Open your eyes Britain. Thatcher may be gone – but it’s happening all over again

9th April, 2013 4:45 pm

For many on the left – myself included – Margaret Thatcher was the lodestar of all of our anger and opprobrium with the way that our society works (or for so many millions – doesn’t work). Thatcher left office when I was 5 years old, and yet growing up in the North East it was still impossible to escape what felt like her continues presence. Closed mines and shipyards, shattered communities, unemployment, recession, the shift from manufacturing jobs to insecure “service economy” work. Our mines, factories and steelworks have largely gone – now we have call centres, supermarkets and out of town shopping centres.

Low waged, low skilled work that traps many in – or close to – grinding poverty.

Comparing the life chances of those growing up in Barnet (where I now live) a few miles from Thatcher’s old Finchley constituency, and Gateshead (where I grew up) a few miles from the Durham coalfields, it’s impossible not see the polarising impact Thatcher had on our country. Her reign was boom time for Hadley Wood, and the toughest of times for Heaton.

As I wrote yesterday, I won’t – can’t – pay tribute to Thatcher. I’ll weep no tears for her either, preserving such thoughts and feelings over the days ahead for the shattered lives in the communities in the North East, Scotland, Liverpool, Wales and elsewhere. And it is certainly no cause for celebration.

But I’ll also try not to dwell too much longer on Thatcher’s legacy, when her ideological brethren are continuing her work today. Will future generations acknowledge the divisive and destructive nature of the Cameron government in the same terms as the Thatcher government? Because they should.

Let’s take George Osborne as an admittedly obvious example of this ilk. Today he writes in the Times that Thatcher “restored Britain’s optimism”. When George Osborne saw the destruction wreaked on the community of Orgreave as their pit, their community and their lives were torn asunder, he considered it “a hard won transformation in our country”. Proof positive, if it were needed, that some appear to care nothing for the individuals affected if there is “transformation” at stake.

Suddenly the attacks on the disabled, the “Bedroom Tax”, cutting benefits for expectant mums, slashing police numbers, attempting to privatise the NHS and much, much more can be put into perspective. A transformational perspective. One life shattered is a tragedy. But millions? That’s a mere statistic on the way to “transformation in our country”.

Worse still, there are no “wets” in the cabinet. No-one there is urging Cameron and Osborne to consider the damage to society of their cuts. Those Tories who might take a less aggressive stance – like Robert Halfron and Tim Montgomerie – are on the backbenchers or in newsrooms. If anything Cameron and Osborne ARE the wets. Any other prospective Tory leader would likely take their agenda and run with it. To the right. And hard.

And yet at times we on the left have all become so blinded by our deep, passionate, borderline irrational loathing of the policies and legacy of the Thatcher government, that we seem to have neglected that there could be something as bad – or worse – facing is at this very moment. It’s almost as if so much energy was expended on loathing the Thatcher government, there’s not the same energy for taking on the current government. Sure, there are protests. But is there real anger – uproar even? And as I asked yesterday – do we have the big vision for a better Britain that we can build?

Whilst Thatcher will continue to dominate the news bulletins over the next few days as MPs pay tribute to her in parliament, and the preparations begin for her funeral, we should never take our eyes away from what really matters. Which is that it’s happening again.

Open your eyes Britain.

It’s happening again.

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  • Jim Biri

    I’d love to know what you mean by it’s happening again … it’s never stopped happening. New Labour simply continued the Thatcherite mission – what is happening now to the NHS is a direct consequence of New Labour’s policies. Alan Milburn is the GodMother of the Privatisation of the NHS.

  • BusyBeeBuzz

    Yes it is happening all over again, but instead of providing strong opposition, Labour MPs like Liam Byrne (with the backing of Ed Milliband) are agreeing with them and doing all they can to support them. When is the Labour Party going to wake up and give the people of this country some hope?

  • What’s most disheartening is that, not only that, as you say, “it’s all happening again”, but that the fawning Labour party can’t find it in their hearts to condemn and turn away from the most destructive of her policies.
    As someone said yesterday – ‘One should not have to apologise for celebrating MT’s demise. She danced on the graves of many a working man during her premiership. So why shouldn’t we not now be given our chance to reciprocate’

  • Amber_Star

    “Open you eyes Britain. Thatcher may be gone but it’s happening all over again.”
    An excellent piece of writing, Mark. Did you send a copy by recorded delivery to Liam Byrne, Harriet Harman & Ed Miliband?

  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    …the shift from manufacturing jobs to insecure “service economy” work. Our mines, factories and steelworks have largely gone – now we have call centres, supermarkets and out of town shopping centres.

