The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
Love Her or Hate Her She was Ours
RIP Baroness Margaret Thatcher (1925 – 2013)
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly of her Premiership
Prime Minister 4th May 1979 – 28th November 1990
Love her, hate her, admire her or loath some of what she did, Baroness Thatcher evokes a strong response from those that were alive during her Premiership of 11 years (from 1979) if I am not mistaken. I was studying for O’Levels (now GCSEs) when she took control of the Government, the Country and all our destinies. I recall clearly what it was like after years of civil unrest and strikes, rubbish piled high on the streets as a result, frequent power cuts in the darkest of cold winters, a heavy morose atmosphere akin to the current recession. Many said this was too tough a job for a woman. What they didn’t realise until later was she was more focused and single minded than any man then or since in Government. She was unique at the time, truly the first of her kind; the first female politician that reached the top of the tree in what was a ‘men only’ world at the time re politics and business – not anymore! But she knew this and used this, and it allowed her to get in under the wire with many of her counterparts across the world, who expected her to be soft – boy did they find out how wrong they were. Often this meant she got what she wanted on the world stage, winning in Europe a huge rebate we still receive today, bringing an end to the ‘Cold War’, taking back the Falklands, being seen as equal to President Reagan, visiting the closed Chinese Chairman as she knew this was an emerging economy long before anyone else did, and the list went on of international achievements.
Whereas at home things were far more difficult, far more heated as if these people that stood up to her were taking her on face to face, which they were not. Many were just fighting for their homes, their jobs, their communities and the only way of life that they had known for generations. But she was a sharp cold wind of change that was unstoppable, a storm, and a tempest wiping clear the old, in many cases before the new was ready to fill the gap. This resigned some generations to 20+ years of unemployment, and it wasn’t just heavy industry that was put on the scrapheap, some of the country’s hardest working people/communities were scrapped in the process too. Cyclone Thatcher wiped it all away and it is only 30 years later do some of those communities start to have a new future, industrial land rebuilt, new technologies, industries coming in. The boom times of the 80’s and 90’s missed these communities totally, they were left with nothing. These times gave birth to UB40, Boomtown Rats, Sex Pistols, Stranglers, to name but a few social commentators through music.
Some though look back and feel she was the last in an era of truly great leaders that had lined up starting with Churchill leading out of war. The only one of note nowadays is Boris Johnson and that is more for his comical antics, definitely not one to have his finger on the button, not with the weekly clown-like antics he produces, Boris the Court of St James’ Jester in residence. I could easily see Boris as PM and then plunge us into war with him screaming, “But I was only joking!” Whereas Thatcher was focussed, determined, and dragged us out of the 1970’s recession and into a new era for Britain, an era that would be defined later as Thatcherism – not bad going for a Grocer’s daughter to have a period and style of politics, a period of history, named after her for future generations to study, to debate, to fight about. Well here’s my little take on a remarkable Woman.
I sometimes catch our rather insipid political elite associating themselves with Thatcher and the likes of Churchill, but they are by comparison just personality-free, pale shop manikins that would not be able to hold their own in the same company as her, let alone debate anything with her. She was just simply head and shoulders above them intellectually, and they could learn so many lessons from her about getting out of a recession. Thatcher dragged us out of the doldrums of the 70’s kicking and screaming, by cutting expenditure but investing billions every year in new schemes, grants for entrepreneurs, new start-ups, and was an economic regeneration wizard. Thatcher knew what she needed to do and did it despite any protests but also sometimes without listening to her advisors, and this is when things could and did go wrong for her at times. I think her ‘To Do List’ would have read:
1. Sort out the housing market;
2. Sort out the trade unions;
3. Nationalise state industries;
4. Free up the stock market;
5. Sort out Europe;
6. Sort out the Cold War;
7. Save the Falklands;
8. Go to war with my own country over the trade unions, miners and the Poll Tax (now called Community Charge);
9. Win 3 elections;
10. Serve as PM for 11 years;
11. Be stabbed in the back by your own Cabinet;
The Grocer’s daughter did all this and so much more, she took a country on the brink of economic ruin and developed a vibrant era of wealth and market expansion based on privatising state owned companies (Privatisation) such as British Gas or the Water companies, Telecom and even the Electric companies. Everyone could buy stocks in these companies, enabling people to make money by buying and selling shares, which used to be the preserve of the upper class. Some have said that by freeing the markets and the financial industries this was a double edged sword. All acknowledged that this was badly needed and released the country to recover from recession of the 70’s but also may have been the first step that led to the financial house of cards collapsing in 2008. However, in the 80’s the economy boomed, as did the very funny Harry Enfield’s “Loads-a-money” character.
