Thatcher Legacy

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Your leader (Guardian 12th April) invites opinion regarding the Thatcher legacy and these are likely to be just as polarised as opinion during the decade of her government leadership.

It is moreover possible that the judgement of posterity requires the longer term, since many of Thatcher’s values were shared by her successors Major and (to some extent at least) Blair. We are only now beginning to see, and feel the financial consequences of those years.

There is no doubt that an atrophied trades union leadership and the ever-increasing prediliction for confrontation during the Seventies and early Eighties set the scene for a battle that the trades union movement comprehensively lost. Many of the trades unions at that time were deeply in need of reform and the jettisoning of archaic ‘closed shop’ practices (the print unions coming easily to mind), but too few of the union leaders recognized that. Scargill, one of the most powerful, proved himself to be the world’s worst general when he mandated a strike (without bothering to seek miners’ approval with a popular vote), and began it at the end of winter and at a time when the power stations had amassed record levels of stockpiled coal. He was a gift to the Thatcher government and her coal planners, and we might consider the example, at much the same time, of the German trades unions. who consistently worked with the government and employers, securing levels of prosperity that Britons could only dream of.

Britain’s industrial base was all too swiftly eroded and replaced by the curious notion that sufficient money might be made out of money itself to meet all of Britain’s material needs. That of course ended with the banking crash in 2008 whose most immediate effect was to devalue the Pound by 20% from which it has yet to recover. By that time Baroness Thatcher’s grasp of reality had been erased by dementia, which is a pity as it would have been interesting to have her reaction to the fact of a bank bailout to the tune of 8 billion pounds financed by the taxpayer. Interesting, too, to speculate what that great champion of free enterprise and competitive tendering would have thought about a near-state funeral whose 8 million pound cost would largely be borne by the same taxpayer.

Finally, those admirers in the Falkland Islands and elsewhere who claim that Thatcher put the ‘great’ back into Great Britain, are perhaps unaware that the adjective had no connotation of wealth or power, and merely reflected the fact the the Union Act of 1907 combined England and Scotland into Great Britain. Rather fewer admirers of the Iron Lady in Scotland since she made them the guinea pigs for the disastrous poll tax, and we might consider the fact that, today, there is but one Conservative MP within Scotland and, further, that Scotland may yet opt for independence. Some legacy, and those who today inhabit the former industrial towns of coal and steel and wonder about the Thatcher legacy need only look about them.

Yours Aye,

Harry Foxley

(via email)