    I’m not trying to pick any hole in your argument Mark, as clearly that has happened, and it was or maybe still is a great loss to proud communities based around heavy industry. But I came across this report linked to from the Guardian website, which puts some surprising information into the public domain.

    International comparisons of manufacturing output – Parliament

    For the majority of Mrs Thatcher’s years in power, the UK’s output of manufactured goods rose as a proportion of global manufacturing (see Table 2, 1979 3.9%, 1990 4.3%). It stayed at around that level until 1999, and from there falls away considerably until 2.3% in 2010. So I suspect that the manufacturing was rebalanced in the UK away from heavy to lighter industries, and possibly in different areas.

    • rekrab

      Inward investment was riding high but as you’ve pointed out those production levels fell due to the lack of meaningful workers legislation.In short, foreign investors just moved like the flick of a switch.The desolate shipyards, the closed mines and the mothballed steel yards exchanged for the notion that London becomes the capital of world banking, pretty thin and a huge gamble that went bust.

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas


        I don’t think you have understood the point I made. Perhaps I am unclear, you you read the data differently.

        Firstly, I made no comment about workers’ legislation, so please do not try to put words into my mouth as though I said them.

        Secondly, the manufacturing output by value increased, which is no comment at all on production levels falling as you say it is. The levels may have done, but the data offers no insight. It is perfectly possible to increase overall value by doing higher end “expensive” manufacturing, but yet have less tonnage produced and less people employed in lower end manufacturing. Perhaps that is what happened?

        What the left still needs to accept is that if it is possible to produce steel at £50 a tonne in Korea, because wages are much lower than in the UK, and to build ships in Korean shipyards for £10 million, and not £20 million that it might cost in the UK, well do you expect your UK steelworks or shipyards to win lots of business?

        Basically, we in the UK have priced ourselves “out of the market” on a global level. What we might still offer advantages in – intellectual content, research and development, etc – is dependent on our schools and universities turning out the very best qualified young people, and from what I see of my children’s school work, the curriculum is infantile for their ages, and from what I see on occasional lecturing in university teaching hospitals, British medical students are considerably lacking in basic A-level science compared to Irish students, Australian students and some from South Africa.

        The teaching profession is just not being demanding enough with the curriculum (and there is OECD data to support this, across 30 countries we annually slip backwards in educational attainment).

        And so, if we are expensive to employ on an hourly basis, and offer less academic rigour than other nations, what then? In 30 years, this country will be not in the first world, at this rate. Something must change.

        • Alexwilliamz

          Please don’t blame the teaching profession, they long since lost any control over the curriculum and professional autonomy, rather look at one of thatcher’s other policies the politicisation of education designed to smoke out all those dangerous ‘enemy within’ types indoctrinating our youth. The national curriculum in all its unglory, the exam fetishisation, targets and league tables, all political constructs with educators cowed by the overweaning power of ofsted.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas


            it is certainly not meant at individual teachers, and I am sloppy with my meaning. I really mean “those who have charge of setting the standards”, whether that is teachers, educational civil servants, or Ministers. Whoever should take the blame must take it.

            It is however beyond doubt – it would be ridiculous to suggest – that young people today are taught to anything like the same level of knowledge attainment and deep, fundamental understanding of hard science subjects than they were 30 years ago. I have as conversational confirmation the Heads of Science and Mathemathics at my daughter’s school to confirm this, I have shown them my text books from when I was her current age, and they say the topics taught to me when I was 14 are not on the British curriculum until A level. They lament the education their own children now receive. Some would disagree, but to me it is just not hard and challenging enough.

          • Alexwilliamz

            Can’t disagree with your general point. Teaching has improved in terms of input and time and accountability, sadly this has been increasingly focussed on standards and initiatives coming from others. We now value what we can measure instead of trying to measure what we should value.

        • rekrab

          Without a doubt heavy industrial tonnage took a nose dive, as did man hours due to levels of employment. We can agree on certain points? there may also be pointers to the fragmentation of industry.

          Quality, British standardship of manufacturing and quality of materials is also a valued point to make, not to mention the price index and continuation of improved earnings.Asia is a huge market but there are doubt about the quality of their goods.

          Jaime, I’ll take your word for it on the education front,I don’t have the necessary clout to back any persuasive argument up on that front and I think there is a lack of science based knowledge but a good steward doesn’t move the goal posts and a healthier Britain needs all regions to thrive, banking alone wont do it, that’s been proven and I’ve no wish to reduce wage cost to Vietnamese levels.

