Posts Tagged ‘Margaret Thatcher’

Benn and Thatcher will be remembered long after their colourless contemporaries

15/03/2014, 08:00:56 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Passing away at eighty-eight years of age represents a good innings in anyone’s book. Indeed, it’s a score the late Tony Benn also shares with Margaret Thatcher, which may, on the face of it, seem a provocative comparison.

After all, the two of them were on opposite sides of every major issue of the 1980s: the miners’ strike, nuclear disarmament, Ireland, South Africa, monetarism. But their personalities and approaches to politics were strikingly similar.

They were both driven, uncompromising characters; self-confident in what they said and thought. Equally, they were divisive, impulsive and reckless figures. Yes, they stuck to their guns, but often long after it was sensible to do so.

Both believed in the sovereignty of Parliament. Both were instinctively Eurosceptic. And both were adored by the radical sections of their parties, to the cold fury of the pragmatists.

On a personal level, Benn, like Thatcher, enjoyed a happy marriage and both were noted for the small personal kindnesses that so many other leading politicians are seemingly incapable of offering. Likewise, they exuded that other-worldy quality that surely served to insulate them from the brickbats that were thrown at both of them for so long.

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Naiveté is a weakness in all walks of life but in politics, it’s deadly

17/04/2013, 02:08:49 PM

by Rob Marchant

Major political events which blow all other news out of the water, such as the death of Margaret Thatcher, tend to do two things. First, they make us take a step back and take stock, to ponder the grand historical sweep of things; and second, they give us a little time to do so, as the normal scheme of things is largely suspended.

So far, Miliband is having a “good war”: his Thatcher tribute speech was widely thought to be very good and, in any event, the fact that his opponents cut taxes for the well-off a fortnight ago is surely helping his approval ratings. His party is still solidly ahead of the government, although arguably still more down to the latter’s failure than Labour’s conspicuous success.

But politics is about people. About personalities. As we do the stocktaking, we now know much more about Miliband and his leadership style than we did back in 2010. As critical friends, do we not have the right – or rather, the obligation – to comment, if we think that there are weaknesses in the approach? We do.

Last week, various leftists were justifying their rapacious criticisms of Thatcher by the “two wrongs make a right” technique: recalling equally harsh words spoken by Tories on the death of Michael Foot, that same year as Miliband’s accession.

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For pity’s sake, stay at home tomorrow

16/04/2013, 07:00:32 AM

by Ian Stewart

For the past week those of us who remember the 1980s have been in our own ways reliving them. It has been neither a pleasant nor edifying spectacle to watch friends and family tear lumps off each other over the legacy of the frail old woman who died at the Ritz. Facebook accounts are now covered in the detritus of real life as well as online friendships wrecked by casual or bombastic posts that reopened the wounds long thought healed.

To watch a crowd of idiots vandalise my local cinema – which by the way was showing the excellent Spirit of ’45 – and then break the windows of the bastion of Thatcherism that is Brixton’s Banardos shop defied all logic. I mean, Foxtons – I understand that, but Banardos? Please explain?

I still cannot forgive or forget Mrs Thatcher and her government – not for the miners, nor for Corby, nor for letting the free market rip in such a way that highly skilled industrial jobs in my home town were butchered (Lowestoft men built the Virgin Atlantic Challenger that won the blue riband – using state of the art plasma welding – then were left on the scrapheap). I doubt that Germany, Holland or Norway would have done the same. Eastern Coachworks shut down, north sea oil and gas money frittered away, leaving behind an economy reliant on food processing plants and moving away as the only serious option if you have ambition.

What I also cannot forgive is the fact that ever since 1990, every single succeeding government has attempted not to alter the Thatcher consensus, but simply to give it a “human face”. Up until the great crash Major, Blair and Brown had all seemingly achieved this – balancing social spending with deregulation, further privatisation and tax cuts for the rich.

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We deserved to hear a rounded account of Thatcher yesterday. We didn’t.

