Opinion: Dr Strangelove: or how I got utterly fed up with the Left

Yesterday Margaret Thatcher died.

Predictably social media exploded with chatter about the passing of an epoch-defining politician. Perhaps it says something about the kind of people I associate with, that I found myself reading one comment after  another proclaiming “Ding dong the witch is dead”. Some of my Facebook ‘friends’ have even posted grinning photographs of themselves celebrating the happy event.

Whatever it says about my social circle, it says plenty about the Left.

I grew up in a left-wing household. My parents were of the CND generation, Labour party members who supported the miners’ strikes. I had only just started school when Thatcher was forced out by her own party to everyone’s delight. It is the earliest political event I can remember. I was brought up in the shadow of her memory. At school she was like Voldemort: She Who Must Not Be Named.

In the leafy, bohemian part of Oxford where I grew up, there was moral security in knowing that, though none of us had ever met any Tories, the struggle against them was one of good versus evil. Tories, personified by Margaret Thatcher, didn’t care about poor people. They took away the miners’ jobs. They didn’t give the NHS enough money. And all because they were rich, selfish, and greedy.

Even when I grew up and joined the Liberal Democrats, I thought hating Tories was in my blood. The Labour government’s insouciance towards civil liberties disturbed me. But the Left had been betrayed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and I knew which side I was on.

As I got swept up in the 2010 General Election campaign, I got to see more of the arrogance of Labour in power on the local council: their wasteful spending, favouritism of their own areas, and disdainful attitude towards the people whose views they were supposed to represent.

But the coalition government taught me a lesson about the Left I shall never forget.

As soon as the Lib Dems crossed the floor to the Government Benches, we seemed to cross that line between good and evil – in other words ‘left’ and ‘right’. Never mind that we had always said we were equally willing to work with Labour or the Tories. Never mind that we had never sought to identify ourselves as being on Labour’s ‘side’.

A few months after the election I was working in an MP’s constituency office. Every day I opened letters with foul-mouthed abuse scrawled across them. When I knocked on doors people told me I was a traitor because we had let the Tories in, that they would ‘never’ vote for the Lib Dems again.

I knew I hadn’t changed my views just because the electoral maths had forced my party into coalition. I knew the Lib Dems were exactly the same party as before the General Election.

What had changed was how people on the Left perceived us. We were on the ‘other side’ now, which literally meant we were bad people. And that meant it was OK for the NUS to publish chants about killing Lib Dems.

This is the kind of de-humanisation that makes it socially acceptable for educated people – who oppose the death penalty – to publicly rejoice at the death of a long-retired grandmother.

My parents were attracted to the Left because it seemed to offer humane values, like caring for the poor and vulnerable, and protecting minorities. That’s what they brought me up to believe in, and I still do.

No doubt there are people on the Left who say they only hate the Right because they care so strongly about the poor and vulnerable. But it is a strange kind of love that leads us to hate our fellow human beings.

* Jack Williams was the Constituency Organiser for Nick Clegg MP from 2010 to 2012 and the Parliamentary Researcher for Lorely Burt MP from 2013 to 2015. He now campaigns for the party as a volunteer.

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153 Comments

  • Geoffrey Payne 9th Apr '13 - 1:47pm

    Many of us try to adhere to the principle of hate the sin not the sinner. In terms of hating what she did, there were a good many who thought like that – probably the majority – in the Liberal party back in the 1980s. Bear in mind she was no shrinking violet herself. When she complained about being stabbed in the back when she was forced to resign, let’s not forget that she was pretty brutal towards her colleagues as well. It was in her nature to be loved or loathed. If she didn’t like it she could have done something about it but she didn’t.

  • ” I knew the Lib Dems were exactly the same party as before the General Election.”

    Not quite, do you really believe that not only voting for increased tuition fees but actively arguing for the policy would have happened before the election ?

    Do you think that the parliamentary party would have supported a Gordon Brown bill on secret courts even if it were identical to the one recently supported?

    The list could go on. The problem is twofold. I accept some people will blindly lose faith because of the coalition. But many more are doing so because of the way the coalition has been handled. To ignore this is to lose any chance of regaining the votes lost.

    Most thinking people will accept that voting against ones viewpoint is a factor of coalition. It happened in Scotland without causing such problems as those now being faced. The problem is the appearance of wholehearted support for Tory policies.

    As for the points about Lady Thatchers passing. You are quite correct it is totally wrong to act in this way. Many have managed to respect her memory whilst still disagreeing with her policies, and that is surely the adult way to behave.

  • Nigel Small 9th Apr '13 - 2:20pm

    The Lib Dem leadership have, for reasons which are still not 100% clear, moved further to the “right” than a significant portion of their supporters are comfortable with. I still classify myself as a liberal and I wholeheartedly agree with the majority of the Lib Dem policies published up until 2010. However, I have now lost faith in the leadership’s willingness to fight for these policies and liberal values in general. For that reason I can no longer identify with the party as it currently exists.

    I will be voting Green in 2015.

  • NotQuiteBrummie 9th Apr '13 - 2:44pm

    I’m sorry can you point me in the direction of a similar article of yours talking about the lessons you learnt about the Right following their use of 6 dead children in pushing their anti-benefits agenda.

    Any chance you can point me in the right direction?

  • Meral Hussein Ece 9th Apr '13 - 2:52pm

    A good post Jack, and serves to remind us how dehumanising rampant tribalism can be. There are very many decent people in all the main political parties, who want to make a difference.

  • Well said and eloquently expressed. You have summed up for me the dire lack of humanity in the very political class which congratulates itself on having greater concern and love for humanity because of it’s politics.

    BTW, the Liberal Democrats support the coalition, NOT the Conservatives. Why is that so hard to understand?

  • I suppose the first thing to do is avoid drawing conclusions about the Left (or the Right) based on a few tweets from your friends. Categorising people into these monolithic blocks and attaching simplistic labels to them strikes me as rather dehumanising in itself and isn’t that what you are meant to be against? Yesterday there were a few hundred people publicly celebrating the death of Margaret Thatcher and there were millions of people on the left who weren’t.

  • I suspect the right are equally capable of foul-mouthed abuse, Jack.They may be less likely to be open about it, as most of them have more to lose than their self-respect, while some of those on the left have so little investment in society that they see no reason to respect societal norms, even ‘respect’ for the dead.

    But you only have to read the comments on Guido’s site. You wait till we are in coalition with Labour.

  • When Harold Wilson died I can’t remember a large section of the left calling for a state funeral. Such tribalism was absent, despite the fact he won more elections than Thatcher. However, the biased views expressed in the media over the last 24 hours reminds us of Thatcher’s greatest achievement for this country – that she made the Tory party unelectable because of a cabal of right-wingers devoted to her polarised legacy with a sense of entitlement and a complete lack of insight. The electorate rejected the likes of Scargill but they also rejected Thatcherism in voting overwhelmingly for a party that espoused centrist policies (OK, Blair later turned out to be more right-wing, but the people voted for centrist policies). Labour and the unions adapted. The Tories haven’t and don’t look like winning an election outright for some time to come – it’s now 21 years since they last achieved it.

  • When people disagree with politics it always turns to conflict This is why they say don’t talk about politics or religion. at a dinner party. In the case of Margret Thatcher her biography is notable amongst those of other former PMs for the hate, scorn and belittlement poured on colleagues, foreign leaders and opponents alike. I feel sorry for her family and for their loss, but she was never a magnanimous or conciliatory person in either success or defeat. Plus look at the hate poured on the Left from the Right.
    Hate the politics not the politician is fine, but elevating them above criticism and asking people to collude in the their deification is entirely another matter.
    The reality for the Lib Dems is that the Party has not taken its vote with them and is in media terms more vilified by the Right than the Left, anyway. A lot of the supposedly Left Wing hate actually comes from those affected by the policies .

  • Whilst I agree that celebrating death is perverse you have overegged the pudding. Nobody is rejoicibg the death of a grandmother they are marking the death of a highly devisive figurehead just as some (again in an unseemly manner in my view) rejoiced at the death of Bon Laden as a figurehead rather than a loving husband or father.

    As a historian I personally welcome the range of views regardless of the taste left in the mouth. Too frequently in History important figureheads are lauded at the time of death thereby writing the first – unusually unhelpful – history of the figure which then takes ever longer to unravel. Whereupon claims such as ‘she was right at the time’ become accepted truisms without challenge.

    Finally this episode n

  • Max Wilkinson 9th Apr '13 - 3:57pm

    @ Nigel

    Which of the Green party’s liberal policies do you find so attractive?

  • Whilst I agree that celebrating death is perverse you have overegged the pudding. Nobody is rejoicibg the death of a grandmother they are marking the death of a highly devisive figurehead just as some (again in an unseemly manner in my view) rejoiced at the death of Bon Laden as a figurehead rather than a loving husband or father.

    As a historian I personally welcome the range of views regardless of the taste left in the mouth. Too frequently in History important figureheads are lauded at the time of death thereby writing the first – unusually unhelpful – history of the figure which then takes ever longer to unravel. Whereupon claims such as ‘she was right at the time’ become accepted truisms without challenge.

    Finally this episode not only makes one question the response of ‘the left’ (very Daily Mail of you) but also those of supposed Liberal persuasion. The RIP post by Stephen Tall asks for tributes but only if the are positive in nature. Is this the long held Liberal belief that ‘everyone has the freedom to speak as they wish … so long as it is framed in a manner acceptable to us … ‘

  • * in fairness a point of clarity. Stephen Tall asks for ‘tributes only’. I paraphrased above but believe the point still stands.

    Apols for the double post

  • “Which of the Green party’s liberal policies do you find so attractive?”

    Land Value Tax is a good one. So they’re actually more committed to a liberal policy than the LDs.

  • There is no excuse for the current moderation policy on a supposed liberal website.

  • Alex Sabine 9th Apr '13 - 4:32pm

    Simon,

    The fact that you cite people rejoicing at the death of Bin Laden (however unseemly) as being in any way comparable to rejoicing at the death of Thatcher – a democratically elected (and twice re-elected) leader of a free people – is quite breathtaking.

    No one is saying Thatcher or her policies should be immune from criticism because she has died (Thatcher herself would certainly not have expected that). But there is such a thing as human decency which I would hope those of ‘supposed Liberal persuasion’ – among others – think is important.

  • jenny barnes 9th Apr '13 - 4:35pm

    I knew the Lib Dems were exactly the same party as before the General Election.

    Well maybe they are. Maybe I should never have joined, because they now seem to be – as far as the parliamentary party is concerned – a fairly right wing neoliberal ,hayekian, even thatcherite, set of people. Demonising the poor and working for a minimal state?

  • “No one is saying Thatcher or her policies should be immune from criticism because she has died (Thatcher herself would certainly not have expected that). But there is such a thing as human decency which I would hope those of ‘supposed Liberal persuasion’ ”

    That’s exactly what the moderators are saying. They are refusing to allow criticism of her government and the effects of her policies because she has died. I am not being hyperbolic when I say that it feels like North Korea, given the same blanket bans on comments in the national press.