    • PeterBarnard

      One problem with the HC paper that you reference is that it is based on market exchange rates, not purchasing power parity (PPP), and I am surprised that the HC Library staff did not point this out.
      For example : the USD almost achieved parity with the £ in early 1985, so that a widget, leaving a factory and priced at £1 in February, 1985 would have cost a US importer USD 1.1 ; eighteen months later, the same widget, costing £1, would have cost the US importer USD 1.50.
      PPP is the universally accepted tool to compare output (and hence comparable and real income) – not market exchange rates. Domestically, we see something similar with house prices. A “des res” in Surrey will cost, perhaps, twice as much as a very similar “des res” in Lancashire or Yorkshire, ie for housing, the PPP of a £ in Surrey is about half of that of a £ in Lancs or Yorks.

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        A good point Peter, and thank you. But I still think my major point – that manufacturing increased by overall value relative to other countries – in the 1979-1990 period stands up as a possibly surprising – and even “inconvenient” fact (assuming we do not discard the Parliament Library as a unreliable source) to the narrative that appears to be all too common among the harder left, that the Thatcher destroyed our manufacturing base, rather than change it.

        Indeed, the manufacturing output by global value figures look like grim reading for the period 1999-2010, and the Thatcher was not in power then. Perhaps that is also “inconvenient” for the harder left.

        • PeterBarnard

          But Jaime, you just can’t use market exchange rates to assess output. If you look at the widget example above, from the point of view of the man in Missouri, our “output” (measured by market exchange rates) has gone up by 36%, when it is patently the same widget, with the same function and utility, and doing exactly the same thing.

          On a constant prices basis, according to ONS Time Series Data CKYY (no longer available, I fear), our manufacturing index (ie output) was 59.7 in 1960, 79.9 in 1970, 84.5 in 1979, 72.4 in 1982, 93.3 in 1990, 97.9 in 1997, 102.2 in 2007 and 88.8 in 2009.

          That’s a simple way of looking at things. I’ve remarked before that a Mini, in 1959, cost about 9 months of an average wage, whereas nowadays it costs about 6 months of an average wage, ie relative to wages, a Mini is about 30% cheaper than it was 54 years ago. That’s not accounting for the much better specification and overall quality of today’s Mini. Take that into account, and perhaps a Mini today is half the price that it was when first introduced.

          Productivity! It’s the only game in town …

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas


            our productivity to your man in Missouri has surely gone down? “How many British widgets can I get for $100 dollars?” is probably more important to him. If the answer is less for the same cost, then we are less productive to him.

            Anyway, the comparison is between a common set of countries over a large number of years. We gained more financial value over the period I reference. The data of course does not show if we did so by selling 100 widgets for £1 each in 1979, or 50 widgets in 1990 for £2.50 each.

          • PeterBarnard

            Well, whether it’s up or down, Jaime, it shows the futility of using market exchange rates.

          • David Battley

            What alternative are you proposing Peter? A closed currency exchange?

          • rekrab

            Jaime, come on,you’ve been variably measured out by the master.
            Productivity is the true marker.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Not really, Derek. It is a balance sheet versus time sheet argument, and balance sheets matter more than accounting for productivity. Peter as ever has a technical point, but does not address the main argument. The data shows that Britain was selling more manufactured goods, as a proportion of global trade, in 1990 than in 1979. Unless you disbelieve the data, that is incontrovertible, and not dependent on how you measure it. And Britain by the same measure collapsed by close to 50% of our previous global manufacturing trade proportion in the 13 years of New Labour from 1997 to 2010.

            It is “inconvenient” for the left, but that is a separate argument.

          • rekrab

            Tonnage as in light weight goods rose but the offset in tonnage on imports also rose.Productivity is the true measure because as a consuming world were all guided by house hold product spending. Unemployment was 1.4 million in 1979 by 1982/3 it was over 3 million, so it was never a case that we had it so good as a case that we we’re under achieving on spending and employment due large industrial closures.Trying to control spending powers by increasing unemployment while encouraging massive house prices and the banking service sector only led to an increase in debt.Balance! is more than just a spread sheet figure?

          • PeterBarnard

            How many times do I have to tell you, Jaime, that you are using the wrong data, ie data based on current market exchange rates, and not on purchasing power parity. And, what the heck is a “time sheet?” And finally, a balance sheet measures assets and liabilities at a specific point in time ; in no way does it measure production.

            If you use the wrong data, you will draw invalid conclusions, and that is exactly what you have done.

            Another finally – it has nothing to do with “inconvenience for the left” ; I have not mentioned either left-leaning nor right-leaning politics.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Peter, a “time sheet” is the form – paper or electronic – that employees use to record how they have spent their time in a week. We use them in the NHS, I also think they are also normal in many other organisations. I don’t need to tell you what is a balance sheet.