11/04/2013, 10:30:59 AM

by Kevin Meagher

In the Thatcherite spirit of free enterprise, the chamber of the House of Commons was leased out yesterday for a private wake as Tory MPs used the occasion of Margaret Thatcher’s death for what is becoming a familiar riff on How She Saved the Country.

As if the gap between the governing and the governed is not enormous enough already, our parliamentarians gathered to not to discuss the perilous state of our economy, but to trade lame anecdotes and hear boilerplate rhetoric about how dead-eyed Britons, existing on a diet of gruel, shuffled through a monochrome landscape before the brilliant new dawn of Thatcherism began in 1979.

This was the Commons at its private school debating chamber worst. History revised without question, assertions pedalled as fact. Guffaws all round.

When Tory MP Christopher Chope said Mrs. Thatcher was “not only a passionate Conservative but a compassionate Conservative” the dial on my irony-ometer whipped round to eleven. Compassion from the same woman who proclaimed there was “no such thing as society?”

Later Tory Daniel Kawczynski brought us the important revelation of how he once sat next to Thatcher at dinner. “I was mesmerised. My heart was beating.” Move over Cicero.

For the most part, Labour MPs sat there like lemons. A hardy few said what we needed to hear more of; that Thatcherism wrought a terrible price for the people and communities at the sharp end of her ideological crusade.

The faux outrage from the Tory benches in response Glenda Jackson’s biting remarks proved George Orwell’s old maxim that in an age of cant telling the truth is a revolutionary act. Plaudits are also due to David Winnick and Dave Anderson from Blaydon for having the guts and good sense to remember their job is to represent the people who send them to Westminster.

Alas, other Labour MPs seemed content to go with the flow and listen to partisan Tory-politicking masquerade as unctuous tribute-making.

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Thatcher’s legacy and the politics of blame

10/04/2013, 03:17:33 PM

by Jonathan Roberts

The past couple of days have been absurd.  As a centrist, I have looked on with quiet respect, but also with head in hands as ideologue after ideologue lined up to offer their views on Lady Thatcher’s legacy.

I say at the outset that, for those so inclined, the time to celebrate was not this week, it was in 1990 or 1997.  Ed Miliband, Neil Kinnock and others have rightly offered generous and respectful words on Mrs Thatcher’s passing, and it is my view that anyone who has expressed joy at the death of this frail old lady cannot realistically claim moral superiority, nor can they claim to be a particularly nice person – regardless of the anger they may still feel.

Like many other commentators, I was merely a child when Thatcher left Number Ten for the last time.  Being the son of two council workers I was not one of those who directly benefited from the Thatcher years, nor was I one of those who directly suffered.  So it is with that relative impartiality that I offer these thoughts.

The fundamental position of the left is that Thatcher destroyed the concept of society and abandoned countless decent, hardworking people to the scrapheap.  The position of the right is that she rescued the country from militant trade unionism and gave people the opportunity to be free from state reliance.

Both of these positions are true.

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The real lesson of Thatcher for Labour

10/04/2013, 11:18:29 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Toby Helm and Daniel Boffey wrote in the Observer, the day before Margaret Thatcher’s death was announced, under a headline of “Labour plans radical shift over welfare state payouts”. But did their article tell us anything about the party’s commitment to the contributory principle that Liam Byrne didn’t tell us in his speech on William Beveridge over a year ago? And did their article tell us anything about our jobs guarantee that had not already been announced?

In short, the Observer splashed on a story devoid of new content at the end of the week in which George Osborne audaciously – but predictably – used the conviction of Mick Philpott to attack again on welfare. We must presume that Labour felt this attack strong enough to wish to respond to but lacked any new policy with which to do so.

Then Thatcher died and decisively moved the news agenda on. Perhaps we should be grateful to her for obscuring Labour’s lack of substance on this central and contentious issue. But is there anything else that Labour should be grateful to Thatcher for?

We should all, according to the words spoken by David Cameron on Downing street on Monday, be grateful to her for saving the UK. Her alienation of Scotland may yet, though, come to be seen as having contributed significantly to the breakup of the union.