  • Helen Tedcastle 9th Apr '13 - 4:39pm

    @ Jack: ” I knew the Lib Dems were exactly the same party as before the General Election.”

    Really? I can’t agree – we’ve signed up to things we would not have accepted at all in opposition. Those who argue that ‘necessary’ changes were needed to health and education were not not arguing for a neo – thatcherite solution – yet that’s what we’ve got.

    Liberal Democrats in government should not be signed up to ‘radical’ solutions which actually mean privatisation, undermining of local community governance and forcing change through the strength of a minster’s convictions.

    Perhaps Margaret Thatcher’s greatest legacy to the left is destruction of self-confidence in their ideas.

  • Tom Papworth 9th Apr '13 - 4:42pm

    I once asked a friend, in all seriousness, what she thought the difference was between Left and Right.

    Entirely straight-faced she replied “Left Wing good; Right Wing bad. Right?”

    At that moment I knew that there was absolutely no point in having a conversation with her about politics, philosophy, economics, current affairs, or frankly anything beyond the immediate and personal.

  • @alex sabine

    Clearly there are differences between the two individuals but my point remains – what is celebrated is the passing of the public figure not the private grandmother/father/husband. Did those of ‘the right’ forget that Chevez was a family man when they deigned to write scathing obituaries?

    My point remains that to suggest it is distasteful to cheer the death of a ‘dear grandmother’ in relation to Thatcher is an entirely emotional attribution to their feelings which seeks to demonise rather than understand.

    I remain of the view that the celebration of any death is unacceptable.

  • @Tom Papworth
    “At that moment I knew that there was absolutely no point in having a conversation with her about politics, philosophy, economics, current affairs, or frankly anything beyond the immediate and personal.”

    I’ll do you the honour of replying to this one. Here are my questions – if she had said “Right Wing good; Left Wing bad. Right?” would you have responded? What is the point of your anecdote? – it is appears to me to be a complete non sequitur.

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Apr '13 - 4:51pm

    I would like to say to Jenny and Nigel who both talk of leaving the party, that the policies of Labour and the Green Party are economically unsustainable. The Conservatives don’t strive hard enough to help the poor (in my opinion), so this means the Lib Dems are the only viable option.

    In response to the author, I would like to say yes I disagree with people who celebrate her death. Ultimately I believe all humans are good, I couldn’t imagine myself celebrating the death of anyone.

  • Helen Tedcastle 9th Apr '13 - 4:55pm

    @Simon: ” I remain of the view that the celebration of any death is unacceptable.” Agreed. Mrs Thatcher wasn’t just an old lady who has passed away but a formidable and ground-breaking politician in her day. However much I disagreed and (still disagree) with Thatcherism, it’s bad taste and disrespectful to the dead, to glory in someone’s passing.

    @Tony Greaves: ” As for the Liberal Democrats, the battle for the soul and future of our party is only just beginning.”

    I couldn’t agree more.

  • Dave Atherton 9th Apr '13 - 5:53pm

    As a working class Tory and may be more libertarian as opposed to ‘liberal’ in the Lid Dem and American Liberal semantic, I think many people do not understand of the ‘broad left’ do not understand why people are free market.

    I find poverty equally as distressing as you guys, I used to live next door to them. However state control and meddling in the economy, just reduces general wealth, especially with the poorest., Take the current coalition’s green energy policies that are putting up the price of electricity and gas where the poorest will be hardest hit.

    Also going back to basics it was plain when the Berlin Wall fell the poor in West Germany were infinitely better off than the poor in East Germany. Ditto North and South Korea.

    The right/free market are de facto more caring as the poor are far better under a capitalist and the left’s unerring ability to bankrupt the UK makes them far more a danger to the poor and vulnerable.

  • Stuart Mitchell 9th Apr '13 - 6:02pm

    ” I had only just started school [in 1990]… In the leafy, bohemian part of Oxford where I grew up…”

    With respect, Jack, you are not well placed – geographically or temporally – to understand the depth of negative emotion so many people had (and still have) for Thatcher. If, like me, you had grown up in the 1980s in one of the more deprived parts of the urban north, you might not be quite so quick to judge.

    I don’t agree with your article. It’s right and proper that politics can evince visceral feelings in people, especially those who have seen entire communities wrecked for ideological reasons. Showing disrespect to the dead may well be taking things too far (and I certainly felt no pleasure at Thatcher’s passing yesterday), but on the other hand, why don’t we show the same respect to those who are alive? I have read comments about living politicians here on LDV which, to me anyway, are far more offensive than anything I’ve read about Thatcher today. You seem to think that Lib Dems are immune to the kind of tribal unpleasantness that exists in other parties, but that has not been my experience.

  • paul barker 9th Apr '13 - 6:11pm

    A lot of young people are really surprised to find out that “Lefties” can be nasty too. I used to be on the Far Left myself & am ashamed to remember myself lobbing bricks, breaking down gates etc. The distinction between that Far Left & mainstream Labour/Trades Unionists is a fuzzy one, low-level violence extends right across the “Left” spectrum.
    I still think it makes sense to see ourselves as part of a Centre-Left tradition but theres a fundamental split between the two branches depending on whether we see people as individuals or members of a Class, its a question of how easily we can see opponents as “Other”.

  • David Allen 9th Apr '13 - 6:14pm

    @Tony Greaves: ” As for the Liberal Democrats, the battle for the soul and future of our party is only just beginning.”

    I don’t think it has begun yet. No Tony, I am not under the illusion that you have been sitting on your backside. On the contrary, I know you have been fighting tooth and nail over a number of important issues at the House of Lords. Useful work, but, until the leadership become genuinely scared at the level of dissent within the party, it is not yet a battle for the future of the party.

    The leadership strategy will be to bob and weave away from the Right in a limited way, so as to quieten dissent. But not to bob and weave so far that they can’t bob straight back again when they choose to.

    The leadership strategy will be to say that now is not a time to debate the leadership, late 2014 would be the time. Then when we get to late 2014, everybody will be forced to agree that we left it too late to change.

    You’d think Osborne’s crude populism over Philpott would be the last straw. No such thing. Dealt with by means of a gentle bob-and-weave from Danny Alexander. The NHS Bill wasn’t the last straw. Tuition fees weren’t the last straw. If those events weren’t the last straw, nothing else will be.

    If people just drift away from the party, that won’t be the last straw either. Maybe, like Matthew Huntbach, we should declare ourselves to be “Lib Dems on strike”, who stop campaigning, don’t go to Eastleigh and the like, advertise as widely as possible within the Party that they won’t come back until things change. Maybe that will work. It is late for that, too.

    The other alternative is to be prepared to scuttle the ship. To campaign actively against the party, to reduce it to a taxi load of MPs after 2015 – because it won’t recover until it is first destroyed.

    If we’re not prepared to wreck the party, we have little chance of rescuing it.

  • Apologies Stephen. It was the post of ‘the voice’ not your post that asked for tributes only

  • Paul In Twickenham 9th Apr '13 - 6:56pm

    @David Allen – If we’re not prepared to wreck the party, we have little chance of rescuing it.

    But I suspect that some sort of Schumpeterian “creative destruction” is the unspoken driving force in Clegg’s mind: he thinks he must destroy the party in order to create it anew.

  • I agree with AndrewR, although celebrating her death deplorable, so is stereotyping another group based on the actions of a few. Many on the ‘right’ media side of the spectrum are already stereotyping anyone who criticises her as mindless, under 35 years old thugs.

  • David Allen 9th Apr '13 - 7:33pm

    Paul in Twickenham

    Yes – I think Clegg envisages a rump of some 30 re-elected Lib Dems, as indicated by the poll analysts, all safely aligned with the Right. The decision to campaign for a renewal of the Tory Coalition will be engineered for around the beginning of 2015, at which point a tiny few MPs with principles will jump ship, joining the masses of voters who have done that long ago. But most of the MPs will choose survival, and thereby finally abandon the centre-left.

    30 MPs is not enough to be at all certain of holding the balance of power, of course. However, that is to miss the point that Cameron needs a pro-Europe support group on his side which can counterbalance the pro-UKIP Tory Right. For that reason Cameron will offer Clegg a deal if he possibly can, even if he wins an outright majority (as seems possible given Miliband’s completely spineless lack of policy beef). If Boris takes over, he will look at Major’s experience with the anti-EU “bastards” and come to the same conclusion – Clegg can be useful inside the Tory fold.

    However, 6 MPs is not enough. I would rather have 6 Lib Dem MPs who can’t do any great harm, than 30 Lib Dem MPs whose job is the same as it was in 2010 – to entrench the Right in power.

  • Whilst I do think that celebrating the death of Thatcher is in poor taste, some of your writers should realise the visceral hatred that many felt and feel for her, her government and her policies. It is difficult to forget that hatred, when the Thatcher government wrecked many communities wholesale and practically destroyed British Industry, not to mention the break up of socially responsible public sector business – coal, electricity, gas and water.

  • OK, fair enough, you’renot quite as bad as North Korea. However, the moderation yesterday that only allowed positivve things to be said about her was absurd, in my opinion.

  • jenny barnes 9th Apr '13 - 8:14pm

    Eddie Sammon. the policies of the LibDems & Tories are economically unsustainable, except for the 1%. Neoliberal capitalism pulls all the growth in an economy towards the 1% or even 0.1%…. As that process develops, the remainder of the people can only maintain their standard of living by borrowing… and I seem to remember a tiny problemette with that in 2008. We need some economic policies that share the benefits of the economy….

  • @Joe Otten
    It might well be hilarious – but attempting to limit criticism is precisely what you did.

    You don’t have to be a tribalist to despise Thatcher. I’m a Liberal and my loathing for her is for the destruction of a fine manufacturing tradition in my hometown and her callous disregard for those she sacrificed to achieve it.

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Apr '13 - 9:13pm

    Jenny, I am afraid your analysis of “Neoliberal capitalism pulls all the growth in an economy towards the 1% or even 0.1%” is incorrect. If this was the case then it would be the west becoming richer with the emerging economies becoming poorer but in fact the opposite is happening.

    Your assumptions are based on myth peddled by the likes of Guardian opinion writers who have no economic credibility. If you wish to claim that capitalism leads to the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer then please provide the evidence. As far as I know this is only claimed in Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, which has no economic credibility at all.

    I don’t wish to attack personally, but you are someone who promoted a 100% income tax recently, which had coincidently also been promoted in a Guardian opinion piece recently, these extreme ideas are dangerous and I advise you to ignore them.

  • Helen Tedcastle 9th Apr '13 - 9:19pm

    @ Jack: ” I knew the Lib Dems were exactly the same party as before the General Election.
    What had changed was how people on the Left perceived us.”

    Your point about ‘perceptions’ of some on the Left is probably true. Tribalism will out but the Liberal Democrats are not immune from this.

    However, it is important to at least acknowledge that this Party has changed since the election and the top of the Party (loyally supported by cheerleaders), have allowed neo-Thatcherite solutions to deal be implemented in the public services – as if this is the only alternative – because we have no money – because ‘it is necessary’ – this is the language and the argument of the Right.