            At a business level, what is preferable: to make more money from selling less amounts of higher value goods, or slightly more goods than last year but of the same type? There is probably no single answer.

            Would a business rather sell 1,000 expensive Jaguars, each for a profit of £10,000, or 10,000 cheap Vauxhalls, each for a profit of £1,000? The fact that it takes nearly the same labour to produce each car, and so nearly ten times the costs for the same profit is a balance sheet issue. Not a time sheet issue.

            I don’t believe that I am using “the wrong data”. The data in the report is a % of global trade from manufactured goods, against the US dollar, over time. If Britain had a greater percentage, then the exchange rates are of some interest, but ultimately what it measures is which country is up and which down. The causes of the ups or downs are not recorded.

          • PeterBarnard

            Don’t patronise me, Jaime, with talk of “brutal mathematics.” I did take a degree in engineering, in which mathematics is used to a considerable degree.

            The rest of your comment is fog, and strays away from my original point that it is fundamentally flawed to use current market exchange rates when making international comparisons.

            Look up international Geary-Khamis dollars.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            I do not intend to patronise you Peter, but if you took such, well, I apologise. You may perhaps momentarily be choleric with me, but I do see that we have a similar opinion of mathematics, and if you have taken an engineering degree, and me one in medicine, then actually we are both about equally involved in the world of applied mathematics, and no doubt trained to a similar level. My sister is the Engineering Director of Chile’s now largest aviation engineering company (and one of only 4 women Board Directors of companies quoted on the Santiago Bourse, and I am in complete admiration for the sorts of applications she puts her team of engineers to achieve). She is much better at proper mathematics than I am. Goodness, she can turn serial calculations into parallel matrices in her head. That is something that I cannot do.

            But, and not to be antagonistic, I do not see the rest of my comment as “fog”. These things – risk, reward, gearing, timescale to ROI – are realities for investors. And while investors and the readers of LL may not often rub the shoulders and discourse, our national life needs both.

          • PeterBarnard

            I make the simple and cardinal point that drawing the conclusion that you did, using market exchange rates, is fundamentally flawed and you end up by talking about Vauxhall and Jaguar cars, your sister in Chile, and a load of other stuff a country mile away from my point.

            Using market exchange rates, the UK economy in 1985 (£362 billion, with USD 1.3 = £1) was 11% of the size of the US economy (USD 4,200 billion) ; in 1991, the market exchange rate had moved to USD 1.77 = £1, with the result that, on your proposition, the UK economy (£603 billion) was 18% of the size of the US economy (USD 5,992 billion).

            Do you think it even remotely plausible (even with the “miracle of Thatcher”) that the relative sizes of the US and UK economies should change so dramatically in just six years? I don’t, given that the real growth in each of the economies over the period was more or less equal at 17%.

    • aracataca

      This is all Gradgrind like b***ocks. I was skint during her time and so was everybody I knew.It was party time for the wealthy few and misery and hardship for everybody else. As she was a fan of privatisation- can’t we privatise the funeral and get her mates to pay for it?

  • You are right. There are indeed “no wets” in the cabinet. Not even libdem ministers! This lot are worst than Thatchers loathsome government.

    • Dave Postles

      There is an equivalence, though. The ‘vegetables’ (Spitting Image) are now the LibDems.

  • NT86

    Did anyone see the Channel 4 coverage today? It’s amazing yet so frightening how polarised Mrs Thatcher’s legacy has made the country. The Tory MP James Wharton (not many of those in the North East, unsurprisingly) was left virtually humiliated during a debate at a club in Consett in Durham. You could hear people in the background heckling him as he defended Thatcher’s policies and their impact on the region’s industry.

    In contrast, they ran a feature on how Romford became a hub for blue collar Conservativism with so many ex council tenants benefiting from right-to-buy. It would be very wrong begrudge any working class person who has made a good life for themselves. The experiences of the Essex man versus Durham miner illustrates the divisions. I just think it’s sad that Thatcher didn’t apply the brakes to her most excessive policies where necessary so that working class communities in ALL parts of the country could flourish and continue what they loved to do.

    But it was successive governments that ultimately chose to follow her path rather than carve out a distinctive route for Britain. That is far more pernicious than her policies at the time. The North East has had over 2 decades to see a revival. Absolutely nothing has improved for that region. Nor has there been much progress in my region of South Yorkshire.

    • JoeDM

      The way Labour supporters are behaving is showing us just who is the real ‘Nasty Party’ !!!

