Margaret Thatcher

Thatcher’s Legacy

I saw this succinct comment on Thatcher’s legacy in a post by Simon Emmerson (I don’t know him) on Facebook. Very well put:

When a political leader dies it becomes compulsory to lie about their record. 
She won three elections, each with a lower percentage of the vote than all previous post-war Tory victories. She never gained the support of more than a third of eligible voters. She won her second and third elections because a section of the Labour Party split off to form the SDP and the two squabbled over second place. I am happy to say I was part of the two third majority who didn’t vote for her. 

It’s said that Thatcher restructured the economy and made British capitalism competitive. She didn’t restructure anything. Restructuring would have required a plan, which was anathema to her. Instead, she simply destroyed. Between 1980 and 1983, capacity in British industry fell by 24 percent. Unemployment shot up, eventually topping 3 million. Thatcher effectively shut down British manufacturing, much of it forever. In its place, she turned to the banks and the City, making their wildest dreams come true with the financial ‘Big Bang’. We know how that ended. 

It’s said that Thatcher restored law and order. She didn’t. Crime increased by a staggering 79 percent under Thatcher.

It’s said Thatcher stood up for freedom and democracy in the world. She didn’t in South Africa, where she opposed sanctions against apartheid and called Nelson Mandela a ‘terrorist’. She didn’t in Chile, where she supported the murderer and torturer Augusto Pinochet. She didn’t in Cambodia, where she gave support to the Khmer Rouge, of all people. 

It’s said that Thatcher’s greatest free market legacy is privatisation. It isn’t. Thatcher’s privatisations did not create competitive free markets. Instead, the government went for as much money as it could get by selling off public assets in big, monopolistic lumps. The cash came in handy for the chancellor, Nigel Lawson, who used it to claim he had balanced the budget in 1988. But the legacy is one of parasitic cartels, like in the energy sector, where a few big companies are free to bleed customers dry. 

It’s said that Thatcher created a ‘property-owning democracy’ through the sale of council houses. But this led to a chronic shortage of social housing which has pushed up house prices. 

It’s said that Thatcher ‘rolled back the state’. But, with the exception of the economy, where the state did retreat, Thatcher’s government intervened in areas of British society like none before it. It imposed draconian laws on one particular type of voluntary organisation – trade unions.

She told the truth later in life when she said that her legacy was New Labour. In so many of her other goals, she failed. 

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did more to institutionalise Thatcherism than the woman herself. Before New Labour, in the early 1990s, in the midst of a recession, it was a truism that Thatcherism had been an economic failure. The fact that many of the myths discussed here have been revived is in large part due to New Labour.