Margaret Thatcher 1925 - 2013

Margaret Thatcher did not divide, but merely highlighted the divide already there

By —— Bio and Archives--April 9, 2013

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LONDON, ENGLAND—London, England-Three hundred scruffy Glaswegians took to the streets last night popping champagne corks to celebrate Thatcher’s demise. In south London, they went a step further trashing and looting a few shops while brandishing signs like ‘the # is dead’. Meanwhile the head of the Durham Miner’s Association stuck a celebratory fat cigar in his bloated face; pompously claiming the former PM wreaked havoc on ‘MY people, MY communities’.


Then there are those calling for the highest honour of a state funeral instead of the ceremonial one planned. Even David Cameron, our silly left leaning so-called conservative Prime Minister described her as having ‘saved the country’ and as ‘one of the Great Britons’. It was ever thus—a country divided by the ideals of wealth creation and distribution. 

In 1979,  I came to London as a tourist and saw the garbage piled up 8 to 10 feet high in public squares and green spaces. It stank and rats scurried about proliferating on the feast handed to them by the striking unions. The working week was three days long and my then mother-in-law would often shop with a candle stuck to her trolley because electricity was rationed. She only bought what was absolutely needed and rarely anything for pleasure. Everything had to be serviceable. This was the case for everyone except for the exceptionally wealthy, since the top rate of tax was then an eye-popping 83%.

The opinion on wealth creation and distribution, then as now, was deeply divided. Many Britons I talked to at the time railed against the unions and the stranglehold they had on the nation. WW2 had cost the country dearly, rationing and persisting austerity coupled with the socialist Labour party at the helm, who fostered the centuries-old class divides for their own interests, meant the country suffered for decades.  People wanted change and no politician conservative or leftist could deliver it.  I remember a BBC producer telling me the unions would frequently show up at No. 10 Downing Street, have beer and sandwiches with the reigning PM and tell him how the country was going to be run.

Thatcher did what no politician had the guts to do which was to take on the intransigent unions, especially the militant and uncompromising Arthur Scargill, president of the National Union of Mineworkers. Promoting nuclear energy, appointing tough American mine manager Ian Macgregor to the Coal Board and fresh from a naval victory in the Falklands, by the early 80s Thatcher was ready to take on Scargill who itched for the fight. The result was one of the most violent confrontations between industry and government this country has ever seen. It took months to wear down worker solidarity in the mining communities in Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Scotland and South Wales. But win Thatcher did, and the resentment of those that lost their jobs and their offspring that fed on that resentment continues to this very day.

What Margaret Thatcher profoundly understood was the tension in human nature between those that are filled with aspiration and drive, and those that are filled with a need to maintain the status quo or blame others for their lack of talent, drive or ability. Famously saying ‘the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money’, Thatcher understood that one part of society would always be willing to sponge off those it perceived as having unjust riches. 

Being a grocer’s daughter, she understood small business, pricing, customer service and making the books balance.  At the heart of her politics was aspiration. Her attitude was if you couldn’t get a job in one area, move to another.  This rankled with a society deeply immersed in class divides. The working class stuck to the jobs and areas they knew for generations. Change represented a huge threat and many could not make an emotional shift in the face of this perceived threat.  Will Moore, a former miner interviewed last night on Sky TV, personifies this deeply held position of class struggle. Despite having got an education when he lost his mining job and having now moved into a white collar job in project management, earning a good living, he still hates what Thatcher stood for. Presumably he would like to be down in the mines again.

It is more likely that pride fuels this kind of position. People hate to be proven wrong , especially when an ideology like socialism guides their life and their leaders play into their insecurities by blaming ‘the rich upper class’ or ‘greedy capitalists’—traits they attempt to personify in Margaret Thatcher. 

Yet Thatcher actually destroyed class. She was looked down upon and mocked by the old boy network of Old Etonian Conservatives who enjoyed class privilege but thought little of how a meritocracy could improve people’s lives.  With those that she didn’t despatch rapidly from cabinet, she relished a good debate and could outwit many with her incredible ability to reference briefing papers word for word after only one reading. She brought in movers and shakers that made up a radical government with radical policies. Thatcher knew that by opening markets, deregulating business, and turning the dependant into property owners she would foster a culture of self-responsibility and entrepreneurship. Not to mention the path she paved for women to follow.

Thatcherite economics

I moved here in 1984, the height of ‘Thatcherite economics’. The place buzzed. Everything seemed possible. People were making money and it showed. New business and new ideas leapt and bounded everywhere.  People went from having little gas fires in individual rooms to houses warmed throughout with central heating. When I first arrived, the most exotic vegetable you could find was a mushroom, now there are a plethora of all kinds of Asian and European varieties in my local supermarket. People dressed up and had parties.  Even in our first tiny flat, the other half and I threw a black tie party. Everyone loved it. We were all working hard and though not rich, we were making money, building a future and saw a world open to all possibilities for those that wanted it. We aspired and were inspired. 

