Margaret Thatcher – my perspective

9 Apr

When Margaret Thatcher resigned after being ousted following the Poll Tax debacle I was joyful. That evening I went to a sing-along session and went straight into a ragged rendition of Dylan’s ‘Maggie’s Farm’. People at the session had no idea that I had a political bone in my body until then.

This is not meant to be a critique of her beliefs or actions, and it is not intended as a parting shot. What I have heard so far in the media is almost entirely gushing and lacking in any critical review. Her time in leadership was long enough ago for some perspective to be applied to this history. I remember Margaret Hilda Thatcher as Minister of Education. This was a role in which she courted controversy and publicity. She was about to be sacked by Prime Minister Ted Heath when she launched her bid for party leadership.

In all she did she divided opinion. There were those who worshipped the ground she walked on while others wanted to see her evaporate in a puff of un-smoke. I always suspected that her greatest supporters had a desire to be treated like naughty children with her as the strict nanny. Personally, I could never vote for anyone who talked to me as though my dog had just died.

Shortly after she was elected I was working in Warrington and living in Liverpool. I used to commute along the East Lancs road. During an eighteen month period every factory along that road closed. There had been dozens of factories employing thousands of workers. Many were efficient and modern, and had met or exceeded production targets. There is little doubt that Thatcher’s principal policy was to destroy the power of the Trades Unions. She succeeded in doing that at the cost of destroying the industries. The economy was weak at the start of her first term and she exacerbated the problem by deflating during a recession. The effect was catastrophic on industry and labour. Unemployment rates went to levels not seen since the 1930’s and were combined with high inflation. All this happened at a time when Britain was receiving maximum revenues from North Sea oil.

The problem was that Margaret Thatcher really believed. She believed you could run a country like a corner shop. She believed the unions were the enemy. She believed that there was no such thing as society and that we could do without a significant manufacturing base. She was willing to fight for her beliefs with great tenacity and unswerving focus on her goals. There is no doubt that she kick-started the change to deregulation and financial liberalisation. The practice seemed to have succeeded for decades until the financial institutions got too greedy and overreached themselves. This has left much of the western economy in a very difficult place. It was her creation.

There was a time when the economy was at its worst when she was unelectable. Then Argentina invaded South Georgia and the Falklands after receiving mixed signals from the Foreign Ministry. The dispatch of the task force to reclaim the Falklands was a desperate gamble which worked. After the war she was re-elected on the wave of national pride. Her views on Apartheid South Africa and friendship with the Chilean dictator and mass-murderer, General Pinochet indicated her political sympathies. She had a unique ability to annoy people and to turn long-standing friends into enemies. In the end she pushed an unworkable policy too far and found she had few allies in her own party.  The speech she made on entering 10 Downing Street echoed St Francis of Assisi. The words about reconciliation always rang hollow. She was strong-minded but wrong-headed.

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