Hand in hand with freeing up the financial markets Thatcher gave the country and the working class, traditionally in council properties by the millions, the biggest boost to purchasing homes ever, and made the housing market soar with success, bigger than anyone has experienced since. Until her Premiership only the middle class and above could get a mortgage to buy their own home. So Thatcher freed this up and brought in laws to say that tenants of council properties had the ‘Right to Buy’ their property and for a reasonable repayment, guaranteeing financial schemes that underpinned their mortgages. The markets soared higher than any eagle, to where only vultures glide from thermal to thermal, rising ever higher until they come down to feast, because she (like so many advisers around her) did not realise that in economics of Countries that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So the boom of the 1980’s was followed by the bust of the early 1990’s.
There were other negatives under her Leadership, such as the selling off of the nationalised companies meant a head on clash with the unions, and they were so powerful coming out of the 1970’s. It was said they could make or break the country and I think Thatcher felt that this powerhouse had to be swept away. She brought in new laws curbing the power of the unions and protecting the employers from the unions, and whether one agrees with this or not, she did what she felt was right for the country in a new era of boom. Thatcher out manoeuvred union after union, using her political majority to bring in Acts that reduced their power to a minimum. She was cleaver enough to be at least ten moves ahead of them. Of Course that was until she met the Miners and Arthur Scargill who became the leader of the Union of Mineworkers in 1982 and stopped Thatcher dead in her tracks. Hell was unleashed across Yorkshire and the North East, Miners and Police in pitched battles that divided the communities to this very day. Weeks turned into months of conflicts as the Miners fought for their jobs, homes, and communities, but they eventually lost as all had done before her.
Some more insightful people saw it as being Thatcher that truly lost, as the country was split. Heavy industries such as Ship Building, Coal, & Steel were destroyed, wiped from the economic landscape with nothing to replace them. But she did not think to see what the consequences were of her actions, to her destroying the unions, as these communities were once industrial towns, where everyone was employed by one big employer, such as the mines, or by steel, heavy industrial forges, blast-furnaces, and ship yards. So when the heavy industry, which had started up in Britain’s Industrial Revolution, was closed because they were loss making, the hopes and dreams of the communities were ravished.
Generations of unemployment followed, decades without hope or work, generations resigned to a new landscape that needed brains and not brawn. These wounds were rubbed with salt as the London Stock Exchange “Loads-a-Money” flash boys wasted money openly in ridiculous amounts, buying bottles of rare Champagne to drink that would have fed a family in the Coal fields for months – the irony and shameful extremes sickening to the commentators of the time. But never would unions of any kind have as much power as she removed from them by act of parliament and by police baton. I live in the North East and I can see she is a figure that is hated by many, far more than in other area perhaps, and I see the scars on the landscape and look at the Angel of the North, seeing the embodiment of heavy metal working that is long since gone.