It seemed every week a clogged national industry was being privatized and every man could hold shares in the newly deregulated energy, airline, steel and telecoms industries. Many pensions today are based on the success of this wave of Thatcherite floatations.  By deregulating how stock brokers operated, fresh new competitive forces, many from America, bought the old British investment firms and London became the centre of global finance. This was the Big Bang.  And it was BIG. I worked in advertising at the time, specializing in financial products and charities. An odd blend but I got to see the phenomenal growth not just of personal finance, but the stronger civil society that emerged in the 23 years since Margaret Thatcher opened the door to free markets.

Margaret Thatcher lived the approach that Benjamin Franklin took when he wrote in 1766 ‘On the Price of Corn and Management of the poor’ , ‘ the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it.’ She had no time for spongers and wanted to make people understand that government funds came from the populace. If people were to receive benefit, they had to pay into it. This was the thinking behind the deeply unpopular poll tax, that caused huge riots and which was ultimately her undoing. The tax replaced rates, which was based on the notional rental value of a house to a fixed tax per adult resident. Even though there was a reduction for those with lower household income, every person was required to pay for services in their community. It shifted the tax burden to the individual rather than on the property owner and was seen as a burden from rich to poor. The tax in different boroughs also differed greatly depending on what local business existed and paid, and the payments made to local authorities in grants varied greatly. It was a change too far for a people already forced to shift their class divides. 

Thatcher disliked leaders who encouraged big government with their socialist benefits polices like Canada’s famous reformer, Pierre Trudeau. A friend from Vancouver quipped that the UK unionists seemed to have all moved to BC to work their ‘magic’ there.  Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, was her political soul mate. Their relationship typified the bond the UK and the US forged in business during that time.

Americans loved coming here and Brits were fascinated by their brash frankness and entrepreneurial nouse. In her own reserved form of British savvy, she encouraged Reagan to pressure an already reform-minded Gorbachev, while Pope John Paul II encouraged the Poles to stick to their guns and fight the Soviets with dogged determination. Through aspiration and strength of leadership came the defeat of misery.

When asked what her greatest achievement was, Thatcher replied, ‘Tony Blair’, meaning that he knew he had to turn the Old Labour socialists into free-marketers because no one wanted to go back to the old sick economy Thatcher inherited. That lasted for a while, but the drive to ‘equalize’ society by massive benefit spending, open door immigration to secure socialist votes as well as a leftist agenda in schools; we are back on the skids again.

Over the years I have had many discussions with Brits over Thatcher’s dogged adherence to her convictions. If you talk to someone in their fifties, their ideology determines their view. The ones who bought their council house and thrived—the working class conservatives, love her, the rest that have memories of their childhood in soup kitchens because their father striked against Thatcher, hate her.

What is discouraging now is people thirty or younger who can only come up with a sound bite to describe why they ‘don’t agree’ with her. They invariably can never give me concrete examples as to why they don’t agree with policies they can’t describe. They are what Rush Limbaugh coined as the ‘low information voter’ and they are the future that is taking over Britain. They have been taught to hate capitalism in schools while never being taught exactly what it is, and listen to a steady drum beat of equality, environmentalism and diversity in the media that is supported by the leftist opposition and to a large degree the Conservative party themselves. A BBC reporter had the audacity to ask a former Thatcher cabinet member if the 2008 economic crisis wasn’t Thatcher’s doing.  Not a peep about Bill Clinton and his community reinvestment policy that drove bankers to create ever more risky derivatives. Nor is there ever a question about morality and its relationship to personal responsibility whether you are a waiter or a banker.

Many people blame Thatcher for their own failings. In our increasing intellectual laziness in this country, capitalism and greed are linked as though one is not mutually exclusive from the other. Thatcher was a capitalist, therefore she was greedy, and therefore she was bad is the way the puerile thinking goes.

It is perhaps a blessing that she was overtaken with dementia not to see the damage that is once again being inflicted by the socialists she worked so hard to defeat. One high ranking cabinet minister I know relayed a recent conversation with her where he talked about the state of the country today, outlining the problems. Her reply was, ‘Well we will just have to start all over again’. A fighter to the end.  Now Brits of conservative values will probably have to wait quite some while for another leader with the conviction of principle, drive and determined leadership that this most extraordinary woman possessed.

Anna Grayson-Morley -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Anna Grayson—Morley is a London based freelance journalist.

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