Her legacy is of a deeply divided and unhappy country of the haves and the have-nots

9th April, 2013 9:14 am

I had always promised myself that on the day I heard the news that Margaret Thatcher had finally passed away, I would take myself off quietly to sit and ruminate in somewhere like the Maltby Miners Welfare in South Yorkshire. Quite by chance, I found myself there on Saturday, as a procession of miners and their families marched away from their now closed colliery, and to lay a ceremonial piece of coal next to the grave of the unknown miner killed in a pit explosion in 1927. There are many people in many parts of the country who will never forgive Margaret Thatcher for what she did to the mining communities back in the eighties, me included. They certainly will never forgive her in a place like Maltby, which is why we will hear very little from people who live there over the next week or so.

I do however respect those who were attracted into public or political life by Margaret Thatcher. There was clarity and certainty of purpose about her.  She had courage in what was very much a man’s World, and brooked little or no compromise. Her never failing ability to believe utterly in her own rhetoric ended in her historic defeat – not by Labour – but by her own side. That said, she was for the most part honest in her intentions and not driven by a desire to enrich herself.

The country we live in now is still very much shaped by the ideological economic fundamentalism that held that markets always know best. Her defeat of the National Union of Mineworkers paved the way for a historic weakening of organised labour in this country – and much to our detriment. Her essentially simplistic beliefs, quite typical to her upbringing and time, could not comprehend that the British economy had been intrinsically weakened by a post war failure to re-build manufacturing, or that the great OPEC oil price hikes in the Seventies let to hyper inflations and a union reaction, and not the other way around.

She is credited with for clearing away red tape, restrictive practice and dying industries. The trouble is that Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister presided over an unparallel contraction in manufacturing and industrial output. Her good fortune and Britain’s good fortune is that enough North Sea Oil had come on stream to pay for the millions thrown out of work, sacrificed as they were at the altar of Monetarism. Instead we had ‘big bang’ and the beginning of the deeply corrosive and corrupting process that finally led to the near collapse of the British banking sector.

Her legacy, and one that Tony Blair did little to distinguish himself from, is of a deeply divided and unhappy country of the haves and the have-nots.

Her good fortune was that Labour was desperately divided at the time when she was most unpopular. She showed herself also to be lucky, as people forgot that it had been her Government that had withdrawn nationality rights from the Falkland Islanders and withdrawn HMS Endurance, by the time she had changed her mind and sent a taskforce to the South Atlantic.

In any mature democracy her record would be re-examined in the cold light of day. Dissenting opinions, as opposed to abusive opinions, would also be sort after. But this is Britain in the early 21st century; parochial, vituperative and often vulgar in its populism. Do not expect rational arguments to be listened to over the coming week or two.

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  • Daniel Speight

    A better post than the other Mark made I’m afraid;-) We are allowed to turn our backs to this morbid praise from Britain’s political and media elite. Don’t feel guilty for doing it.

    • aracataca

      Correct Daniel. Well said.

  • rekrab

    Hello Mark, good read.
    Dissenting opinions? I’ve gave a few on the miners on another thread.

    So I’d like to take up the Falklands war. I believe that the British put up a 200 miles exclusion zone around the Falkland waters. I also believe that an Argentinian war ship (The Belgrano) entered the zone,slightly, then headed back out of the zone, at which time a British submarine sunk the Belgrano, with 1,500 souls on board, now under the geneva convention the sinking of the Belgrano was a crime as it was heading away from the exclusion zone and therefore removing itself from breaching the zones conditions, yet Britain sank it on the command of MrsT, which was the catalyst for the full out war.I’d liked to think that if we have to go to war we go to war because we have to defend our people and we certainly don’t kill for the sake of killing and of course respect all conventions of war.

    • jaime taurosangastre candelas


      do you not think that a warship can turn around and reverse direction in about 2 minutes? The precise “heading” it was on at the time of the sinking seems irrelevant.

      I had the great pleasure of hosting the Sir Tam Dalyell at a dinner in Edinburgh (the Witchery restaurant, at the top of the Royal Mile) more than a decade ago. He was as you recall the main voice in Labour arguing about the Belgrano. But even he conceded that the pattern of movement of the ship was inconclusive, in and out of the exclusion zone. He also acknowledged that his campaign had not put enough attention onto 2 other Argentine ships associated with the Belgrano which also were in the area.

      I am biased, but from my perspective, the Mrs Thatcher did the continent of South America a great service by causing the downfall of the Galtieri regime. To be sure, they caused their own downfall with stupid assumptions about the Mrs Thatcher’s likely reaction to invading the Falkland Islands.