    Liberals have always had a distinctive approach to public services and public servants- if we couldn’t implement it with the Tories, we should aid and abet them in introducing their ideas ‘ light blue in tooth and claw either.

  • Helen Tedcastle 9th Apr '13 - 9:21pm

    Sorry in the previous comment, the sentence should read: “…we should not aid and abet them in introducing their ideas , ‘light ‘blue in tooth and claw either.”

  • Many in the Labour Party were as blinkered as Tory thinking we still had an empire after 1942. The end of Empire was the end of a preferential trading zone. The independence of the Indian sub-continent was the beginning of the end of the Lancashire Cotton Industry : in fact Japan considered it would overtake in the 1930s .

    The development of of more advanced technologies using less unskilled and semi-skilled labour in Japan and Germany post 1948 was un-recognised by Labour and the unions . The creation of large open cast coal pits in S A merica, USA,S Africa and Australia meant they could produce at £32/T compared to £44/T in the UK in the 80s. By the 1980s , The Monopolies and Mergers Commission said 75% of UK mines were uneconomic and the subsidy cost £1.2M/day.

    The strikes and poor quality of many British goods meant delivery was often late and goods had to be returned .
    The development of the silicon chip and doubling of computer power 18 months resulted in a degree of automation was possible which the unions and Labour never considered. There are now remotely controlled trucks in open cast mines- no drivers !

    The parochial union leaders, Labour Party members and commentators who never worked in businesses and lived in USA, Germany and Japan, were living in the past if they thought they could do want they wanted and not fall behind economically.

    The seamens and dockers strikes coincided with the closure of the Suez Canal post 1967 6 Day War . Consequently ships which had been limited by their size had to sail around S Africa. Therefore size of oil tankers went from 50,000 T to500,000 T- economy of scale .. Containers were introduced which could be stacked on ships decks. Containers were packed by factories and minimised damage to goods while being loaded on ships . Consequently , crane drivers loading containers could do the work of 10s if not 100s of dockers.

    A 500,000 oil tanker has similar number of crew to a 50,000 oil tanker.

    The inability build and deliver ships on time ,to price and without minimal defects meant much work to Japan and S Korea.

    1 or 2 container ships now carry all the toys made by China for the British Xmas Market.

    The problem is that heavy industry employing large numbers of un skilled and semi skilled were allowed to dominate towns . If the Labour Government post 1945 has educated and trained unskilled and semiskilled people to become craftsmen( 5 year apprentice) and diversified employment , then the collapse of heavy industry would have been less traumatic .Mittal made his money by taking over steel companies which were grossly over-manned, using old technology and cost control systems. The control of the TUC by the unskilled and semiskilled unions( 70% of members in mid 70s) stopped the upskilling og the British workforce. The power of union leaders and their incomes depend upon their numbers. G Lair and Bill Jordon of AEW, Chapple and Hammond of EETPU and John Lyon of Power workers realised Britain had to modernise and upgrade skills but they were a minority and represented skilled workers.
    When we expanded higher education in the 60s , large numbers of arts graduates were created in places such as York, Sussex, Kent , E Anglia when what was needed was a massive increase in engineering and applied science graduates from places such as Aston, Salford, Bradford, Loughborough, Brunel Strathclyde etc, etc.When in the 60s, Lord Brown was mocked at Cambridge for entering industry. I cannot think of one Labour or Liberal politician or thinker who created any industrial company and has an engineering background and is chartered.

    The backbone of the German economy are the small and medium sized , often family owned industrial companies. In this country , the equivalent type of employer is despised by the aristocracy, union leaders and left wing liberal middle class types The German employer has often been educated in engineering from the equivalent of a technical university such as Aston or a polytechnic.

    Turning polys which had served local businesses and industry into mini universities and stopping evening classes meant craftsmen could no longer become engineers and scientists through part time study- RJ Mitchell of Spitfire , Chadwick of Lancaster and B Wallis of Wellington, Bouncing Bomb, to name but a few. Many of best engineers left school at 16, took up apprenticeships ans studied at night school either degrees of the Part 1 and 2 exams of the Chartered Engineering Institutes in order to become Chartered Engineer, Architect, Surveyor. Similar schemes were present for banking , law and insurance which enabled ckerks to become professionals.

    If Britain had realised it had to compete industrially and returned to the spirit which gave the world the Industrial Revolution from 1700to 1850 , then it would be a better place today. Upgrading peoples skills and diversification away from employing large numbers of unskilled and semi-skilled into high value advanced manufacturing employing few bit more highly skilled people , was thwarted by Labour and the unions. Much of the advanced high value manufacturing such as satellites ( worth £7.5B/yr) lies within the Cambridge – S of Birmingham to Southampton areas , not the former industrial areas.

  • Ed Shepherd 9th Apr '13 - 9:53pm

    But these people sending hate-mail, chanting about Maggie Thatcher’s death and singing songs about killing LibDems are not representative of “The Left” anymore than those religious fantics in the USA who blow up abortion clinics are representative of “Christians”. Such people are extremists who are engaging in emotionally charged behaviour. “The Left” consists of a whole spectrum of people from pontificating Marxists theorists to moderate social-democrats. The most heated responses to Maggie Thatcher’s death reminds me of the era she is associated with: one of violent behaviour from extremists on all sides of the political spectrum. She was no fan of democracy (Chile? Saudi?) and was willing to sanction the use of violence when it suited her political aims. She was lucky to find her counterparts in the most extreme examples of her political opponents: people prepared to use violence when necessary. It’s no wonder that the death of a “grandmother”(should all grandmothers be regarded as benign?) who once advocated the use of violence is greeted with glee from some extreme characters. Had the writer of this piece mixed with some of the people on “The Right” in the 1980’s he would have met people singing songs celebrating racist attacks, supporting foreign terrorist movements and advocating the hanging of Nelson Mandela. The writer had better get used to the fact that he has now entered into government with such people. I wonder how comfortable he feels about rubbing shoulders with such people in the corridors of Westminster?

  • Paul In Twickenham 9th Apr '13 - 10:01pm

    The politics she created is called “Thatcherism”. Not “New Conservativism”, not “Hayekism”. The person is inextricably connected to the policies. I await with interest the end of the current spate of potted hagiographies and the appearance of rational and intelligent consideration of her legacy.

  • Charlie – excellent post, especially the bit about Polytechnics

  • Paul McKeown 10th Apr '13 - 12:12am

    @Dave Atherton

    “Take the current coalition’s green energy policies that are putting up the price of electricity and gas where the poorest will be hardest hit.”

    Hardly the right thread, but I could hardly leave such an incorrect statement unchallenged. It is not green energy policies that are putting up the price of electricity, it is that demand from emerging economies such as China, which is forcing up the price of gas, indeed, a several fold increase over the last decade. Wind, sun, tide, wave and geothermal have zero consumables and the economics are broadly straightforward: amortise the cost of installation.

    Furthermore, burning hydrocarbons to produce energy emits carbon dioxde which is increasingly damaging the global climate, at a cost which is not born in any reasonable proportion by the polluter. Ultimately, it will be the poor of future generations who will have to pay those costs.

    It is thus the reverse of your post, which is true. Supposedly free market policies based on short term political convenience do not factor in the costs of real social and environmental harms. The environmental cause is to ensure that a genuine free market applies, one in which the polluter bears the fulls costs that his business model incurs, so ensuring a level playing field in which businesses employing different technologies can compete.

  • Tabman – Thank you.

    Ed Shepherd – Thatcher stood up to the Soviets. I do not know whether you have spoken to anyone who lived in a country occupied by the Soviets and endured Stalin’s Great Terror but listening to people describe how the NKVD execution squads worked is very nasty . In 1976 Solzhenitsyn wrote Warning to the West said although it possessed freedom it did not value it. People were still being shot on the Berlin Wall trying to fleeing the Communists in 1989. The present Foreign Minister of Poland Ridek Sikorski , an exiled dissident in the 80s said ” Thatcher was a fearless champion of liberty” who ” stood up for captive nations ” and helped the free world win the Cold War “,

    Thatcher did much to persuade the S A frican government to release N Mandela and he visited No 10 to thank her.

    With regard to Saudi Arabia, the reality is we have no major influence- we are no longer in WW1 and T.E Lawrence is long dead. British influence rested with the Hashemites and once Al Saud took Medina, Mecca and Jeddah we had even less . The opinion within Saudi society varies from Al Qaeda , through to the religious authorities, many descended from Al Wahab, to those wanting a constitutional monarchy: the present and past King appear to be somewhere in the middle of Saudi opinion. I think you will find that the King is more likely to take heed of the opinions of the tribal elders , than any Briton or foreigner for that matter.

  • Alex Sabine 10th Apr '13 - 1:53am

    Very good points, Charlie. Much of the heavy industry which critics here accuse Thatcher of ‘destroying’ was grossly overmanned and inefficient. The counterpart to this was that it employed lots of people, though many of those jobs were sustained by corporate welfare and the periodic bail-outs of ‘lame ducks’. The manufacturing sector we have today is far more efficient, more successful globally, and of course employs fewer people.

    This is in fact largely a consequence of the very productivity of modern manufacturing, and the fact that it is easier to achieve productivity improvements in manufacturing of durable goods (where much of the production process can be automated) than in the provision of face-to-face services which are by their nature labour-intensive.

    If we become more productive at producing a specific good, the relative price of that good falls, and its sector falls as a proportion of the economy even if demand for the good in volume terms is still rising rapidly. Manufacturing employment, and manufacturing output as a share of GDP, has declined in part simply because we have got so efficient at manufacturing. The faster the productivity growth rate of an economic activity, the more it will fall as a proportion of the total economy.

    This is elementary economics, and its effects can be observed in the changing structural balance over time away from manufacturing and towards services of most developed rich economies (even Germany).

    Of course differential productivity rates isn’t the whole story. Shifts in consumer preference – richer societies spend an increasing percentage of their income on services and a declining share on physical goods – are another big part of the jigsaw.

    It’s absurdly hyperbolic to say Thatcher single-handedly destroyed manufacturing industry. There were persistently unproductive and loss-making parts which she decided could no longer be bailed out by the general taxpayer. To cite the decline in manufacturing as a share of GDP, or the shrinkage in manufacturing employment, as proof of her destructive effect so shows no understanding of global economic trends or economic history.

    The real charge is not that this shift occurred – as indeed it coninued to do so under her successors – but that it went beyond (1) the necessary shakeout of inefficiency and restrictive practices and (2) the underlying shift in consumer preferences and differential productivity rates common to other developed economies. That the changes cut into the bone, rather than just the fat, of Britain’s industrial base.

    I think this charge is justified, but only up to a point. It was not due to malevolence or an intentional policy outcome, but the consequence of the lopsided monetary squeeze that Thatcher/Howe applied in 1979-80, as well as a by-product of North Sea Oil coming on stream. These factors pushed both interest rates and the exchange rate to a level that left industry, and particularly the traded sector of the economy, squealing.

    (At one stage the chairman of British Leyland – which depended on government money for its survival – helpfully called for North Sea Oil to be left in the ground to ease the upward pressure on sterling. But if the oil were left in the ground, where would the government have got the rebenue from which to subsidise British Leyland?!)

