back in July 2007.
The BBC said it would decide whether to play Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead during Radio 1’s top 40 countdown when places are finalised this weekend.”
Update 17: New Yorker’s Neruda, Pinochet, And The Iron Lady is interesting:
“In 1980, the year after Thatcher took office, she lifted the arms embargo against Pinochet; he was soon buying armaments from the United Kingdom. In 1982, during Britain’s Falklands War against Argentina, Pinochet helped Thatcher’s government with intelligence on Argentina. Thereafter, the relationship became downright cozy, so much so that the Pinochets and his family began making an annual private pilgrimage to London. During those visits, they and the Thatchers got together for meals and drams of whiskey. In 1998, when I was writing a Profile of Pinochet for The New Yorker, Pinochet’s daughter Lucia described Mrs. Thatcher in reverential terms, but confided that the Prime Minister’s husband, Dennis Thatcher, was something of an embarrassment, and habitually got drunk at their get-togethers. The last time I met with Pinochet himself in London, in October, 1998, he told me he was about to call “La Señora” Thatcher in the hopes she could find time to meet him for tea. A couple of weeks later, Pinochet, still in London, found himself under arrest, on the orders of Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón. During Pinochet’s prolonged quasi-detention thereafter, in a comfortable home in the London suburb of Virginia Water, Thatcher showed her solidarity by visiting him. There, and in front of the television cameras, she expressed her sense of Britain’s debt to his regime: “I know how much we owe to you”—for “your help during the Falklands campaign.” She also said, “It was you who brought democracy to Chile. “
Update 18: Mehdi Hasan asks the question,Was Thatcher a ‘Champion of Freedom and Democracy’? Don’t. Be. Silly:
“Forget the row over who gets credit for the fall of the Soviet Union – Mikhail Gorbachev or Reagan and Thatcher. If (wo)man is judged by the company (s)he keeps, then Thatcher – self-professed friend to generals Pinochet, Suharto and Zia, ally of Saddam Hussein, admirer of the Saudi royals, soft on apartheid – must be judged a champion of despotism and dictatorship, not of freedom or liberty. The historical record is so clear and indisputable that to believe otherwise is wilful blindness. “
Update 19: Hansard has Glenda Jackson’s speech. Her summing up of Thatcherism as essentially “selfishness [and] sharp elbows” is something which can not be said often enough:
“In coming to the basis of Thatcherism, I come to the spiritual part of what I regard as the desperately wrong track down which Thatcherism took this country. We were told that everything I had been taught to regard as a vice—and I still regard them as vices—was, in fact, under Thatcherism, a virtue: greed, selfishness, no care for the weaker, sharp elbows, sharp knees, all these were the way forward. We have heard much, and will continue to hear over next week, about the barriers that were broken down by Thatcherism, the establishment that was destroyed.”
Update 20: Mike Sivier’s post is simply superb and his graphics deserves a wider audience:
Update 21: Left Foot Forward reminds us, Thatcherism saw child poverty grow by 121 per cent.
Update 22: Bonnie Greer makes an intelligent and critical comment on Thatcherism that most of us had missed:
“The irony of it all is that Thatcherism was among the forces -not solely – that destroyed the theatre that trained Glenda. In her day it was possible to get a grant to attend RADA, for example. Grants for higher education are now gone. This is affecting one of the industries that Britain is without equal in the world. The majority of the great British actors/actresses from the recent past and now trained or were educated in the subsidized sector. Now that this is largely gone…”
Update 23: Iain Macwhirter looks at Scotland and Thatcher:
“No prime minister in history, Labour or Conservative, has generated so such hostility for so long from so many in Scotland. Almost from the moment that Thatcher entered N0 10 in 1979, the Scottish Tories went into a tailspin from which they never recovered. They were wiped out in the 1997 general election and to this day there is still only one Scottish Tory MP in the whole of Scotland, the moleish David Mundell. Had it not been for the proportionately elected Scottish Parliament – which the Tories, naturally, opposed – Scottish Conservatism might have disappeared altogether, along with the Communist Party and the old Scottish Progressives. And it was all down to Margaret Thatcher’s unique political personality.
