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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