But there was far more to Baroness Thatcher and her ability to hack off the people over the Poll Tax (now called Community Charge), which lead to more than a few nights of rioting in just about every city in the mid 80’s! This woman was also skilled at resolving conflicts, even if that meant some violence to achieve her longer term goals! This is how I became so interested in politics. I saw the world say to her and to Britain that we had lost the Falklands and there was nothing we could do about it, being so far away and so close to the aggressors Argentina. Even her closest advisors said taking the islands back was impossible, even allies in two world wars said it was impossible and would cost the lives of 10’s of thousands of British troops. Thatcher said that not only can it be done, it had to be done, or it would end up being a free for all and land grab anywhere in the world – sovereignty would mean nothing. So Thatcher ignored the political advice and got her military advisors into 10 Downing Street and the rest is history. However, think on these two things, think on what she had in her mind:
a. The pure pressure she was under – what if this war was lost;
b. That she went through a personal hell for every life that was lost, calling the families personally;
She did say that she found it extremely difficult to taste victory when we won the Falklands back knowing the price she had asked the armed forces to pay. Personally the recent vote in the Falklands about citizenship shows what she did for them is still honoured to this day, as there was not a single politician of her day would have taken the risk for a couple of hundred people in faraway islands. Now they are the focal point for oil and gas exploration in the Antarctic, their position is perfect for oil and gas fields that could be worth trillions in the future. In war she proved to be remarkable and resilient. Thatcher said she never liked bullies, whether individuals or countries in the world, her Father taught her well, taught her to speak her mind, to do what she felt was right and to never accept bullies, challenging them head on.
However, she also learnt that she could use other tactics (as opposed to military intervention) to win the bullies and the intimidators over, she used her perceived weakness as a woman in a world of only male leaders, to disarm them, charm them and win the day before they even knew what had happened. The classic example I can think of to demonstrate this was that she won President Reagan over by allowing him to base some nukes in the UK, which she knew would bring the USSR (United Soviet States of Russia – now just Russia) to the negotiating table. The American missiles in the UK guaranteed that if Russia attacked they were certain to have MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction. Even the largest country on earth could see there was nothing to gain, so Thatcher used her ‘disarming’ femininity to bring Comrade Gorbachev to the negotiating table. He dubbed her the Iron Lady but she and Reagan brought lasting peace to the world, an end to the Cold War, an end to MAD, an end to hard line Communism. The Berlin Wall fell and Europe was finally at peace after nearly 50 years of tension between East & West. Now that is a legacy to be proud of and directly led to peace across the world, as there was no longer a need to take sides whether East or West!
This use of her femininity was also used in the meeting of European Ministers, and she then went cutthroat on them and negotiated a unique refund, a rebate from the European Union, worth millions to the UK and remains in place to this day. Baroness Thatcher was also very vocal about the dangers of Europe and that it would one day take power off countries and place it in the hands of a non-elected few, a Federal Europe. She was scathing about what she could see developing and actually these things have come to pass. The single currency, single market, EU Courts overriding our own courts, restrictions on what we can and cannot do commercially, and inability to act independently as a country – aren’t we just about in a single country called the EU!?!? Thatcher was warning politicians, who would still listen to her in her later years, to the bitter end that being close to Europe spelt trouble, warnings I suspect that Greece, Spain, Cyprus, Italy and many others wish they had acted upon before bankruptcy.
I recall that Lord Pattern was originally appointed by Thatcher to oversee the transition of Hong Kong back to China, as the British lease was up. Yes we once leased Hong Kong for over 100 years – think that’s the nice term for invaded and occupied. The process of negotiation was started by Thatcher and she knew it would open up the emergence of the world’s largest population. This act of transition brought growth to China and opened the doors to western products, which continue to flood in to this day. This would not have happened if it hand not been for Baroness Thatcher and her ability to read future events, look at the horizon and not just at the here and now – a lesson that our current politicians should look into, invest now to reap the rewards later!
My god she was a complex woman and even though she was eventually betrayed by her own cabinet, she changed the face of the world and Britain for the better on the whole. Love her or hate her, she was impressive; she was such a wonderful player on the world stage and yet misunderstood the needs of many of her own people with equal enormity to her global success. And then came her end, near Shakespearian in nature, still speculated to this day, her own Cabinet turned on her and ousted her. They pulled the rug from under her when most felt she could have won a historic fourth victory at election, but they feared how she may become immovable, so they moved on her first. I remember her leaving Number 10 with her faithful Dennis by her side. She was a broken woman by their betrayal but it was too late and she was destined to spend the next two decades as source of advice to many Ministers and Prime Ministers regardless of their party allegiances.
As I finished writing this blog to the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Thatcher’s actions, a commentator said, “She laid the ground for opportunities to be taken if you had a mind to.”
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