      • rekrab
      • $6215628

        Joe theres a couple of hundred people in the streets with bad taste banners and yes there’s a lot of people old enough to have suffered and seen their communities and jobs destroyed by her who are saying and tweeting things like I won’t mourn her, hardly nasty, and what makes you think these people are labour supporters ,just cos they don’t like Mrs thatcher, they could be Heseltine fans!

      • NT86

        WTF? What has that got to do with anything, let alone the comment I just left? I didn’t leave a nasty message or anything. I made a comment and it said NOTHING that was personally offensive about Thatcher.

      • I understand you are distressed by recent events and your judgement may be distorted by grief so may gently suggest: if your observation is accurate there would be no need to say it.

    • Carolekins

      The North East was absolutely shattered by Margaret Thatcher’s policies. Once thriving mining villages are now taken over by landlords and social security tenants. New Labour did at least pour money into the area and we were clawing our way back thanks to investment in the public sector and some new private industries. The new welfare cuts and bedroom tax will impact deeply on an area where because of the disappearance of the traditional industries some 50% of the population depend on benefit.

  • Daniel Speight

    Better than your last one Mark.

  • Daniel Speight

    from The Independent:

    Police officers are monitoring social media, internet forums and BlackBerry messaging networks in the expectation that Margaret Thatcher’s funeral procession next Wednesday will be targeted by protesters. The possibility of demonstrations during the funeral has raised concerns that police may adopt the controversial tactic of making pre-emptive arrests.

    Pre-emptive arrests? Better be careful Mark.

    • Dave Postles

      State oppression?

      • $6215628

        Only when minority report pre cog crime per emotive arrests apply to lefties, apparently it’s o.k to arrest the EDL, for possible future breach of the peace,

  • Daniel Speight

    Is the Westminster bubble failing to sense the public mood. The deference being given to Thatcher from some of Labour’s leaders could end up being self-defeating. This fear of the tabloids rests on them being representative of public opinion, or at least public opinion formers. Yet…

    According to The Independent The song Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead is rapidly moving up the charts.

    Sales figures for Monday, released by the Official Charts Company, showed that the song had already made it to number 54 in the rundown used by Radio 1.

    Now wouldn’t that be embarrassing if BBC radio was playing that song when the funeral takes place.

  • Daniel Speight

    And yet another comment from my good self about Thatcher. She can certainly claim to have got me thinking by dying on us. It should happen more often!

    While the right wing media barons tell us what a great leader she was, it is worth remembering an earlier prime minister, Clem Attlee, of whom Churchill said ‘a modest man with much to be modest about’. Now none would call Thatcher modest. Modesty, along with other things like compassion wasn’t in her makeup.

    But the interesting thing is to compare Attlee and Thatcher. Attlee was a creator. During that 1945 government so much was built from houses to the NHS, and yes to Beveridge’s welfare state. Then we look at Thatcher’s far longer period as prime minister and we see not a creator but a destroyer. Her legacy is in what she destroyed, from Trade Unions to the post war economic consensus. Her claim of pride in Labour electing Blair as leader was the culmination of her attempts to destroy the Labour Party as an electoral force and she is quite right to be proud of Blair because he was her continuation. New Labour, Thatcherism with a human face which I think is what Anthony Painter was claiming to be his idea of social democracy.

    • AlanGiles

      “Attlee was a creator. During that 1945 government so much was built from houses to the NHS, and yes to Beveridge’s welfare state. ”

      Good morning Daniel. Another point is that Atlee built all of this when this country was financially on it’s knees after the war, with continuing shortages, rationing and reduced output due to the worst winter on record (up to then) in 1947.

      Mrs. Thatcher,as you say wasn’t a creator, and it has to be said, despite the praise heaped on Blair by his fans, and the damning with faint praise by his supporters of the Atlee and Wilson governments, it is a shocking reflection on the New Labour years that, despite the two landslides and bouyant economy, building social housing was virtually ignored, while billions of pounds was spent on prosecuting unwinnable wars.

      I have just heard on News Briefing that the security for Mrs Thatcher’s funeral next Wednesday will cost £10 million, plus of course there will be all the “expenses” involved in recalling parliament today for the obsequies of MPs and peers. Age of Austerity – oh yes!

  • PaulHalsall

    Good piece, Mark.

  • AlanGiles

    Now we know why so many MPs were so anxious to pay tribute yesterday:

    There are far too many of these Westminster benefit claimants “playing the system”. It is time we had a “debate” on excessive claims, isn’t it Mr Duncan-Smith, and what do you say, Mr Byrne?.
    Time to stop it – “no if’s no buts”.

    • Dave Postles

      Bercow comes out of this with some honour.

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