Monday, April 08, 2013

Thoughts on the death of Margaret Thatcher

My Liberalism grew out of a distaste for East Midland small-town Toryism, so I was not delighted when that creed took over the country in 1979. Yet today I find myself rather sad at the death of Margaret Thatcher.
Perhaps it is because it has made me aware of the passing of time. My own activist years took place mainly while she was prime minister and it all seems a long time ago now.

And in part it must be because Margaret Thatcher – our first woman prime minister and liberator of the Falklands from Fascism – wrote herself into history in a way that only Churchill and Lloyd George also managed in the 20 century.

Besides, two of the beliefs held by those who are crowing at Thatcher’s death are quite mistaken.
The first is the idea that Britain in the 1970s was an Eden of neighbourliness and public spirit which her policies trashed. I don’t remember it quite like that. In particular, one of the reasons that she won in 1979 was because many British voters had come to see the Labour movement as selfish. What came next may have been worse, but we should not rewrite history because of it.

The second false belief is that the changes of the 1980s were wholly the product of Margaret Thatcher’s wickedness. Yet as time passes we see more clearly that many of those changes were inevitable and happened in countries with very different leaders.

To argue that the post-war economy of steel and coal would still be thriving but for Thatcher is nonsense. Coal mining could have been run down more humanely, though Arthur Scargill bears a share of the responsibility for the conflict that ensued, but it would still have run down under any government.
Incidentally, those who were most angry at the run down of coal tend to be the same people who are now most exercised by global warming. Yet that run down of coal is the only reason Britain is anywhere meeting its carbon reduction targets, and that is an irony with which these people have yet to come to terms.

Of course there was much to deplore in the Thatcher years – the rise of Rupert Murdoch, the more partisan tone of public life. Yet those are precisely the elements of her legacy that Labour was happy to keep in place.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice


Democracy Man said...

Not being a Conservative I have never been able to get my head around why they so idolised her. It’s like me being a railway enthusiast trying to understand why some folks thought Beeching was doing us a favour by closing many of our railways.

Frankly, I saw Margaret Thatcher as being a negative influence on our society. Yes, OK I am from Nottinghamshire mining stock so you could say I have an axe to grind but even putting that prejudice to one side I just saw her as a divisive figure who seemed to be promoting a view of the world which on one level you could say was playing to our most self-interested instincts.

It also has to be said that her government started what I see as the start of the decline in our financial institutions via the demutualisation of our building societies. This move, which seemed to symbolise greed over sensible management of savings, played very much to our more selfish instincts as we gained and then sold shares in mutual institutions that subsequently were either taken over by big banks or went bust because they were no longer managed well.

Sadly, instead of being able to celebrate our first female Prime Minister I really do wonder whether she helped to lay the foundations for our seemingly more selfish society.

John Holt said...

Margaret Thatcher and her supporters had a vision and she had the drive and ability to implement it. What followed has been mediocrity.

Her reign ended after the "Lawson Boom" a debt fuelled housing and stock market bubble. Frankly not much different from the demise of new labour.

The analogy with Beeching is apt. He modernised but is remembered for cutting much loved but often pointless relics.

Martin Brookes @oakhamuk said...

A good rational tribute.

I was also sad to hear she had died.
Also sad to see so much human hate on Facebook and Twitter.

Phil Beesley said...

I pondered an old past post from Jonathan about On the Buses over the Easter weekend whilst watching two of the films on TV. The 1970s provide me with many great memories but they were grim times too, socially and economically. Situation comedies (eg On the Buses, Terry and June, Love thy Neighbour) exaggerate 1970s attitudes but they hold a lot of truth.

Something had to be done but what Thatcher delivered was brutal and destructive. Accelerating the demise of dying industries cost tax payers more than standing by their inevitable demise. Restrictions on council house building (following the compulsory house sale act) were spiteful. Her accommodation of homophobes, hangers and anti-abortionists compromised the liberalism that she learned as a lawyer. She was a much more complicated person than has been shown in the eulogies today.

Sitcom writers had partial revenge in the 1980s with Only Fools and Horses; but British people are suckers for loveable rogues.

Maybe media studies deserves a little bit more respect.

Laura said...

"Coal mining could have been run down more humanely" < *Should* have been run down humanely, because the people who lived there were literal actual human beings. That running it down otherwise was ever considered a choice is what makes it such a painful memory.

Simon said...


Mining was being run down humanely - no change from the way mines had been run down uner labour.

But the scargill decided to try to bring down the Government with a politcal strike