Thatcher Review No. 2 – The Economic Legacy

OK let’s start by trying to be fair: the world in 1979 was not a perfect place.  Inflation was high and looked uncontrollable – and it has to be admitted that there were abuses of power by some unions.  Here, just to prove they too were fair-minded, is another clip from Not the Nine o’clock News:

This is the best I can find, though it just seems to have stills instead of video, but the dialogue is there, including my favourite line: ‘Brother Jameson became subject to involuntary immobilisation…’

It has to be acknowledged that the unions did not play a clever game against Thatcher; they didn’t see the writing on the wall at all.  Still, hindsight is 20/20 and all that – and now the unions have been emasculated so far beyond the dreams of Thatcher that to see them in action is quite embarrassing.

I guess the whole thing can be boiled down to three main points: monetarism, global capitalism and ‘there’s no such thing as society’.

Monetarism was a philosophy espoused by Milton Friedman (not Milton Keynes, LOL) which centred on keeping down inflation by restricting the money supply.

This led to a rise in unemployment which her government considered ‘a price worth paying’.  That’s easy to say when you are not the one paying it: it might have been forgivable – just – had not her government subsequently done what all governments do, and blamed the unemployed for their condition, the condition which her policies had caused.  It’s no wonder she engendered such fury: no wonder that at times Neil Kinnock, standing opposite her in the despatch-box, could barely keep his temper and on occasion lost it.  It was her complete lack of compassion towards those who were suffering as a result of her policies; the total hypocrisy in telling people as she frequently did about how her father ‘got on his bike and looked for work’, that caused so many to loathe her.  Had she been honest and said, ‘Look, we need to get inflation down and as part of that, some people are going to lose their jobs.  We’re really sorry about this but bear with us and we’ll get back on track as soon as we can.  In the meantime, do your best and we’ll support you as much as we can.’

But no such thing happened.  I can testify from my own experience how awful it is not only to suffer unemployment in spite of strenuous efforts to find a job, but to be blamed for it as well.  These wounds have not gone away, as we can see from the reaction to her death.

The consequences of her policies are still felt today.  I won’t enumerate them all as that would be tedious; suffice it to say that a cat was let out of the bag: and that cat was global capitalism.  I guess it could be argued that global capitalism was on the rise anyway, but even if that’s true we didn’t have to open the door and welcome it in.  And I think the most significant change since 1979 has been this: that money is now of primary importance in our society.  Yes, money was important before: but we had other values.  We had communities; we had other priorities – people did things for reasons other than money.  Now, someone who does a thing with no pecuniary motive is the exception rather than the rule – and as a society we are at the mercy of global capitalist forces and the government has stopped even pretending to do anything about it.

And thirdly, perhaps her most famous statement, that there is ‘no such thing as society’.  The context of this was as an anti-communist/socialist stance, but has more far-reaching effects than that.  What if she had said instead, ‘there’s no such thing as community’?  Because that is what it boils down to, in the end.  And that statement proved to be prophetic: ironically for one who was so bad at prophecy, by the time she left power there was very little community left anywhere.  It is not only mining and steel-working communities that were destroyed by her policies: pubs closed in towns and villages (and are still closing), schools and colleges were set on firmly competitive and economic lines and – oh, I could go on and on but you can supply loads of examples yourselves, I’m sure.  Community is not only important – it is vital: we need each other in order to survive as a species, and her idea of ‘individuals and their families’ all competing with each other is just about the most repellent image I can think of.

What Thatcher started, Blair continued.  But that’s for another day.  Next time: the international stage.

Kirk out


2 thoughts on “Thatcher Review No. 2 – The Economic Legacy

  1. I’m agreeing with what you’re saying. I was lucky enough to get a job after redundancy – did the TEFL course at Wigston, so starting a new ‘career’ teaching Asians, Vietnamese etc English – you know about that. Then the funding ran out and I became redundant again and ended my working life early.
    A small correction: it was Norman Tebbit’s father who got on his bike. Tebbit was one of the main critics of the training boards and perhaps the person most responsible for my first redundancy! If only his dad had fallen off that bike things may have turned out differently.

    Spock out

    1. Yes, you’re right – it was Tebbit. I got him confused because Thatcher was always talking about her father as well. It was as though her mother didn’t exist


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