Given the importance of the woman, I would suggest that there should be a separate thread to consider Thatcher’s legacy in more depth, which hopefully will be free of the knee jerk stuff over on the breaking news thread.
Thatcher was unquestionably the most important female politician in the Western world during the 20th century, and perhaps the most important European politician since the 1960s. She shaped her country and the world like few leaders have ever done, and we are continuing the live with the economic and social paradigm created by her with ideological soulmates like Ronald Reagan. Her legacy cannot be easily summarised as wholly good or bad. She was more nuanced and complicated than either her greatest supporters or fiercest opponents gave her credit for. In my opinion, however, her impact was unquestionably more negative than positive, and hindsight and the passing of time only confirms my view of her as a malign force on British and world affairs.
When she came to power she was faced with the final and undeniable breakdown of the post war social democratic consensus in the UK. Undoubtedly major economic reforms were needed, and the British State could not go on subsidising unprofitable industries as it had been doing at the behest of overly powerful trade unions. Mines had to be closed, the undemocratic power of the unions had to be tamed. But a better politician, and a better person, would have strived to do this in a manner that helped preserve, as much as possible, the working class communities that would be so affected by the diminution of their traditional sources of employment and social pride.
Thatcher didn’t want to preserve these working class communities. She wanted to destroy them. She was a fiercer class warrior than any Marxist. She came into power promising like Francis of Assisi to spread love instead of hatred. Yet she used the useful cause of deindustrialisation as a Trojan horse to smash a way of life and a people that was anathema to her and to people like her. In one of the most disgusting and dangerous remarks surely ever made by the prime minister of a democratic country about her own compatriots, she labelled the striking miners as “the enemy within”. These were men and descendents of men who had fought Britain’s wars and who had worked in dangerous and harmful conditions to provide the raw materials to fuel British industry and warm British hearts. It wasn’t enough for Thatcher to defeat the miners; she had to crush and humiliate them as well. She wanted to portray them as not properly British, or at least not properly part of the Britain she wanted to create.
And what sort of Britain, and indeed what sort of world, did she create? Well, on its own terms, initially it seemed to work. Greed was good, the City went bang, and Britain boomed. After a blip in the late 80s (a housing crash, no less!) the good times continued to roll long after she was gone, replaced by ideological mini-mes like Major, Blair and Brown, who may not have agreed with the nastiest elements of Thatcher's politics but who swallowed hook, line and sinker the belief that private profit must be facilitated at all costs, that big business is good but bigger business is better, and that the glorious invisible hand of the market place would correct market irregularities and dodgy dealings much more efficiently than fusty old State regulation.
We know where that has led us. Thatcher has been out of power for 23 years, so she can’t be held responsible for every negative of the ongoing cluster****************************** and omnishambles that is the world economy. But the current malaise – the busted but unbowed banks, the braying fund managers pocketing obscene bonuses, the corrupt Russian oligarchs and coked up aristrocratic Eurotrash buying up swathes of prime London real estate, while for the masses of working and middle class people unemployment soars, savings are wiped out, public services are slashed, wages are stagnant and pensions are eviscerated, all to feed the insatiable beast known as “The Market” – this is the logical extension and development of what Thatcher created.
Thatcher apparently once replied, when asked what her greatest legacy was, “New Labour”. At the time she was probably right. But today, as this crisis of capitalism continues and deepens, as it becomes ever more clear that the old days of comfortable middle class growth are threatened as never before in a world of Chinese and BRIC power and international capital, I wonder how much longer the Thatcherite paradigm will remain the dominant economic ideology in the west. I suspect that, ultimately, Thatcherism will be seen, not as the creation of a new way for western capitalism, but as a flawed ideal that quickened the already inevitable decline of Anglo-American economic and political power. All political careers end in failure. I believe that, in the fullness of time, as well as her personal career, Thatcher’s ideology will be considered a failure too.
<Mod> This thread has been merged with "Eoghan Harris back to his favourite battleground in the Sindo". </Mod>