    After an internal review the government later recognised that its experiment with monetary targets had gone awry, and that monetary conditions were much tighter than the (over-shooting) money supply figures indicated. This led to the rebalancing of policy (fiscal tightening alongside interest rate cuts and depreciation of sterling) in late 1980 and Howe’s famous 1981 budget. Despite the howls of the 364 evonomists, growth resumed soon afterwards and industrial production gradually recovered.

    Had the government tightened fiscal policy in 1979, rather than 1981, and kept interest rates somewhat lower during the first two years, the reduction in inflation that it achieved might have come at a lower cost to the manufacturing economy. Instead it allowed public spending to grow sharply initially (since Thatcher had unwisely agreed to honour the recommendations of the Clegg Commission on public sector pay, which proposed inflation-busting rises) while relying on interest rates to do the heavy lifting against inflation.

    But although counter-inflation policy could perhaps have been better calibrated between the monetary and fiscal elements, there was – as the Labour PM James Callaghan had acknowledged in 1976 – no way the UK could avoid the need to tackle inflation as a pre-requisite of economic recovery. Given the wage-price spiral then underway, and the inflexibility of the labour market in those days, there was no way this could be done without unemployment rising, or without high (nominal) interest rates. (Remember that if inflation is running in double figures – as it was in 1979 – then an interest rate any lower than this is actually negative in real terms. High nominal interest rates were necessitated by high inflation.)

    And as the distinguished one-time Labour Trade Secretary Edmund Dell points out in his absorbing book The Chancellors, ‘it is one of the costs of high inflation that there is no way forward which does not have damaging side-effects.’

    Dell’s sober judgement is that ‘there is no evidence that a wiser Chancellor could have more sensitively modulated the severity of his action if he was serious in his attack on inflaton. That such methods had to be employed to deal with inflation was a tragedy that had its roots long in the past… If there was to be a dividend from his policies, it would be his successors who cashed it.’

    Broadly speaking I think that’s right, and the difference that a tougher spending/lower interest rates policy mix miht have achieved would have been at the margin. The restructuring of the British economy from its parlous position in 1979 ws always going to be painful.

  • Good post, Jack. Great analysis by Charlie.

    I cannot understand why anyone who cares about individual rights, freedom to pursue your own way through life, liberty, opportunity or diversity could even consider voting for an authoritarian party like Labour.

    Whatever the demerits of some of her policies, Mrs Thatcher was more liberal in every sense than her opponents on the left, she was a reformer and a radical and, though she would probably disclaim the label, the most visible feminist role model in her generation of politicians.

    She didn’t destroy British industry. She helped cut out the rot of jobs for life, uncompetitiveness and the production of overpriced goods of poor quality. Britain would be a far worse place now without her achievements.

  • P.S. Anyone CELEBRATING her death should quite simply be ashamed of themselves.

  • @Charlie thanks for the history. However the issue isn’t all about how we organised (or otherwise ) our manufacturing. Organisation is irrelevant if the product is inferior. We made inferior cars & ships. Germany made and continue to produce quality products. This is why so many of our workers are employed by well managed foreign organisation with making products that people want to buy and are able to pay a workforce a satisfactory income.
    I lived through the strife of the 70s and still wonder how much of the strife and decline was due to militancy or whether militancy filled a vacuum left by short sighted under-investing management producing inferior and therefore unprofitable products.

  • @Charlie,very good post. However I would add that through the ’50s and ’60s the attitudes of trade union members and their leaders (your analysis of this is accurate) was only part of the story. I recall that no-one in Britain was interested in ‘new technology’, new industrial methods of production, or indeed new anything. The motorcycle industry (dear to my heart) was a perfect example of the “British disease”. The great British motorcycle marques died, not because of a stuck-in the-past workforce, they died because the company owners, directors and designers just could not be bothered to design and build products of the magnifiscent quality that arrived from Japan and West Germany. The British attitude at the time from top to bottom and across the political spectrum was one of ‘can’t be bothered with the modern world’. I live near Cambridge and, in contrast, I have watched in disbelief as this area, which 60 years ago was almost agricultrally feudal, has become awash with high-tech industry, along with the biggest bio-medical campus in Europe. The University of Cambridge deserves much credit for this development – it is in great contrast to the fate of BSA, Matchless, AJS, Vincent, Ariel, Norton (now re-born), Triumph (now a great success), Royal Enfield……and so on.

  • @BrianD. I totally agree. I worked in industry in the period you describe and had the similar experiences.

  • @Joe Otten
    You prevented anyone writing anything that could be construed as negative. That is censorship. there is no other word that fits. Noticeably, the Daily Telegraph are still at it, preventing anyone from commenting on their poster-girl unless it is in their book of condolence which is pre-moderated. It speaks volumes about her supporters. They are cowards and afraid of debate.

    On a separate note, I find her funeral arrangements sickening. Why should she be given a more prominent funeral than, for example, Harold Wilson who won more elections than her? Why should the Queen attend? If anyone was under any doubt about the impartiality of our Monarchy then that question has been answered. The last 48 hours have demonstrated an appalling lack of democracy and fairness in this country. A fitting tribute indeed.

  • @Ann K.
    “P.S. Anyone CELEBRATING her death should quite simply be ashamed of themselves.”

    Anyone CELEBRATING her life should quite simply be ashamed of themselves.

  • Anne K and jedibeefrix – thank you for your comments .Alex Sabine and Brian D- agre e with your comments . When it comes to R and D ,research often can be undertaken by a few bright individuals but development often needs a large team of engineers, technicians and craftsmen undertaking often tedious work . The problem was that Britain did not have enough people for the development in many situations. Once electronic controlled automation became common in the 60s , it needed far more better educated electricians /control technicians. After Chapple took over, the EETPU, the electricians union became very sensible. In general , it was the craft trained workers , especially electricians who were sensible because they had responsibility for safety and therefore were emotionally mature- if controls fail and equipment malfunction people can be killed and property damaged.

    We did not have enough middle ranking engineers to undertake development- see A S ampson’s ” Changing Anatomy of Britain 1982 “. Basically every large town /city needed a Technological University such as Aston developing technology relevant for the area and training middle ranking engineers. Every town needed a Technical
    College where people could undertake evening and Saturday study for degrees /HNC in engineering,science,surveying,banking,accountancy , law , insurance so that people could become professionals without leaving home for university and while working.

    The Mini was great design but had had too many faults and was £ 150 under priced – Bl sold it for £500 and Ford considered £ 650 a reasonable price. For every hour spent arguing with Red Robbo was an hour not spent improving design and developing technology. The aggression of many union leaders is not conducive to developing advanced manufacturing . Who would pay for a satellite built by Scargill or Red Robbo?

    Where unions accepted new technology , partly because the workforce was craft educated such as the chemical industry there were few strikes. As someone said with the chemical industry if one turns a valve the wrong way or ignores the instrumentation, the plant can blow up:consequently one needs a better educated and more responsible workforce.

    The inability to produce more degree educated engineers for middle management ; to move un/semi-skilled workforce into skilled trades combined with union/labour refusal to accept advances in technology,prevented much of British industry moving into high value manufacturing.

    The high pound hit UK manufacturing . When Britain left ERM , the pound fell and exports picked up. The Euro has reduced the costs of German exports by about 20-30% compared to the Deutschmark but is causing southern Europe to overvalue their exports by at least 30%.

    Under Thatcher manufacturing fell from 29% to 22% but under Labour it has fallen to 10% .

    I look forward to all those middle class graduates criticising Thatcher for the the reduction in manufacturing retraining , becoming Chartered Engineers and setting up their own manufacturing companies

  • Joe Otten,
    “Actually its not a puzzle – an enemy who gets it right and succeeds is far more hateful than one who doesn’t to a tribal politician.
    Policies like the poll tax and section 28 were vicious, but she was beaten in the end on those…”

    Like Jack Williams you seem to be oblivious to the offensiveness and tribalism you exhibit. That is a trend on this site. Tribalism abounds, as does offensive and abusive misrepresentation of those on the left of politics. It doesn’t seemed to have reached the consciousness of many that declaring your allegiance to a party even partly because of the tribalism of others is in fact a tribal act.

    Personally I am absolutely emotionless about the death of Margaret Thatcher. I had always believed that I would be celebrating, but come the time my feelings are different. What has exercised my emotions though are those who would belittle and insult those who through the pain inflicted on them have much more extreme feelings about her. Feelings that come from a direct relationship with Mrs. Thatcher through direct experience of the actions she took.

    Reaching early adulthood in a northern village on the edge of the Durham coalfields I saw people who experienced the kind of destitution that would probably result in an aid program today. This suffering was deliberately inflicted. To many there was no doubt that the government was using all of the tools at its disposal to destroy them. The language used at the time to describe the workers of certain industries was exactly the same as the language used to describe the Argentine ‘enemy’ in the Falklands war. Asking these people to show decorum and balance is equivalent to asking the same from 1980’s servicemen over the death of General Galtieri. Citizens of this country were defined as the enemy within for no more than trying to defend themselves against punitive attack. The effects of this assault are still there to see today.

    The Liberal Democrats today are rightly proud to stand against authoritarianism. The comments you make and those of the article above them, make clear that you do not realise the extent to which authoritarianism has existed within the lifetime of some of us. The opponents of Thatcherism experienced authoritarianism at the end of a truncheon.

    You mention the poll tax and section 28 as negatives, ignoring that they came from a mindset and an era in which they were entirely in line with the thinking of the government at the time and that equivalently divisive policies were inflicted on other sections of society. Even the school curriculum was taken under state control. That the state could behave in such a way has become the norm. Before the Conservative government of the 80’s nobody would have believed that could happen. For those reaching adulthood at that time we believed the path to true freedom had been laid centuries earlier and its progress would be unstoppable. Freedom took a massive retrograde step in that period but today people seem to think that it has been a steady progression so the 80’s must necessarily have been more liberal that the 70’s. They weren’t.

    The press today,even more so than at the time, wishes to focus on monetarism, trades union, the Falklands and the Cold War but the truth for those of us reaching adulthood at the time was that our liberty was being attacked. Yet you have the audacity to claim that those whose liberty was attacked, through their livelihoods primarily but in other ways too, are simply exhibiting sour grapes over defeat when they express anger at the individual who more than any other is responsible for that attack.

    Those who experienced the actions of the Thatcher government directly, for good or ill, have a right to their feelings and every right to express them. Those who did not and only have the media through which to understand the actions of that period combined with their particular understanding of the etiquette of responding to death should, quite frankly, just be quiet and stop pontificating to those with genuine feelings.

  • Excellent article Jack.

    In regards to Thatcher, one political wing acting vilely about the death of someone from another wing they thought was vile is tribal logic at it’s finest.

    @JRC

    “It doesn’t seemed to have reached the consciousness of many that declaring your allegiance to a party even partly because of the tribalism of others is in fact a tribal act.”

    I agree to a extent. By being a LibDem I am of course declaring in someway that I am part of a seperate group from other political parties, but there is without question varying degrees of tribalism.