While the decline of some industries may have been inevitable, her dearth of industrial policy stripped whole regions of alternative futures. Local government was gutted of capacity to respond to these changes, as power was concentrated in Whitehall by a government that claimed it did not believe in the role of the state. Ballooning welfare payments also meant that this state was hardly minimal.

All of these baleful legacies remain to be dealt with. Yet Martin Amis spoke for many on Monday when he told Newsnight that she was “a necessary prime minister”. Thus, the real question for Labour is not whether we have anything to be grateful to Thatcher for but why, even after all the suffering endured by areas within which our movement is woven most deeply, this view is widely held.

Is it because the rest of the country lacks the compassion to care for these communities? Has Thatcherism or capitalism itself made our fellow citizens spiteful and capricious? The truth is closer to home than that.

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Dear Labour MPs, Thatcher was the enemy. Use today to explain why

10/04/2013, 07:00:50 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Every Labour MP I’ve ever met – every one – has got to where they are in politics by trading on their hatred of Thatcherism. Many affect back stories of hardship to impress selection meetings. The more honest express vicarious regret at what she did to industry/ the north/ working-class communities.

However I fear Parliament’s quite unnecessary recall today will see MPs of all colours – Labour included – at their oleaginous worst. Hyperbole will heap upon cliché in praise of Mrs. Thatcher’s legacy and person. Inevitable, really, given the session is to pay “tribute” to her.

But amid the mawkishness from the government benches, Labour MPs will also get an opportunity to chip in and there are only two contributions, as far as I can see it, they can honestly make.

The first is to issue regret that a former Prime Minister has died and express sympathy for the family. Fair enough, but that doesn’t take long. Poor Ed Miliband finds himself like a comedian with a ten minute act and three minutes’ worth of material. Perhaps he can segue into a riff about her fortitude in foreign affairs, but given her love of dictators and hatred of Nelson Mandela, it’s a delicate subject. Love of freedom? Again, a tricky one given her Shoot to Kill policy in Northern Ireland and the government-backed assassination of solicitor Pat Finucane.

However one thing Ed must avoid is drifting into psychobabble about her complex personality. It doesn’t strike me as particularly useful to ponder why she was kind to a few acolytes and monstrous to so many others. Tony Benn’s memory of her attending Eric Heffer’s funeral and crying over an old political adversary should be filed in the ‘gloriously irrelevant’ folder. All sorts of people blub at funerals; Tony is such a sucker.

Similarly her legacy as the first woman PM is a footnote given Thatcher did so little to advance women in public life and seemed to despise women campaigners, whether they were the desperate mothers of the Hunger Strikers, Women Against Pit Closures of the mothers of the 96 killed at Hillsborough. Not one iota of sympathy was ever offered to these groups – or many others.

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Cameron needs to show the Conservatives have moved on from Thatcher

09/04/2013, 03:18:09 PM

by Mark Stockwell

The events and policies that defined Margaret Thatcher’s premiership politicized much of the current generation of politicians. The legacy of her time in office, and the manner of her departure from it, continue to cast a long shadow over British politics and in particular over the Conservative Party.

By a somewhat macabre twist of fate, I found myself marking the occasion of Thatcher’s death at a recital of Fauré’s Requiem. Predictably, the wall-to-wall retrospectives of her political career have been divided between those who would have the angels lead her into paradise, and those who would condemn her to punishment in the infernal lake. Perpetual light on one side; the darkness of the abyss on the other.

The left has for the most part observed a self-denying ordinance against open outbreaks of glee. But there’s a strong sense that this is primarily for reasons of self-preservation and concern as to how voters will react, rather than out of any genuine respect for her achievements. Once a period of grace has elapsed, I confidently expect some metaphorical dancing on the grave. (Some have already rather distastefully alluded to Elvis Costello’s ‘Tramp the Dirt Down’ – but she’s going to have the last laugh there by being cremated.)