      • rekrab

        I met the son of General Dalyell when I was about ten, he was campaigning in my street.He had this very long black trench coat on, which grabbed my attention more than anything else (what is it with politicians and strange scary long dark coats?) anyhows, I’m not sure? I’ll say it up front but I’d imagine that anything in the South Atlantic waters would be subject to the wave motion but my point is that if a war ship is actively moving away it doesn’t want to engage and the sub could have at least gave the benefit of doubt before carrying out such a human cost of destruction. I believe it was a trigger happy call which ended any hope of a peaceful settlement and I’m sticking to my call that Britain breached the convention of war.

        • jaime taurosangastre candelas

          Well, Derek, I do not know the reality of what happened, and I think you probably also do not as we were not there.

          There are some physical facts: ships can turn around quite quickly, there are military instructions and rules for shooting that are set in London, and it is probably not really possible to communicate “in live time” from a submarine underwater in the south Atlantic to the Prime Minister (who incidentally should probably not be involved in the detail of decisions by the commander of a submarine – I would not want Jeremy Hunt as our NHS secretary telling me what is or is not a dangerous level of toxicity and trying to calculate the osmosis gradient over blood pressure for CO in an attempted suicide resuscitation, because he would not know).

          • rekrab

            You make a very valid point about Hunt and NHS decisions.

            Your right neither of us were there but there does seem a hole load of info on this sinking http://belgranoinquiry.com/ The link counters your assertion to? by suggesting that the Belgrano was ordered to retire from it’s position and head Eastwards away from the zone, the Argies also say that the ship was manned mainly by cadets and the question arises about it potent force.I think I’ll stick rather than twist.Was Mrs T a war criminal, there’s proof she was.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            An interesting link, Derek, but the obvious question was did the British Government have the “real time” information about what Buenos Aires told the captain of the Belgrano, or the composition of the crew? If they did not, if all they had were their own observations as to what the ship had been doing in the previous day (going in and out of the exclusion zone), well that is the only information they had on which to base decisions.

            We all have to make decisions on the basis of incomplete information. I do daily, I am sure you do to.

            Perhaps I am very biased, because the foul Argentines have over 200 years serially invaded my country, and because their fascist regime colluded with other regimes – including that of Chile – in murder and torture, and also because my brother in law fought in the Falklands as a young Royal Marine soldier after they were illegally invaded by the foul Argentines, but I have no appetite to be an apologist for Galtieri’s foul and fascist regime. And if you take a longer view, less Argentines died in the Falklands than routinely did in a year from judicial and extra-judicial murder, and none after the fall of the Galtieri regime.

          • rekrab

            However the initial point wasn’t about the rightful sovereignty, although disputable, it was about the act of igniting a war from a preordained PM call.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            I think you will find the war effectively started when the foul Argentines invaded islands that were not, nor ever had been*** theirs, and whose inhabitants did not want them there.

            There were peace proposals and the “shuttle diplomacy”, but it was only ever going to end in the eviction of the Argentines, by peaceful surrender, or by battle. They chose to fight.

          • rekrab

            Jaime, I tip my bonnet to your brother in law, hardy men those marines and he’ll know that war means kill or be killed but he’ll also know that it’s better to seek peace than fight.I hope he’s enjoying his retirement and hasn’t got himself into any security firms?
            I raise the question Jaime not in protest against our magnificent forces but the donkeys who lead them, in the end all those fine minds just backed war, it was the quick thinking of Keeble that conned the surrender.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Well, he will disappoint you Derek. He runs a business on protecting ships from piracy and employed I think 30 or more people doing so (although he observes it is coming to an end, and his business partner and he are looking at protecting oil installations in Nigeria now). He is a bold adventurer, there is no doubt, although he is also fairly “uncompromising”.

          • rekrab

            No doubt!

        • Tam Dalyell was the Labour MP for West Lothian and a fierce critic of the Falklands War. He was, I think, one of the first to make the claim that the Belgrano was heading out of the zone. Thatcher was famously quizzed life on breakfast TV on this issue and came unstuck.

    • charles.ward

      The Agentine Defense Ministry and the captain of the Belgrano accept that the sinking of the Belgrano was legal and justified.

      From the Wikipedia page on the Belgrano:

      ‘Captain Bonzo also told Middlebrook that he was not angry about the
      attack on his ship and “The limit [exclusion zone] did not exclude
      danger or risks; it was all the same in or out. I would like to be quite
      precise that, as far as I was concerned, the 200-mile limit was valid
      until 1 May, that is while diplomatic negotiations were taking place
      and/or until a real act of war took place, and that had happened on 1

      • rekrab

        Except, the Belgrano was heading away from the conflict zone, I think some hours before the contact was made.

        • charles.ward

          From the same article:

          ‘During an interview in 2003 he [Captain Bonzo] had stated that the General Belgrano
          was only temporarily sailing to the west at the time of the attack, and
          his orders were to attack any British ships which came within range of
          cruiser’s armament.’