    In a week which has seen the hard-Tory and hard-Labour at the forefront of media coverage it is clear, to me anyway, that LibDems are on the other end of the scale. Tribes which won’t even consider working with someone with different leanings are vastly different from those who not only will but believe in it.

  • Alex Macfie 10th Apr '13 - 1:52pm

    @Ed Shepherd: So the Lib Dems are in government with people who might once have been:

    singing songs celebrating racist attacks, supporting foreign terrorist movements and advocating the hanging of Nelson Mandela.

    Well, from that perspective it’s probably not much worse than being in coalition with Labour, which would mean rubbing shoulders with one-time Marxists, Soviet sympathisers and Sinn Fein/IRA supporters.

  • ATF,

    As is dismissing the grievances of others as nothing more than tribal.

    Do you not see the contradiction of claiming your tribe to better than others because they are tribal? If your tribe genuinely wished to work with others it would accept that some differences are irreconcilable and not dismiss the arguments of others as simply tribal. Laying this accusation at others with such sanctimony is one of the most tribal acts I see exhibited in today’s political discourse.

  • Alex Sabine 10th Apr '13 - 2:21pm

    JRC – It is an unfortunate truth that all governments undermine liberty to some extent, sometimes unintentionally and sometimes because they decide that other priorities (national security or material equality or some other consideration) trump it.

    This certainly applies to the Thatcher government, as to those of her predecessors and successors. She believed not just in a small state but a strong state. She did much to enlarge the sphere of economic freedom, but was sometimes cavalier about civil liberties.

    Two particularly egregious examples were Section 28 and the blanket ban on trade union membership at GCHQ. There was also some fairly draconian anti-terrorism legislation, though the Thatcher government had nothing on New Labour in that regard. Indeed, looking at the recod as a whole, you would be hard-pushed to argue that her administration was as authoritarian as the Blair/Brown one.

    Since you seem to see her as an enemy of liberty, it’s worth reflecting on just a few of the freedoms that were denied people in the 1970s.

    One was the severe travel restrictions that were routinely imposed to save foreign currency. As Sam Brittan commented after the Labour government tightened this screw in the late 1960s, ‘one of the severest restrictions it is possible for governments to impose on personal liberty in times of peace was greeted with hardly a word of protest from Labour’s intellectual camp follows’. The brave decision to abolish exchange control in 1979 – long before this was required of all EU members – was unambiguously a liberating step.

    Another was the abolition of the repressive trade union ‘closed shop’, a clear infringement of personal freedom which forced prospective employees to join trade unions whether they wished to or not. The fact that mass pickets could no longer be organised without a ballot. The right of husbands and wives to be taxed independently rather than treated as a unit. The right of businesses to set prices for their own products and take their chances in the market, rather than having them fixed by law; and of employees (and indeed unions) to bargain freely for higher wages rather than through centralised incomes policy.

    If this is all so terrible, which of these rights and freedoms would you like to remove? As I said elsewhere, they are now taken for granted, but each one was fought bitterly at the time by those who portray Thatcher as the devil incarnate. Labour in opposition were extremely slow learners, but they eventually cottoned on to the fact that people valued these new freedoms and didn’t want to see them curtailed, which is why the Blair government sensibly preserved them.

    A fair analysis of Thatcher’s legacy in terms of liberty would acknowledge the many advances as well as the serious blots on the canvas.

  • Good article Jack and incisive comments particularly from Charlie and Alex Sabine.

    I would note that the decline of heavy industry in the UK was well underway in the interwar years. Although, the south and Midlands escaped much of the deprivation with the development of services and new industries in Chenicals and electrical engineering. The Coal, Iron, Steel and shipbuilding industries in the North and Wales were already in decliner before being centrally organised for the war effort, but never recovered their international competitiveness and employment in those industries continued their dependance on taxpayer subsidy and support after the war.

    The Postwar nationalisation was part of a program designed to tackle the mass unemployment of the inter-war years.. In the 1950’s and 1960’s the growth of the US economy dragged the rest of the world along with. The UK grew streadily in the slipstream of the US, but crucially lagged our principal international competitors, in particular the defeated powers of W. Germany, Japan and Italy.

    The steady erosion of competitiveness came to a head as I was starting work as a trainee accountant in manufacting industry in the early seventies. The industrial strife of the Heath and Callaghan governements were debilitating and was exacerbated by what Brian D refers to as short sighted under-investing management producing inferior and therefore unprofitable products.

    Thatcher came to power at a time when the country was desperate for change of direction. She got off to a rocky start with some very dubious monetarist economic theories promoted by Milton Friedman. It may well be that like Paul Volcker in the states, Monertarism for her was simply political cover for inducing the recession and bringing about the changes that many felt was necessary to halt the wage-price spiral and curb runaway inflation at the time.

    The failure of thatcherism, in my view, was a naive belief that people could be left to fend for themselves and they would ultimately find a way of rejuvenating local economies where nuch of the traditional jobs has disappeared overnight. The lack of any industrial and employment strategy beyond unemployment payments and moving vast numbers of people on to long term sickness payments left lasting scars, created a lost generation and was in many ways the beginning of a widespread dependency culture that persists to this day.

    Thatcher did not create the problems we faced as a country in 1979. Her administration went a long way to tackling the structural impediments we faced in regaining the lost competitiveness that had bedevilled the UK economy since the early years of the Twentieth century. Where she failed abysmally, in my view, was in the lack of a long-term vision and investment strategy for the UK as a whole and a misguided belief that by simply freeing wealtn creators to increase the size of the economic pie, the benefits would automaically trickle down to those displaced by the closure of great swathes of traditional industries..

  • Alex Sabine,

    I gave an account of how it felt to many at the time. The are many details that could be picked over. A fair appraisal would be very much in the eye of the beholder. A fair commentator from the right would acknowledge the suffering that many experienced and not dismiss the actual lived experience of others and the feelings it engendered as being sour grapes. If you were one of the 3million people made redundant between 1979 and 1983 it was hard to see it as liberating.

  • Eddie Sammon,

    “extreme ideas are dangerous and I advise you to ignore them.”

    One thing that seems to be forgotten about the Thatcher era is how high tax rates were. She took a long time to follow Ronald Reagan’s lead with serious tax cutting efforts. The top rate of tax was 60% right up until 1988-89 near the end of her term and an investment income surcharge of 15% was in place for the first four years through to 1983-84 – giving a top rate of 75% on unearned income.

  • Paul in twickenham 10th Apr '13 - 3:16pm

    How amusing. Clegg stands up to give his homily and is drowned out by raised voices from all around the house. Mrs Thatcher would doubtless have approved so a fitting tribute indeed.

  • “Some of my Facebook ‘friends’ have even posted grinning photographs of themselves celebrating the happy event.

    Whatever it says about my social circle, it says plenty about the Left.”

    Sorry Jack but you’re wrong – your experience speaks only for those in your social circle.

    I have plenty of so-called ‘leftie’ friends and not one of them has posted grinning photos or partied at the death of Thatcher.

    Many are openly asking why the taxpayer is being asked to pay for such a lavish funeral when we keep hearing that there’s no money left hence the need to charge social home tenants for that space their child should call their bedroom on their return in University holiday time or the removal of Legal Aid for civil cases to those with little income.

    The patronising of those on the left & the mantra of Labour bad, coalition good by some on this site will make it very hard if ever you find yourselves in coalition with Labour after the 2015 GE.

  • The Economists magazines take on Mrs Thatchers economic legacy Margaret Thatcher’s macroeconomic legacy .

    The author notes that the problems we face today are more akin to those of the 1920’s than those of Mrs. Thatcher’s time:

    “The global financial crisis of 2008 upended that new consensus. Most major economies embarked on discretionary fiscal stimulus, and central banks are, bit by bit, shifting their emphasis from inflation to unemployment. But the foundation of the post-Keynesian consensus remains. Unemployment is nowhere back to a normal level, but except in Japan most rich countries are now tightening fiscal policy. Proponents of David Cameron’s austerity often defend it by invoking the memories of the 1970s with its runaway inflation, deficits and the humiliation of an International Monetary Fund bail-out. As a financial center, this argument goes, Britain cannot take chances with its sovereign creditworthiness the way America, as issuer of the world’s reserve currency, can.

    The problem, of course, is that the 1970s is probably the wrong parallel to worry about; for Britain the 1920s may be more apt. Monetary and fiscal stringency left real output lower in 1928 than in 1918. The main difference between those two decades was that monetary policy was clearly too loose in the 1970s, but too tight in the 1920s. British monetary policy is not wrong headed today as it was in the 1920s, but is constrained with interest rates jammed against zero. That significantly alters the role for fiscal policy.”

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Apr '13 - 4:27pm

    Joe, you have addressed me, only to make a nonpoint. Thatcher was not in favour of high taxes if that is what you are trying to say.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Apr '13 - 4:28pm

    Joe, we don’t need theses, make simple short points.

  • Eddie,

    The record of the Thatcher administration was not one of tax cutting for much of that period. In the 1981 budget, Thatcher pushed through a tax increase at a time when the economy was shrinking and unemployment was around 9 percent. She did it because it seemed to her politically impossible to cut spending any further and yet she felt it was essential to cut the budget deficit. Shrinking the deficit, she felt, would bring down interest rates, which would enable private businesses to borrow and expand, ultimately leading to more growth or so the thinking went. Deficits persisted throughout much of the period.

    This contrasted with the approach of the Reagan administration that took a more traditional Keynesian approach to economic stimulus, aggressively cutting taxes while at the same time rapidly increasing State defence spending. US budget deficits also persisted throughout the Reagan period.

  • Eddie,

    “make simple short points.”.

    I will extend to you the courtesy of determining for yourself the level of simplicity and detail you choose to include in any particular comment you care to make and retain the same privilege for my own contributions..

  • A couple of people here talk about Thatcher’s liberal credentials. But the thatcher government banned films, books, protest, locked people up for years without trial, used the police like a personal army and the press to browbeat opposition . She regularly railed against permissiveness and was not very progressive about Homosexuality and whenever possible demolished local authorities run by her political opponents. On top of which she was quite open in he loathing of liberals and liberalism in any shape other than the economic sense. Sure she was against the soviet Union and that is to be lauded, but at home she was fairly noxious and to the Right of Nigel Farage,

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Apr '13 - 6:13pm

    I know she was not a Reaganite and she increased VAT etc. My point was to address those on the left who ask for french style 75% tax rates or even 100% tax rates.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Apr '13 - 6:19pm

    OK sorry for telling you what to do and singling you out.

  • Interesting Mrs Thatcher quote from the Economist Paved with good intentions in an article discussing our current day macroeconomic policy:

    Getting central banks to finance a deficit is very tempting because it seems the politically painless option. But it is fundamentally dishonest as Margaret Thatcher spelt out 30 years ago. She complained that her ministerial colleagues were unwilling to raise the taxes to pay for the expenditure they had agreed so argued:

    “Let us print the money instead. Because what that is saying is let us quietly steal a cerain amount from every pound saved in building societies, in national savings, from every person who has been thrifty.”

