Margaret Thatcher's Death Nothing to Mourn

Thanks to Lloyd Cellus for this appropriate comment from filmmaker Ken Loach.

In 1997, Scotland voted in favor of “devolution,” a referendum that allowed Scots to transfer most of the powers of government away from Westminster and put sovereignty into the hands of a new Scottish Parliament. Next year the Scots will vote on leaving Great Britain altogether and setting up a fully independent nation. It’s too soon to tell how that vote will turn out, but if the Scots do leave, we can date for certain the beginning of a serious independence movement: 1979. That was year one for Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1979-1990) and it’s no accident that an independence scheme languishing since the union of the Scottish and English crowns in 1707 can to full boil under her reign of error.

It is customary to speak well of famous/infamous people when they finally pass from this mortal coil. I’m sorry Mrs. Thatcher had dementia, a truly horrifying disease I’d not wish on my worst enemy. But given that she is high on my list of enemies, I have no further charity for Thatcher. My views of her are summed by the words from the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz: “Ding dong, the witch is dead!” Thatcher, like Ronald Reagan, was a fraud masquerading as a champion of the masses. And, like Reagan, she gets credit for all sorts of things she had little to do with and avoids the blame for lots of outrages for which she was.

Thatcher came to power at a time in which British unemployment and inflation were rising. Like Reagan, she would later claim that her policies reduced economic despair; in both cases, they took credit for reducing levels that their policies made worse. Thatcher’s monetarist polices drove inflation to 18% by 1980; when it came down to 8.6% in 1983, Thatcher crowed like a proud rooster, though one wonders why given that 8.6% is still a ruinous rate. Inflation did not really go down until 1990, her final year in office, and then it was due to the 90% tax she had slapped on North Sea oil—drilled off the coast of (you guessed it) Scotland. (In similar fashion, nearly all of the economic gain under Reagan in the 1980s was due to new technology: the computer revolution that didn’t exist when he ran for president, soared by the mid-1980s.)

Thatcher was a devotee of Milton Friedman’s monetarism, a tight fiscal policy that carefully regulates the amount of money in circulation and makes loans hard to secure. It is a banker’s and investor’s delight, but a nightmare if you want to buy a home or other high-ticket item. It is also achieved by reigning in government spending, a task Thatcher achieved by privatizing everything that wasn’t nailed down: British steel, most utilities, and parts of British Rail—a system once the envy of the world and now a creaky collection of independent lines whose poor service is rivaled only by its deplorable repair record. The point was to move workers off the government payroll and throw them to the mercies of the private—read lower-paid—sector. Nowhere was this done with such abject cruelty as in mining. Numerous pits were closed and around 15% of all miners lost their jobs. Want to hazard a guess as to where the worst hit regions were? Try Yorkshire, Wales, and (of course!) Scotland. Thatcher also achieved her goals by taking on labor unions because—well, there are so many high-paying jobs in the burgeoning service sector. (Not!)Unemployment stood at 6.2% when she took office; it quickly jumped to 8.2% and workers rioted across Great Britain.  Unemployment wouldn’t go back down to 6.2% until 1985. When Thatcher finally left office in 1990 and passed the baton to her toady, John Major, the rate was again 8.2%. Does one even need to discuss Bobby Sands and the Troubles in Northern Ireland, or Mrs. Thatcher’s support for the Kymer Rouge government of Cambodia? Does one even see these things amidst all the post-Falklands garlands with which she adorned herself?

Thatcher and Major ingratiated themselves with banks, financiers, aristocrats, and the “new money” Chablis-and-brie set. To put it in terms popular these days, she (and Major never did establish his own identity) was the prime minister of the 1%. A telling story: In 1997, Scots first voted on devolution.  The Tories packed up Maggie Thatcher for a trip north, where she implored the populace, “No, no—Scotland.” In a session in the Scots Parliament, Mrs. Thatcher was confronted by an angry nationalist who enquired in his thickest rogue, “Isn’t it trrrrue, Mrs. Thatcherrrr, that no one norrrth of the Tweed (the river separating the Scottish Borders from England) voted for yewwww?” After some waffling she admitted that Tories fared poorly in Scotland. To which she was told, “Rrrrright then. Since yewwww don’t rrrepresent inyone herrrrre, perhaps yewwww ought to buggerrrrr off back to London!”  As folks in that part of the world say, “Too right!”

I don’t know if it’s a good idea for Scotland to be independent or not, but I do know this much: if a politician is the friend of bankers, union-busters, and get-rich-quick speculators, they are no friend to the 99%. I know that we often confuse leaders who are strong-headed with those that are strong and that manicured press clippings and carefully crafted eulogies do not compensate for decades of disregard, disrespect, and callousness directed at society’s working stiffs. I know that you can’t rob Scots to reward Barclay bankers and expect Scots to sing your praises. And I know that, for all its travails, the world is a slightly better place because Margaret Thatcher isn’t part of it.


Judy P. said...

There's no doubt that Mrs. Thatcher will be forever reviled by the Scottish people, and by most reasonable Brits. However, the street scenes I saw on TV, of people wearing party hats and blowing horns to celebrate her demise (this took place in good old Glasgow, of course) were disturbing to me. They reminded me of the Palestinians dancing in the streets when they heard about the towers coming down on 9/11. Let's just allow her to go quietly, and let it be.

Anonymous said...

If as you say she's reviled by the Scottish people, then it's hardly surprising they were dancing in the street was it? I live in London and hated the sight of her. The tories will forever be in her shadow as all they see is behind them!