Thatcher was a sincere Unionist who thought she understood the Scots, and that they would eventually come round. Her enduring legacy, however, may be the disintegration of the British state she loved. “
Update 24: Sturdy Alex is precise:
“Saying she was the greatest ever Prime Minister, is not a personal eulogy. It is a political comment on the course of action she pursued while in post. It is not disrespectful to point out that not everyone feels this way. That the parking of millions on sick benefit was a cruel act, the consequences of which reverberate in today’s welfare debate. That the decimation of entire mining communities is directly related to the current discussion of “problem families that have not worked for [insert dramatic number] generations”. That her claim of turning the City into “the financiers of the world” has a direct impact on the magnitude of the 2008 financial crisis with which we still struggle. That her selling off of utility companies gave birth to current discontent about energy companies profiteering and fuel poverty. That her imposition of the poll tax on Scotland a year earlier than the rest of the UK revitalised today’s appetite for an independence referendum. That her attitude to Europe set the deeply adversarial tone with which every subsequent administration has had to contend. That the sinking of the Belgrano was seen by much of the rest of the world as needless loss of life, rather than patriotic act of defiance, and the hostility it engendered is one of the obstacles to forming close trade relations with the developing economies of Latin America.”
“Geoffrey Howe proposed massaging unemployment figures to keep the figure below 3m as jobless levels grew to almost three times that of the Winter of Discontent two years earlier.
In a series of exchanges with Margaret Thatcher, Mr Howe, then chancellor, proposed 2.9m as the unemployment forecast for 1982-3, while admitting the Treasury’s actual figures suggested it would be 3.1m-3.2m.
“Obviously we should prefer to avoid publishing … a figure of over 3m,” he said, adding that 2.9m was the lowest figure they could publish and still remain “credible”.
He exercised similar creativity with the inflation forecast, proposing 10 per cent, even though that was “at the bottom end” of the Treasury’s internal forecasts. “
Update 26: The Ballots and Bullets blog has a large selection of Margaret Thatcher related material.
Update 27: Mark Steel is funny and to the point:
“Before long came the complaints, such as Tony Blair saying: “Even if you disagree with someone very strongly, at the moment of their passing you should show some respect.” Presumably then, when Bin Laden was killed, Blair’s statement was: “Although I didn’t agree with Osama’s policies, he was a conviction terrorist, a colourful character whose short films were not only fun but educational as well. He will be sadly missed.”
The disrespect was inevitable, as millions were opposed to her not because they disagreed with her, but because she’d helped to ruin their lives. If someone robs your house, you don’t say: “I disagreed with the burglar’s policy, of tying me to a chair with gaffer tape and stripping the place bare, even taking the pickled onions, which I consider to be divisive. But I did admire his convictions.” “
Update 28: A reminder of Thatcherite nepotism:
“His departure in 1984 followed the first of what were to be many scrapes. A career as a would-be rally driver ended when he got lost in the Sahara desert, and had to be rescued at considerable expense. Then, following a political scandal, it was decided by the then prime minister’s PR advisers that Mark would do well to leave the country.
He had been exposed by the Observer for trading on his mother’s name in the Middle East, over a contract to build a £300m university in Oman. A company controlled by construction magnate Victor Matthews employed Mark Thatcher as a secret consultant, who would get a large commission if the firm landed the contract. He travelled to the British client state of Oman to join his mother, who was on an official mission there. She strenuously lobbied the sultan to award a building contract to her son’s firm, Cementation Ltd.
Her behaviour caused such concern to diplomats that it leaked back in London. In the ensuing political uproar, Mrs Thatcher was unable to deny that she had been well aware of the way her son stood to gain from her conflict of interest. She beat down opposition, however, by claiming she was “batting for Britain”. “
Update 29: Colin Fitzpatrick recalls Thatcherism:
“In the early part of Thatcher’s reign I worked in the engineering industry on Merseyside, the jobs disappeared, I left engineering but was a fish out of water for 20 years. One evening in Liverpool I witnessed a sight that will be with me to my dying day. Miners came knocking on the doors of the people of Huyton, a place in the outskirts of the City of Liverpool. Proud working men, gaunt with hunger and with their families and communities being starved out in Thatcher’s “Great Britain” were forced to knock on the doors of strangers for food. At that moment I knew I’d never even consider voting for a party that inflicted such misery on human beings and almost 30 years later their faces remain indelibly etched on the minds of those that helped. Thatcher left the North of England and Scotland to managed decline, her policies were divisive and she created conflict at home and in Ireland with bombing after bombing. Her own kind couldn’t wait to get rid of her yet they now fall over themselves in fake admiration; we all know what she was. “