    It is paradoxical that what was once vigorously condemned as theft by a Conservative Prime Minister has thirty years on become the mainstay of the economic policy of a serving Conservative PM and Chancellor.

  • Stuart Mitchell 10th Apr '13 - 7:43pm

    Excellent posts JRC. The mass unemployent of the 1980s (or as Alex Sabine might put it, reduction in overmanning) was the key event of the Thatcher years. Thatcher-haters and Thatcher-lovers are largely defined by whether they saw this as a human tragedy of colossal proportions, or a price worth paying for taming the unions and keeping inflation in check. If Thatcher were the great patriot people claim her to be, she would have been driven to tears by the decimation of so many British communities; but she wept only for herself when she was booted out of her own job.

    I don’t see any sensible debate about her legacy being possible for a long time. So many myths and lies have already built up about her that it’s impossible to navigate through the contradictions. She was the great tax-cutter who ran up the highest tax burdens in British history; the anti-European who signed the Single European Act; the Unionist who signed the Anglo-Irish agreement; the conqueror of inflation and saviour of the economy who left office with inflation running at 10% and one of the longest, deepest recessions in history about to kick in; the champion of freedom who propped up apartheid and was friends with tyrants; the trail-blazer for women who only appointed one woman to cabinet in 11 years; the great “liberal” (according to some here) who brought in section 28 and, according to Bob Carr today, was openly racist.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Apr '13 - 7:53pm

    Joe, this is my problem I have with your posts: every single article you seem to bring back to promoting the printing of money. You have proved my suspicion right once again.

  • Eddie,

    to the best of my knowledge, I have not in any article promoted the printing of money. I understand the initial purpose of QE in supporting credit markets as banks undertake deleveraging in the wake of the financial crisis. I also appreciate there may be good arguments to allow inflation to run somewhat higher than current targets for a few years, but my views on debt monetisation or printing money tend towards those expressed by Mrs Thatcher i.e it is tantamount to “stealing a cerain amount from every pound saved in building societies, in national savings, from every person who has been thrifty.”

  • Peter Watson 10th Apr '13 - 8:33pm

    In Opposition George Osborne’s own views on quantitative easing seemed pretty unequivocal: ‘Printing money is the last resort of desperate governments when all other policies have failed’.

  • Ed Shepherd 10th Apr '13 - 8:42pm

    Charlie “Thatcher stood up to the Soviets. I do not know whether you have spoken to anyone who lived in a country occupied by the Soviets and endured Stalin’s Great Terror but listening to people describe how the NKVD execution squads worked is very nasty .”

    Yes, I have spoken to people who lived in countries occupied by the Soviets and who experienced Stalinism. After all, my father served with the Polish air force squadrons in WW2….I don’t think that you expected that answer did you?

    Mrs Thatcher opposed left-wing dictatorships but supported right-wing ones. She supported General Pinochet’s regime, for instance. She supplied weapons to the various despotic regimes in the Middle East (the Saudi’s being the biggest of these) and her supporter’s in the YC’s supported terrorist groups in Central America. I question whether she supported democracy in Africa or just had to reluctanctly go along with where international opinion was moving in the eighties.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Apr '13 - 8:49pm

    Joe, OK, temporary money printing then. I can agree to disagree on the merits of temporary money printing.

  • Ed Shepherd 10th Apr '13 - 9:22pm

    @jedibeeftric “You are aware, I hope, of the enormous amount of time, energy, and raw political capital thatcher sunk into seeing democracy reach europe-behind-the-curtain? Just thought i’d ask…………”

    But was it democracy that she wanted to see or was it just an end to that type of economic system? For instance, how much time and energy did she put into seeing democracy spread amongst the right-wing dictatorships of Central and Latin America? Just thought I’d ask…..

  • A Social Liberal 10th Apr '13 - 9:47pm

    If British manufacturing was so bad, how come we made exactly the same vehicles as the germans. Kadetts (chevettes, astras and cavaliers) and Taunous’ (cortinas – can’t remember the name for escorts) were the same cars with exactly the same build quality. Yes we had Marinas and Vivas but we also had Minis, Rolls, Triumph Acclaims and Bentleys. Asten Martins, Morgans etc. As a comparison, I give you Skoda, Fiat, Alpha Sud

    British steel (the product, not the company) was world class. The problem with it was the cost, given that we couldn’t replicate the wages of the Koreans or the Indians, and the technology – given that we decided to spend our Marshal Plan money on nuclear weapons whereas the Germans rebuilt their industries. The same with the ship building industry – cost was the factor that reduced our market share not quality. The fact is is that we could not compete without subsidy.

    Yes, we had a problem with working practices , but to put everything down to bad workmanship is to ignore other, more valid, salient facts

  • Stuart Mitchell 10th Apr '13 - 9:51pm

    Ann K: “I cannot understand why anyone who cares about individual rights, freedom to pursue your own way through life, liberty, opportunity or diversity could even consider voting for an authoritarian party like Labour.”

    Coming just a few weeks after the Lib Dems voted for secret courts, and a smaller proportion of Lib Dems voted for equal marriage than did Labour MPs, is this really a good time for you to be lecturing Labour voters about liberty and opportunity?

    No party – least of all yours – owns the concept of freedom, thanks very much. My grandfather was one of the millions who spent six years fighting for freedom and then voted in the most left-wing government we’ve ever had. He saw no contradiction, and neither do I.

  • Stuart Mitchell 10th Apr '13 - 10:16pm

    A Social Liberal: Very good point. On a related theme, there are plenty of examples of well-run (and even profitable, though that does not have to be a motive) state-owned companies in the world. Compare Renault (since privatised, but still producing good cars during decades of nationalisation) with British Leyland. Despite what Thatcher’s apologists say, privatisation was not the only solution to the problems the state-run industries faced.

    A few weeks after Thatcher was booted out by her own party (a fact which must seem unfathomable to young people who are today being told she was the greatest PM we ever had…) the electricity companies were privatised. Operating on the principle that if you can’t beat them, join them, I bought and immediately sold a hatful of shares and made a tidy few hundred quid out of it. We were told that state-owned companies couldn’t possibly be any good and that privatisation was the only way to go.

    23 years later I am once again having my electricity supplied by an 85%-state-owned (and highly profitable) energy company. Only trouble is, it’s French!!

  • Alex [email protected] Shepherd: “So the Lib Dems are in government with people who might once have been: singing songs celebrating racist attacks, supporting foreign terrorist movements and advocating the hanging of Nelson Mandela. Well, from that perspective it’s probably not much worse than being in coalition with Labour, which would mean rubbing shoulders with one-time Marxists, Soviet sympathisers and Sinn Fein/IRA supporters.”

    Thanks for proving my point in which I said: The most heated responses to Maggie Thatcher’s death reminds me of the era she is associated with: one of violent behaviour from extremists on both sides of the political spectrum.

    Mrs Thatcher was someone from an era of violent extremism from both left and right. Thankfully, we now seem to live in a less extreme age. Politicians such as Major, Blair, Brown, Clegg and Cameron are more moderate figures and I am grateful to now live an a more stable era of politics. I doubt that their eventual deaths will result in widespread celebrations, even from people who disagreed with them.

  • Alex Sabine 11th Apr '13 - 1:30am

    Ed Shepherd (and others): Indeed we do now live in a less polarised age, in terms of both political discourse and social harmony.

    Part of the reason for that was the long period of prosperity from 1993 to 2008, which was based on a credit bubble only in the final 5-6 years, and which most economic historians and commentators attribute in large measure to the groundwork done by the Thatcher government’s economic reforms.

    Of course the international environment was benign, but no one seriously supposes that the British economy of 1979 would have been in any kind of shape to profit from that and deliver the steady growth, subdued inflation and falling unemployment that actually materialised. The irony was that Labour in opposition had castigated all the reforms, yet in power was their chief beneficiary. (At least Tony Blair had the grace to give Thatcher some of the credit.)

    Even now, with the serious economic problems we and most other developed nations face, and the banking sector still in intensive care, we do at least have a functioning market economy which is proving quite effective at creating new jobs. In the 1970s the crisis-hit Labour government was reduced to threatening our allies that it would introduce a seige economy unless they bailed us out on favourable terms.

    Even Lord Oakeshott – not someone I often find myself agreeing with, nor someone who has many good words to say about any Tories – has acknowledged the key role of Thatcher’s reforms in bringing about a job-creating rather than a job-destroying culture. He tweeted earlier this week: ‘I always fought Mrs Thatcher but unemployment would be millions worse in this recession if she hadn’t made our labour market more flexible.’

    The point that people citing the high unemployment of the 1980s are overlooking is that whenever you make major structural reforms to an ailing economy, the costs are immediate and concentrated and highly visible while the gains are dispersed across the population as a whole and may take years or even a decade or more to bear fruit.

    For at least two decades politicians of all parties had ducked the challenges and ignored the problems that they knew were brewing up, satisfying themselves instead with what was euphemistically called ‘managing decline’. By the time the music finally stopped in the 1970s – with repeated power cuts, the three-day week, 25% inflation, the IMF crisis and finally the Winter of Discontent – the problems were endemic, the task of rescuing the economy daunting, and the price of doing so (in terms of unemployment and hardship) much higher than it would have been had the nettles been grasped by earlier governments.

    Peter Lilley made this point very effectively in his contribution in the Commons today. Challenging the claim that she was harsh, he said:‘She made us face reality, and reality was harsh. Those who did not like facing reality projected their hatred of reality onto her. But the human cost of facing up to reality would have been much less if previous governments of both parties had not, through a mixture of false analysis and cowardice, failed to face up to tjose realities and deal with them earlier. If blame is due, it is due to her predecessors rather than her that harshness materialised.’

    I think that is an honest and fair assessment. Yet, all the same, I agree with Joe and others that more should have been done to alleviate the human cost of this transition, even though that cost was not Thatcher’s fault and had its roots long in the past.

    It’s not true that nothing was tried – there were actually several iterations of active labour market policies, retraining programmes and so on, many of them devised by the industrialist David Young, but far too many people still slipped through the cracks or were ‘parked’ on long-term benefits.

    However, it is simply idle not to recognise that the transition from a corporatist basket case to a dynamic market economy eventually bore great dividends, which Thatcher’s successors have been happy to cash.

  • Alex Sabine 11th Apr '13 - 3:13am

    Another key respect in which Thatcher bequeathed a more, not less, harmonious society is industrial relations – but here again, the results were not instant.

    In the 1960s and 1970s strikes were a routine feature of national life, including frequent ‘wildcat’ unofficial action as well as crippling disputes like the confrontation with the NUM that led to the Heath government’s downfall, and the Winter of Discontent that did for Callaghan.

    In the 1980s the miners’ strike and the less often cited confrontation with the print unions at Wapping were the most ugly episodes, though both were battles which the elected government had to win outright if the rule of law was to be preserved. As Frank Field put it today, the problem was not that Britain was ungovernable, it’s that it was ungovernable from within Parliament and was being governed by the union barons.

