Where were you when The Lady won her third General Election? Well, I for one was still in school. So I hope that I bring some historical objectivity to the hysteria that the year I turn 30 promises to bring, largely from people my own age or younger. Whatever your age, get over her!
After all, what, exactly, was “Thatcherism”? What did she ever actually do? Well, she gave Britain the Single European Act, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Exchange Rate Mechanism, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, the replacement of O-levels with GCSEs, and the destruction of paternal authority within working-class families and communities through the destruction of that authority’s economic basis in the stockades of working-class male employment.
No Prime Minister, ever, has done more in any one, never mind all, of the causes of European federalism, Irish Republicanism, sheer economic incompetence, Police inefficiency and ineffectiveness, collapsing educational standards, and everything that underlies or follows from the destruction of paternal authority.
Meanwhile (indeed, thereby), the middle classes were transformed from people like her father into people like her son. She told us that “there is no such thing as society”, in which case there cannot be any such thing as the society that is the family, or the society that is the nation. Correspondingly, she misdefined liberty as the “freedom” to behave in absolutely any way that one saw fit. All in all, she turned Britain into the country that Marxists had always said it was, even though, before her, it never actually had been.
Specifically, she sold off national assets at obscenely undervalued prices, while subjecting the rest of the public sector (forty per cent of the economy) to an unprecedented level of central government dirigisme. She presided over the rise of Political Correctness, that most 1980s of phenomena, and so much of piece with that decade’s massively increased welfare dependency and its moral chaos, both fully sponsored by the government, and especially by the Prime Minister, of the day.
Hers was the war against the unions, which cannot have had anything to do with monetarism, since the unions have never controlled the money supply. For good or ill, but against all her stated principles, hers was the refusal (thank goodness, but then I am no “Thatcherite”) to privatise the Post Office, as her ostensible ideology would have required.
And hers were the continuing public subsidies to fee-paying schools, to agriculture, to nuclear power, and to mortgage-holders. Without those public subsidies, the fourth would hardly have existed, and the other three (then as now) would not have existed at all. So much for “You can’t buck the market”. You can now, as you could then, and as she did then. You know this from experience if that experience extends to any one or more of fee-paying schools, agriculture (or, at least, land ownership), nuclear power, and mortgage holding. The issue is not whether these are good or bad things in themselves. It is whether “Thatcherism”, as ordinarily and noisily proclaimed (or derided), was compatible with their continuation by means of “market-bucking” public subsidies. It simply was not, as it simply is not.
Hers was the ludicrous pretence to have brought down the Soviet Union merely because she happened to be in office when that Union happened to collapse, as it would have done anyway, in accordance with the predictions of (among other people) Enoch Powell. But she did make a difference internationally where it was possible to do so, precisely by providing aid and succour to Pinochet’s Chile and to apartheid South Africa. I condemn the former as I condemn Castro, and I condemn the latter as I condemn Mugabe (or Ian Smith, for that matter). No doubt you do, too. But she did not, as she still does not.
And hers was what amounted to the open invitation to Argentina to invade the Falkland Islands, followed by the (starved) Royal Navy’s having to behave as if the hopelessly out-of-her-depth Prime Minister did not exist, a sort of coup without which those Islands would be Argentine to this day.
There are many other aspects of any “Thatcherism” properly so called, and they all present her in about as positive a light. None of them, nor any of the above, was unwitting, forced on her by any sort of bullying, or whatever else her apologists might insist was the case. Rather, they were exactly what she intended.
Other than the subsidies to agriculture (then as now) and to nuclear power (now, if not necessarily then), I deplore and despise every aspect of her above record and legacy, for unashamedly Old Labour reasons. Indeed, the definition of New Labour is to support and to celebrate that record and legacy, because it did exactly as it was intended to do, entrenching, in and through the economic sphere, the social revolution of the 1960s. You should not so support or celebrate unless you wish to be considered New Labour.
But then again, who cares these days? Or, rather, who really ought to care? When the next General Election is upon us, people will have the vote who were not born when she was removed from office in order to restore the public order that had broken down because of what, in her allegedly paradigmatic United States, would have been her unconstitutional Poll Tax. At that Election, my own generation of post-Thatcher teenagers will first enter Parliament in some numbers, a few being already there. And by the time of the Election after that … well, you can finish that sentence for yourself.
Twenty Years On, as Alan Bennett might once have put it, we have an opportunity to consign her to the history books once and for all. That opportunity was denied in 1990, when her ejection by her own party turned her into a mythical figure. Such would not have been her lot if the Poll Tax had simply ensured her removal by the electorate, probably in 1991. But, better late than never, let us take our opportunity in 2007.