Meanwhile, the entire Conservative Party has lined up to heap praise on “the woman who saved Britain”. This reaction is reasonably genuine – but it, too, is based on somewhat selective recall. Yes, the country had become almost ungovernable by 1979 and radical surgery was needed but if Thatcher hadn’t been removed when she was and the poll tax scrapped, there’s a fair chance we’d have gone full circle.

Thatcher’s political legacy to the Conservative party is also decidedly mixed. It’s hard to argue with three decisive general election victories, and no defeats. And the policies she pursued, the economic reforms she put in place, have continued to make the political weather. But the coalition she built with the voters in the 1980s was unsustainable once Labour got its act together and addressed its ongoing problem with the middle class. New Labour was the product of Thatcherism – but it was also its electoral nemesis.

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Why I hated Margaret Thatcher

09/04/2013, 08:58:20 AM

by Kevin Meagher

This is the point where I am tempted to begin by arguing that you should love the sinner, but hate the sin and critique Margaret Thatcher’s record rather than her personally. But despite the haughty entreaties of the party’s panjandrums yesterday not to let the side down with sentiments of ill will towards her, I don’t think there’s any point being a hypocrite about it: I absolutely hated Margaret Thatcher.

If you come from a working class background and especially if you live in Scotland, South Wales, Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, or Tyneside, your view of Thatcher may well be equally visceral.

If, however, you come from a professional middle-class background and live in London and the south of England, you probably look askance at all this intense criticism of her. You may well think Thatcher was, overall, good for the country – as quite a few people in the Labour party will freely admit these days.

But for me (and I dare say a good few others) there was something particularly heartless about Margaret Thatcher; unforgivably so in fact. Not at an individual level, it seems, given the many tales yesterday of her personal kindnesses to friends and staff; but she knew who she despised and for them she simply had no mercy.

It always seemed as though she had her own hit list of groups in British society against which she wanted to define her ideology. Miners, steelworkers, trade unionists, local councils, benefit recipients, gay people the Irish, the Scots, the entire north of England – all were in her sights.

It was an animosity that went beyond the political; this was personal to her. She was utterly impervious to even a hint of empathy for those on the receiving end of public spending cuts, monetarism and de-industrialisation. People on the Right never seem to understand just how galling it is for decent British working people to be referred to as “the enemy within” by their own prime minister.

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Labour needs to choose freedom

25/09/2012, 05:18:38 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“The success of Thatcherism did not lie in the immediate popularity of its programme, but its ability to command the cultural landscape of Britain … The most enduring threat faced by the left is not only to be perceived as an incompetent manager of the economy, but to be out of touch with major cultural advances and the contemporary zeitgeist.”

Roy Hattersley was one leading Labour figure in the 1980s with some sense at the time of the Thatcherite threat identified by Patrick Diamond.

Freedom was coming to mean whatever Margaret Thatcher wanted it to mean: freedom from regulation; freedom from taxation; freedom from any “interference” by the “tentacles” of government.

It was all about freedom from the state and, in terms of Isaiah Berlin’s well-known dichotomy, a wholly negative concept. Taking no account of what individuals were free to do, it lacked any positive content.

The alcoholic may be capable only of begging, steeling and borrowing to their next drink. But, as long as they are unhindered by the “long arm” of government, they are free. And the heads-I-win-tails-you-lose yuppie owes them nothing. They, too, are free and the freedom of all is maximised when the role of government is minimised.

Obviously, a culture that comes to understand an idea as powerful and widely attractive as freedom in such terms is predisposed to policies that are contrary to Labour’s ends. Hattersley appreciated this. As distasteful as the yuppie and as troubling as the alcoholic are, they weren’t directly his target. This was the Thatcherite account of freedom that legitimised their conduct and circumstances. What was necessary was to reconceptualise freedom.

The freedom Hattersley articulated in Choose Freedom (1987) was a Croslandite freedom. This recast freedom in positive terms and aligned it, not with a minimalist state, but with equality: enough equality of opportunity for all to be free to achieve their potential; enough equality of outcome for all to be full social participants. There is such a thing as society and a redistributive, equalising state is needed for all to be free.

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