          ‘In August 1994, an official Argentine Defence Ministry report written by armed forces auditor Eugenio Miari was released which described the sinking of the Belgrano
          as “a legal act of war”, explaining that “acts of war can be carried
          out in all of the enemy’s territory” and “they can also take place in
          those areas over which no state can claim sovereignty, in international
          waters” ‘

          Give it up, the sinking was legal and justified. Only Thatcher hating looney lefties think otherwise.

    • John Ruddy

      The Geneva Convention doesnt really apply to that. A state of war properly and legally existed between the Uk and Argentina. Both sides were legally justified to attack any assets of their opponent in that war, excepting vessels and vehicles clearly marked with the Red Cross. I dont think the Belgrano was flying the Red Cross at the time it was sunk. It was a legal target.
      Now, you could argue that it was unfair to say that any Argentine vessel in the exclusion zone would be sunk, and then sinnk one outside it – but its not illegal.

      • rekrab

        But it didn’t pose a threat? it was limbering away from contact? and in that I believe the breach occurred.

        • Winston_from_the_Ministry

          Incorrect. You need to check the information that was released 30 years later.

    • Hi there. I don;t think that there is now any doubt that the Belgrano was heading out of the exclusion zone. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Alexwilliamz

    People like thatcher get plaudits for being a ‘strong leader’ people admire that. Sadly this can only be a means to an end and with thatcher her legacy is nonexistent in the sense she only dismantled things but never actually built anything. The whole self interest mode of running the state only worked because we owned a number of assets and could also benefit from the additional income from the oil. Sadly all those assets have been frittered away, a generation have in the words of macmillan sold off the family silver, had a big party and now the next generation are going to have to deal with the tidying up! No party since thatcher has built for the long term and labour are as guilty in this regard.

  • Cliff Poole

    the main problem now is cameron carrying on her legacy this government have increased the rich poor divide and seem to take great delight doing so also the north south devide is apparent by way of hitting the north west first with a new round of cuts they have made it quite obvious there is only one country and its called london

  • BusyBeeBuzz

    Her greatest achievement was Tony Blair. For 40 pieces of silver she tempted Labour to sell it’s soul to the god of greed, divide & conquer.

  • AlanGiles

    Mark alludes to it in this article, but the fact that Britain still is a deeply divided and unhappy country, twenty three years after the Iron Lady ceased being Prime Minister, says quite a lot about the woeful performance of the Blair governments – especially given the fact that their first two election wins were of landslide proportions.

    I am fully aware I will get at least 4 “down” votes for saying this and probably a couple of “amusing” messages, but the truth is Blair could, if he had wished, undone at least some of the damage done by the 1979-1990 administrations, but chose not to, as he had the grace to admit himself yesterday.

  • Ashurstman

    A very sensible and honest piece. I cannot shed a tear for her – even if her election back in 1979 turned from a member into an activist and then a Councillor. Her policies wreaked havoc not just on the economy but also as Mark says on society. What Labour needs to do now is destroy the corrosive elements of that society and challenge the general economic assumptions about the way the world works with the same vigour and single-mindedness that she applied to implementing her policies. Then we might have a chance of a fairer and more united Britain.

  • aracataca

    One of the myths I would like to see banished from the history books is the myth of how terrible things were before her time as PM. For a start our country was a more equal place and on all kinds of fronts (especially cultural) the 1960s were a golden age for the UK. It was the age of The Beatles and World Cup winners and Swinging London was the capital of the world. Furthermore, it was a time when a lot of people in this country were beginning to acquire new freedoms, gay people for instance were no longer criminalised, women were able to go out to work and earn their own money, and for the first time many people had enough money to buy a car and a washing machine or rent a television and live in properly heated flats and it was also an era of hope for the future. Of course a lot of that hope was destroyed by the unemployment and social divisions of the 1980s. The quality and standard of people’s lives in the 1960s was incalculably better to what it had been in the 1920s and 1930s.

  • PaBroon

    She was a hero; One of the myths I would like to see banished from the history books is the myth of how good things were before she became prime minister. Nationalised industries that didn’t function without subsidy, Unions who believed they ran the country not the elected representatives of the people whether Labour or Tory. Junk piling up in the street, corpses unburied, electricity workers on strike, followed by the coal miners, blackouts, strikes at the docks, factories where the cry down tools and strike were constant occurrences, flying pickets who bullied anyone who needed or wanted to work and closed shop working practices whereby you either joined the union or you effectively didn’t work. What a utopia!

  • Glenda Jackson said Thatcher promoted greed and selfishness, which set the sycophantic Tories howling like the banshees they are.

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