    [For an inside account of the Luddite attitudes and intimidatory tactics of the print unions at that time, I recommend reading Andrew Neil’s book Full Disclosure, written in 1996. His account of how they tried to shut down the small northern newspaper proprietor Eddy Shah when he tried to expand his group of freesheets with the help of new technology, using unlawful mass picketing with the help of rent-a-mob allies on the hard left (and for good measure planting five coffins in his garden), is particularly chilling. Neil secured Thatcher’s personal intervention to ensure that the law was upheld and the NGA suffered a rare defeat that foreshadowed the much larger dispute at Wapping.]

    Although these are iconic episodes in the Thatcher decade, the bigger picture was that – especially in the late 1980s once it had become clear that the new union laws would be enforced – the number of strikes tumbled. Eventually the unions themselves modernised, elected more moderate leaders and the result, in the competitive private sector industries at least, was a much more cooperative and productive atmosphere in offices and factories throughout the UK.

    Those who see Thatcher’s legacy as a more violent, divided society might find it instructive to compare the number of days lost to strikes before, during and after her period of office. You will see that the downward trend started and accelerated sharply during the 1980s and has continued to decline for most of the subsequent period.

    Britain’s strike-prone reputation started in the supposed economic ‘golden age’ of the 1950s, when there was buoyant real income growth and near-full employment. During the 1950s working days lost to strikes averaged 3.3 million per year, rising to 3.6m in the 1960s. This shot up in the 1970s, when an astonishing 12.9 million days were lost to industrial action, on average, each year.

    Even with the almost year-long miners’ strike and other high-profile clashes in the 1980s, the trend was clearly downward, falling back to 7.2m across the decade as a whole. Over the 1986-1990 period the average was 3.0m, and in Thatcher’s final year of office it was 1.9m. The numbers tumbled further, to an average of fewer than 0.7m working days lost per year in the 1990s and remained at approximately this level over the subsequent decade.

    To put this in perspective, before 1990 there had not been a single year (including the war years, when there were quite a few strikes) when the figure had dropped below 0.9m.

    A number of factors are probably involved here, but the catalyst was quite clearly actions by the Thatcher government: bringing the unions back within the scope of the law by ending their blanket immunities from civil action; and, just as importantly, showing that it was prepared to enforce that law by standing up to the NUM and the print unions.

    In terms of strike action and industrial relations, though not in all other areas, Thatcher really did live up to the prayer from St Francis of Assisi that she quoted on the steps of Downing Street in 1979, ‘Where there is discord, may we bring harmony.’ But it was a bumpy road, and took unswerving resolve, to get there.

  • Alex,
    I would argue that one of the reasons strikes declined is simply because the jobs associated with them disappeared, The NUM can hardly call a strike when their are no miners. Ditto for a lot of other heavy industry as well. A lot of the problem was down to poor industrial relations and the nature of British politics. This meant that unlike in Germany management and unions did not work together. The other other point is that de- industrialisation in Britain did not just take out big under- productive industries. It eventually took out smaller more viable ones. The result has been persistent unemployment and loss of skills, I don’t see Thatcher as merely a destroyer but she was not unequivocally good either. And she was certainly divisive. It is perfectly true that New Labour benefited from the bubble created by extended credit culture of the Thatcher years. Unfortunately another name for credit is debt and a debt not paid is called a , loss. Bubbles always burst and the results in this case were catastrophic banking failure,

    I genuinely find it gob smacking that ordinary people are being forced into a celebration of a politicians from a previous century that a lot of them didn’t even like or vote for. Fine, if the Conservative Party want to celebrate her passing, good look to them. But not at public expense and not by attempting to browbeat everyone into submission. Thatcher was not universally liked and her legacy was not all good .
    To be honest, I think the fuss surrounding her death is down to a personality cult perpetuated by papers like the Daily Mail and a desperate Conservative PM trying cop a bit of nostalgic revivalist fervour by invoking his Party’s most electorally successful era.

  • Keith Browning 11th Apr '13 - 12:17pm

    British mining and heavy industry needed reforming in the post war period, but instead MT dismantled it, its people and its way of life.

    British banks needed reforming in the 21st century but instead a blind eye was turned to their working practices and in the end they were bailed out to the cost of Britain and the world economy.

    The c urrent events draw a sharp comparison between the two, both of which were instigated by the Tories at the cost of the average working person. The ‘Big Bang’ of 1987 still is making huge shockwaves, so nobody kid themselves this is of New Labour’s making.

    The Left was wrong, the Right continues to be wrong, so the answer must lie somewhere in the middle. That is why I support the Liberal Democrats, who I hope, sometimes without much expectation, can offer less ideology and more common sense.

  • In re Thatcherian harmony, I think Calgacus (viâ Tacitus) expressed it best: “Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.”

  • Joe Otten,

    So it is as I suspected. Your and Jack Williams’ sanctimony is actually in pursuit of political point scoring against those who currently support the Labour Party. “The Death of Margaret Thatcher used for political point scoring by Liberal Democrat shock”, no please say it aint so. It is good of you to approve of the hatred of your designated “hard left” and to allow them to keep their “error” but it might just come across as a little patronising if you aren’t careful.

    This cognitive dissonance you detect is I’m afraid, a circularity in your own mind. The tribal belief of the Liberal Democrat that it is only tribalism that stops everyone becoming a Liberal Democrat and that it is only hatred that stops a grown up political debate is an invention of the mind of those who do not see disagreement from their opponents as valid and so must therefore be motivated by their baser instincts. More of a cognitive dissonance would be the fact that you and Alex Sabine above admire the policies that were implemented in the 80’s but are not members of New Labour if as you say they advocate the same policies.

    The Thatcher government wilfully and unnecessarily destroyed the lives of millions in the pursuit of the policies you admire. The motivation was made clear at the time and it was not, like with the coalition today, sold as a painful consequence of perceived necessity, it was an active, deliberate and declared intention to destroy the power base of the working classes and to bring uppity communities to their knees. To whitewash this aspect of her government and only appraise her government on the dry text of policy is to insult those who were the losers and victims of that governments declared war against its own people. The policy was not to bust trade unions, it was to destroy those who would support them. We are told a great deal about the days lost to strikes but very little about the 1,186,250,000 days of lost work to those who were unemployed in 1983, (deliberately increased from lower than 900,000 in 1979) and continued to be unemployed for the entire duration of her time in power. Days that were deliberately cast aside as a matter of policy.

    To isolate policies as individual items to be implemented or reversed devoid of historical context and then claim to detect cognitive dissonance is not grown up debate. To argue that hatred of an individual who deliberately inflicted cruel conditions on her enemies in order to beat them into submission is a bar to reasoned debate on her legacy and not an intrinsic part of it, is simply wrong. Is it really your view that a more civilised politics can be had by debating policies in a state of denial about the emotional consequences of suffering caused by those policies?

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Apr '13 - 2:22pm

    Charlie

    When we expanded higher education in the 60s , large numbers of arts graduates were created in places such as York, Sussex, Kent , E Anglia when what was needed was a massive increase in engineering and applied science graduates from places such as Aston, Salford, Bradford, Loughborough, Brunel Strathclyde etc, etc.When in the 60s, Lord Brown was mocked at Cambridge for entering industry. I cannot think of one Labour or Liberal politician or thinker who created any industrial company and has an engineering background and is chartered.

    You are being unfair on York, Sussex, Kent and East Anglia. They are not just arts universities and never were. I have a PhD from Sussex and worked at East Anglia – in both cases in their Computer Science departments. Sussex is one of the top universities for Computer Science and Biosciences, Kent and York also have very good teaching and research reputations in Computer Science.

    I would say it is the nature of our society as encouraged by its Conservative and Conservative-like governments which has led to bright young people seldom considering engineering as their post-school destination. A society has been created in which it looks like the big rewards go to the bullshitters and wheeler-dealers. Not surprising, then, that bright people tend to go into degrees where bullshitting is valued. Money is seen as being made by owning things and trampling on others, promoting your own personality, and not by the cool-headedness, discipline and co-operation that is essential to science and engineering.

    We are all urged to become “entrepreneurs”. And what do we think of when that word is used? Someone who is part of a team of engineers working in a lab to develop a new product? No we don’t. We think of it as meaning someone who has the gift of the gab to dupe others into buying a rubbish product. This sort of self-promoting greed-oriented personality that has been promoted as the ideal by our political leaders may have a use in a few professions, but that sort of person makes a useless scientist or engineer, and is useless at pretty much most ordinary jobs going. That is what I keep hearing from employers – they don’t want self-oriented bullshitters who won’t do what they are told and won’t work carefully and co-operatively for the general good of their company. And that is what too many of our young people are like – thanks to the culture we have, and pushed by people who put this forward as what it means to be an “entrepreneur”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Apr '13 - 2:45pm

    Joe Otten

    But for Labour supporters there is a huge cognitive dissonance going on here, and I do genuinely believe that if hatred wasn’t so important to parts of Labour as fuel for political activism, it might be possible to have a grown up debate about the Thatcher legacy and a more civilised politics.

    Yes, I feel that treating Thatcher as a hate figure detracts from what is needed – a rational argument against all she stood for. That is, the hate is heard, and the argument is not, and it is assumed from that that one has no rational case against her and so is reduced to just irrational hatred.

    My own belief is that Margaret Thatcher was a disaster for this country, and I have come to feel this more as time has gone on. I believe that almost everything she did and stood for pushed this country further down the road to decay. Nearly all of it has had the long-term effect of achieving the opposite of what she claimed – and I am sure truly believed – she was all about. As I have indicated above, while she may have thought she was about reward for good honest hard work, in fact the dog-eat-dog society she has encouraged, along with the traditional Conservative belief that unearned money is somehow noble and should not be taxed at the rate of money earned from work, has created a society where hard work is NOT rewarded and is in fact disdained. She may have thought she was about British patriotism, but look at the Russian billionaires and Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds buying us up. Iron Lady? Why make a big thing about keeping the front door shut, when you’ve left the back door open with a sign saying “Please come and take what you want”? Stout defender of the family? The housing policies she started and have been continued since have been the biggest force there is destroying family life and structures. Conservative standing for traditional values? The extreme free market policies she and those coming after her have pushed have been the biggest force there could be destroying British tradition and values.

    Her allowing our industry to be destroyed has been the biggest force destroying the work culture of the British, and there has been little of value put in its place. We have come to see that it was all initially covered up by North Sea Oil making us look still prosperous, and by a “finance industry” that was actually mainly a debt-building and selling-Britain-off industry. Oh, it all looked good for a few decades, but now we are facing the inevitable long term consequences, and they are not nice.

    Saying all this doesn’t mean Margaret Thatcher wasn’t a charming person, and I’m sure she genuinely believed in what she was doing. It is wrong to paint her as someone who deliberately wanted to cause hurt and damage. Only, she did. And for ends which were themselves damaging and hurtful – though she didn’t realise that, I’m sure. By now though, we ought to know better. I am sorry that too many seem not to.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Apr '13 - 3:03pm

    Jack Williams

    As soon as the Lib Dems crossed the floor to the Government Benches, we seemed to cross that line between good and evil – in other words ‘left’ and ‘right’. Never mind that we had always said we were equally willing to work with Labour or the Tories. Never mind that we had never sought to identify ourselves as being on Labour’s ‘side’.

