Monday, 3 June 2013

Thatcher on Thatcherism: Using her own Words to Evaluate her Decade

You know I feel a problem with trying to get objective history when dealing with overtly political figures and events is that ultimately the validity of the argument is dependent upon the political views and preconceived notions already held by the audience.

So in an attempt at fairness I'll try to overcome my own personal baggage and analyse Mrs T based on her own stated goals. I am old enough to remember the Thatcher years and that it was promoted and defended on the promise of three main goals, lower unemployment, an end to dependence upon the state and a freer society for all. So lets see how well she did shall we?

Unemployment


Margaret Thacther came to power in May 1979 and left in November 1990. Thats just over 11 years more then enough time to improve the unemployment rate. In fact so concerned with the unemployment was she that it became the defining policy of her election campaign.

Quite hard to misinterpret






Apparently not, in 1979 the unemployment rate was 1.1 million but rose to over 3 million in 1982 but started falling towards the end of year rule but was still higher then when she left it. So we can see that's strike one for Thactherism.


An end to State Dependency

Another frequent message in speeches and Party Election adverts was the idea that "freeing" the Market (even if in practice we replaced a State monopoly with a private one) would free the people. In short this would mean an end to dependency upon the state. How did she do? Well not very well I'm afraid, as we've already established unemployment jumped and remained very high during her rule. In Capitalist society the only way for a person to be functionally independent is to be financially independent, and you can't be financially independent if you don't have a job.

In addition Maggie passed a lot of legislation that increased the power of the state and undermined the independence of civil society and local government.

The Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 introduced a new 'block grant' and compulsory competitive tendering (CCT) for direct labour organisations. The block grant allowed the government to impose grant penalties on councils which exceeded expenditure targets
Powers were taken away from local government in London Docklands and Merseyside and, instead, development corporations were imposed. Enterprise zones, with tax breaks, were also introduced. Michael Heseltine, as Thatcher's environment secretary, oversaw an interventionist style of urban regeneration which has proved influential ever since.
 Rate-capping, which restricted the spending of councils, on the other hand utterly divided local and central government. Even Conservative councils and leaders were opposed, though it was a number of radical urban Labour leaders who decided to adopt a policy of not setting a rate. Councils such as Sheffield, Liverpool, Islington, Lambeth and Haringey set out towards illegality as part of a rebellious strategy to confront the Thatcher government and generate mass opposition.
Her famous Trade Union legislation made it much harder for workers to organise and then effectively apply pressure to their bosses. Secondary picketing was outlawed, so your buggered if your workplace has more then one Union operating or more then one facility. And breaches of these laws run the risk of confiscation of Union funds and resources. This means that working class people had one of their most effective means of demonstrating independence significantly reduced.
 
Speaking of working people her taxation policies in particular the infamous Poll Tax took disproportionately affected those on lower incomes. This meant that for those not making six figure incomes had to pay a much higher share of the tax burden further limiting their financial independence.

The present rating system is based on property owners, both domestic and commercial, with the largest burden for local government expenditure falling on industry, commerce, middle and upper classes and grants from central government. The present government is totally opposed to this system and the implementation of the Poll Tax is the final part of a strategy to shift the burden of local government expenditure onto the local population, i.e. the working class. Through the reduction of central government grants, as seen in Scotland, where over the last 10 years grants have dropped from 75% of local government expenditure in 1975/6 to 55% inn 1987/8. By using the threat of "rate capping",4 a system where local authorities had their grants further cut on the excuse of over expenditure, the burden was even further shifted onto local ratepayers.

Then there were the morality and censorship Acts or sections of Acts, her government was fond of putting tangential requirements in broader legislation. A good example of this is Section 28 of the Local Government Act of 1988. Section 28 stated that a local council and its affiliated services will not "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship". Because of this addition Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual support groups in many areas that worked with Council services had to wind down their activities or break their links with local government. This style of arbitrary authoritarianism was pretty standard procedure for the self proclaimed champion of the individual.

And then there was her best friends internationally, after Reagans America the two nations Thatcher was closest to were Chile and Apartheid South Africa, hardly bastions of small government. Now Thatcher's remarks about Mandela calling him a terrorist is one of the few areas where even her apologists will acknowledge to be a mistake. But for some reason far more important economic and political links between London and Pretoria have been swept under the rug.

Under Thatcher’s eleven-year term as Prime Minister, Britain remained the main political and economic backer of apartheid South Africa. In its 1985 pamphlet on South Africa, the Revolutionary Communist Group, which helped to found City Group, described how Britain benefited from investments in South Africa.
‘British companies’ stake in apartheid gives an average rate of profit of some 21 per cent. This is extremely high compared to a 6-7 per cent average return on investment in Britain. So it is no surprise that 500 British companies invest in South Africa…British banks and companies earned £1bn last year from their investments in apartheid…Shell and BP control 40 per cent of oil sales in South Africa…British banks had claims of $5.562bn (£4.7bn) on South Africa (end June 1984), a rise of $1.02bn (£0.92bn) or 22.5 per cent on the previous year. Britain’s stake in apartheid is enormous. And precisely because investment in apartheid is so profitable, British collaboration with apartheid will not be easily broken.’

I could go on but  I think its save to say this is strike two for Thatcherism.









  Greater Civil Liberties

In addition to her attacks on the ability of people to express their independence from her government and world view in general this "Champion of freedom" attacked civil liberties throughout the country. The powers of the police were increased to such an extent that they were given the nickname "Thatchers army" since they operated like an invasion force.

According to the MI5 whistleblower Cathy Massiter, some 300 anti-nuclear, union and civil liberties activists were the targets of government surveillance. Thatcher’s spies justified surveillance of domestic political opponents by saying there were Soviet sympathizers trying to infiltrate those groups. That may, or may not, have been true. But those arguments were also used by Thatcher’s friend in Chile, the brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet. They were used by her friends in the apartheid government of South Africa.
 
There was also increased censorship in the media, a rather strange policy of Thatchers relating to Northern Ireland has been called the "Oxygen of Publicity" initiative, after a speech she gave in 1985. Basically this was an attempt to censor extremist groups without actually censoring them. That sounds daft because it is, what this actually entailed was if a member of a group deemed to be connected to terrorism in Northern Ireland the media could still report their statements but not with their own voices. A way around this ban was to either subtitle them or get someone to dub over them.

The broadcasting ban, or 'Restrictions' as they were officially known, extended to 11 republican and loyalist organisations believed to support terrorism, but many believed that Sinn Féin and the IRA were the main targets.
At best, it could be said that it was a half-hearted censorship.
Newspapers would be permitted to carry statements from those organisations, and television news programmes would be permitted to show images of spokesmen at press conferences, but their voices would have to be removed.
With 20 years' worth of hindsight, Douglas Hurd now says he accepts that the ban soon became enormously counter-productive.
Not least because broadcasters quickly found a way to subvert the terms of the new law by having actors re-voice the words spoken by Sinn Féin spokesmen.
In effect this weird censorship policy failed but it did succeed in frustrating those groups and make negotiations and dialogue with the public more difficult.

So that's strike three.

Addendum

There's also a qoute by Mrs T that her supporters just love to copy and paste to prove her freedom loving nature.

"Socialists cry “Power to the people”, and raise the clenched fist as they say it. We all know what they really mean—power over people, power to the State."


Yeah she really hated the power of the state I'm sure.




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