Monday, April 08, 2013

Now is not the Time for Your Tears.

Margaret Thatcher has died, aged 87, after a stroke. She had her final days and weeks in a subsidised suite of rooms at the Ritz, which seems only fitting. Even a couple of years ago I'd have thought of having a drink to her passing, but now, well, rest in peace, Margaret - your crimes are history now; and we're too busy fighting the disastrous policies of your Conservative party successors. Too much of my adult life has been under a right wing prime minister, and it's rarely a pleasant time; and one wonders why, when apparently, according to all the encomiums, Thatcher "made Britain great" again. I've never bought this idea, at least partly because it assumes that Britain all felt the same about her - yet in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and much of the North this "greatness" was sucked away by her policies, rather than increased.

I saw Gordon Brown just before the last election and he gave a great speech listing all Labour's achievements, from civil partnerships, to peace in Northern Ireland to new schools, and reduced waiting lists. Sure he ignored the authoritarianism, the laxness of the financial regulation and the Iraq war, but there was plenty here to be proud of - real achievements. Listening to Thatcherites speaking there's nothinig other than generalisations, as if Britain would still be in 1979 if she hadn't been in power - ignoring the modernisation that has happened in countries across Europe without having the wrecking ball of Thatcherism.

Her "achievements" are all in negatives - opposing the miners, winning the Falklands war (after prev. removing the battleship that was patrolling the South Atlantic), liberalising the city (that worked well didn't it?), selling off council houses (and that!) The only building projects I associate with her era are Canary Wharf (which lost its backers millions) and the Eurotunnel (ditto). Even things I agreed with, such as longer licensing hours and shops being open on Sundays, aren't so much about reversing the unions, but reversing a Churchillian sense of a state at war. All of her liberalisation projects seem to have merely stacked money in the hands of the speculators and unbalance the economy in favour of the south of England. Maybe I'm forgetting things, but I can't remember a single thing that made life better for me, my family and friends. The idea that the unions would have held Britain to ransom in the 80s is a myth, did it happen elsewhere in a much more militant Europe? No, of course not. Even her "rebate" from Europe had much less effect than the need for the wasted north to access structural funds during the 90s and 00s... finally providing some of the infrastructure that she'd left to the "market." Her immediate legacy was the limp administration of John Major who gave us the millennium dome, greenlighted a toll motorway and privatised the railways - none of which are unalloyed triumphs, even if New Labour foolishly went along with all three.

Visit France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, anywhere in Northern Europe and you'll wonder what was so special about the British "miracle" - these competitors, often with left wing or even communist governments, are more educated, more productive. That the south of Europe is in dire recession now is for following the same liberalisation of banking and property markets that Thatcher also followed. Economically her solution has proven a disaster that keeps on giving; there's not a single bit of social legislation that she wouldn't have instinctively have opposed. I don't deny her historical importance, or that she was a leading figure on the world stage - her character is not in doubt, it is her judgement that I reject. Her successor David Cameron and his chancellor are currently doing their best to demonise many of the British people whilst wanting "Britain" to be great - and its exactly the same confidence trick as Thatcher's governments played on us. Divide and rule. Had Tony Blair and Gordon Brown been more sceptical about her achievements then their own negative lists might have been a little bit shorter - their achievements came from the left not the right. Following a couple of weeks when that truly great leader, Nelson Mandela, has been in hospital in his nineties, it is worth remembering that Thatcher the world statesman called him as a terrorist (so much of her family and friend's business interests were based in the corruption of apartheid) and Chile's Pinochet a friend.

Yes, the Baroness is now dead, and for those who loved her, that is sad, but as Bob Dylan once wrote, for the rest of us, now is not the time for your tears.

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