    If there’s one thing I can say in favour of the Conservatives, it’s that when they lose, they generally accept it. Labour generally doesn’t – they just can’t believe that people didn’t vote for them because they didn’t like them. That is why whenever the Liberal Democrats, and the Liberals before that beat Labour in a place that used to be Labour, you would always find they would react by throwing mud, saying things like the Liberal only won because they were racist, or homophobic or whatever. That is why they blame the Liberal-SDP alliance to this day for the Conservative victories in 1983 and 1987, despite the fact that every opinion poll showed the Alliance took votes equally from the Conservatives and Labour. And that is why they want to push the myth that the Liberal Democrats “put in the Conservatives in 2010”, when clearly they didn’t – the election results meant only a Conservative-LibDem coalition was viable, there was not a realistic choice of a Labour-LibDem coalition. If such a coalition was viable then, as the balance of seats in Parliament has not changed, Labour could be offering it now – and therefore should be held up to blame just as much as the Liberal Democrats for not offering it.

    In fact, of course, Labour ARE to blame for the situation we have now, because they support the electoral system whose distortion led to it. Labour’s line is that there should be this distortion, so that there are only two governing parties, them and the Conservatives. If they lose, we get the Conservatives. They lost and we got the Conservatives – which by their support of distortional representation is what they actually want. If we had proportional representation, the balance of the parties would be very different, and we would have a very different sort of coalition in place now.

    It would, of course, be useful if we had a leadership which from time to time said this sort of thing, rather than one which seems determined to live up to the attacks made on us by Labour.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Apr '13 - 3:21pm

    Ed Shepherd

    Mrs Thatcher was someone from an era of violent extremism from both left and right. Thankfully, we now seem to live in a less extreme age.

    No, we live in an age which is even more extreme right-wing than then. The current government is pushing things way to the right economically of where they were when Thatcher stepped down.

    The left has gone, the right remains and gathers strength because of that.

    One reason for this is the way the left has been taken over by the sort of people Jack Williams writes about, people from the “leafy, bohemian part of Oxford” etc. This sort of person with their obsessions and interests in things which are of little interest to people in the lower wealth half of society has been a sort of parasite on the left, growing over it and smothering it. Oh, they mean well, but they get it all wrong, they put off the very people they think they are fighting for. As well as this, the right has played the game of putting off people who would be on the left from political activity at all. Many of the sort of person who once would have been staunch Labour is now “I’m not interested in politics, you’re all the same, go away”.

    As they say, the greatest trick of the devil is to convince you he doesn’t exist. The greatest trick of the political right who have won domination of our country now is to convince us they don’t exist, that class divisions (which are actually now greater than they were in the last century) have gone away, that they are moderates.

  • Matthew Huntbach,

    It is very magnanimous of you be so understanding Margaret Thatcher’s innocent motivations but the experiences of many are different. Some may say that she did not act in order to cause suffering, I would disagree. To say that she wanted to cause hurt and damage would though, be false, there is a difference. To say that she was callously prepared to cause hurt, damage and suffering to achieve her ends in the blinkered belief that she was right is simply a fact as evidenced by her acceptance of her mentor, Keith Joseph’s, refrain that high unemployment was a price worth paying to beat the unions. To believe that she herself was not motivated by clearly expressed hatred of large sections of society is to deny the truth of the experiences many had. The hurt that you see being caused by the ends sought by Mrs. Thatcher would not have been unforeseen by her and even if they were would have been considered desirable. It was never a part of the Thatcher project to achieve a world without suffering but to get the world to accept the suffering of others, if caused by laissez faire capitalism, as a their just desert. The bottom would be lifted by the trickle of crumbs from the top table being increased by their excess. If not then the bottom would just have to make do.

    It is true that exhibiting hatred is an obstacle to being heard but to deny the justifications for that hatred is to wilfully close your ears. There are times when some simply ignore argument by declaring it nothing more than the rantings of the angry.

  • ” I knew the Lib Dems were exactly the same party as before the General Election” I don’t think so, they have sold all their principles for the glory of being in power. You would do well to listen to what people say to you on the doorstep.

  • Steve Griffiths 11th Apr '13 - 5:20pm

    I am not rejoicing at her departure, but I am not going to mourn either. Tony Greaves as usual ‘hits the nail of the head’; we hated her for what she did, not because of any tribe she may have been in. Her politics seemed to me to be a sort of suburban prejudice and she wrecked many peoples lives.

    The whole piece by Jack Williams I find rather lofty, which sadly LDV often seems to specialise in. I was also raised in Oxford, but not in the “leafy bohemian” part familiar to him, but in the real world housing estates where we met and knew many Tories and Labourites. The party has changed since 2010 and was already changing in the years before that , and not in a good way. Tony Greaves is also correct saying the battle for the soul of the party is beginning, because many of us are utterly fed up with the right .

  • Stuart Mitchell 11th Apr '13 - 7:55pm

    Alex Sabine: “The point that people citing the high unemployment of the 1980s are overlooking is that whenever you make major structural reforms to an ailing economy, the costs are immediate and concentrated and highly visible while the gains are dispersed across the population as a whole and may take years or even a decade or more to bear fruit.”

    The point people making arguments like that overlook is that apart from a few years in the early ’00s, unemployment has never fallen back to pre-1979 levels. If the plan was to put in place foundations for lower unemployment in the long term – it failed.

  • Alex Sabine 11th Apr '13 - 8:14pm

    JRC – You obviously hate Thatcher and believe that she was intentionally cruel and motivated by hatred. There are no facts or arguments I can adduce that will dissuade you of that.

    Personally I would not make that accusation of any Labour or Conservative Prime Minister that I have seen or whose record and personality I’m aware of, and indeed I find it a juvenile response. You will no doubt tell me that I don’t understand how she destroyed lives and so on, and we will go round in circles.

    I would just say, as I suggested in another thread, that if Thatcher’s political opponents had spent less time hating and caricaturing her, and more time understanding her and the reasons people voted for her in large numbers, it might not have taken them so long to regain the trust of the British people at the ballot box (in the form of Labour’s 1997 victory).

    You say the fact that I didn’t join New Labour, even though they accepted the great majority of the Thatcherite settlement, shows cognitive dissonance on my part. I find this rather curious logic.

    For one thing, it seems to imply that one should join whichever is the latest political party to adapt itself to changing realities. On that basis I might as well join UKIP if they ever get round to deciding that immigration might be a natural part of a modern global economy; or the Greens if they accept that there is a thing called the deficit which can’t just be wished away.

    Secondly, it ignores the fact that support for a political party rests on a larger set of considerations, loyalties and instincts than simply an assessment of the performance of one particular leader in one particular sphere of action like the economy, crucial though that is.

    The fact that I admire Thatcher as a brave, principled – though flawed – leader does not mean I embrace her whole agenda. There are plenty of things she did that I disagree with, some in the economic sphere and many more in other areas, some of which I alluded to in another thread.

    As for Labour, I welcomed the conversion from autarky to free trade, from state planning to the market economy, from hostility to acceptance of the Thatcherite trade union reforms, and from unilateral nuclear disarmament to a more sensible defence policy.

    This transformation occurred fitfully at first, under Neil Kinnock and John Smith, and then decisively under Tony Blair. I was never sure how much of the Labour party’s heart was in the changes, but after their fourth successive battering at the polls they did at least recognise reality.

    In 13 years of government they did not reverse the major Thatcher reforms, and indeed in some areas (public services for example) they sensibly built on them. They did revert to their bad old ways on spending and borrowing, but that’s a different story. They didn’t fundamentally move the frontiers between the private and public sectors, or turn the labour market back over to the unions.

    I think the point Joe (Otten) is making about Labour supporters is that it’s quite bizarre and illogical to deplore Thatcher’s legacy while supporting a government that had thumping majorities and decided to preserve and build on it. I agree with him.

    That doesn’t mean I supported New Labour. For one thing, I may think that they were right to preserve the Thatcher economic legacy in legislative terms, but when they later relied on their own time-honoured tradition – to borrow heavily from the very markets they tut-tut about in order to finance a public spending bonanza – it was bound to end in tears, as it did on all previous occasions.

    Secondly, and in some ways more importantly, I was dismayed by the persistent erosion of civil liberties, the bullying political style, the tendency to see people as members of groups first and as individuals a long way second, and so on.

    So there is no contradiction. New Labour accepted much of the Thatcher settlement by their words and actions, and they were right to do so in my view. In many other respects they did things or stood for things I disagreed with, which is why I wasn’t that tempted to join them.

    If their supporters and allies on the left think the accommodation with the Thatcher reforms was all a big mistake, and they should stand on something closer to the 1983 manifesto next time, let them try that.

    If instead they wish to preserve the Thatcher changes then they should stop bleating about how everything she did was evil and horrid and despicable, and try to develop a more mature and balanced response of the sort shown by Gisela Stuart, Frank Field, Barry Sheerman and a couple of Labour MPs in the Commons yesterday, and apply their analysis of the good and bad aspects to today’s problems.

  • Alex Sabine 11th Apr '13 - 8:31pm

    Stuart: I refer you to Lord Oakeshott’s comment about what the level of unemployment would likely be in this recession if we hadn’t had the Thatcher government’s trade union and labour market reforms.

    You’re right that unemployment was lower in the 1970s than it is today, but many of those jobs were in loss-making unproductive industries sustained by a drip-drip of taxpayer support and periodic lame-duck rescues.

    Restrictive practices were rife, so many others (for example in the newspaper industry where the print unions held a destructive vice-like grip) were maintained at the expense of investing in new capital and technology that would enable more productive labour to be paid more and new jobs to be created. Employment was lower not just in absolute terms due to a smaller population but due to women being shut out of many industries.

    There was a reckoning for all this, that’s the point. Unemployment had actually risen quite sharply through the 1960s and the 1970s, and was high by international standards (whereas in the 1990s and 2000s it was low by international standards). UK inflation was such that in each postwar cycle the level of unemployment consistent with tolerably stable prices got higher. The trade-off got worse and worse until it became clear there wasn’t a sustainable trade-off at all.

    Countries that dealt with the inflationary and recessionary OPEC oil shock of the mid-1970s by bearing down on inflation (like Germany) saw a temporary spike in unemployment but a much lower peak. The UK, which tried to reflate its way back to full employment, succeeded only in sending inflation to a level that eventually necessitated a much more painful adjustment.

  • The Thatcher government’s confrontation with the Miners will always colour how she and her administration is perceived by those directly effected by the conflict and subsequent closures, regardless of any good she may have achieved in other areas..

    Winston Churchill, as Liberal Home Secretary in1910, made a decision to allow troops to be sent to Tonypandy in South Wales . That action caused ill feeling towards him in south Wales and elsewhere throughout his life andto this day.

    In 1940, when Chamberlain’s war-time government was faltering, Clement Attlee secretly warned that the Labour Party might not follow Churchill, because of his association with Tonypandy.

    In 1978, there was uproar in the House of Commons, when Churchill’s grandson, also Winston Churchill, replying to a routine question on miners’ pay, was warned by James Callaghan not to pursue ‘the vendetta of your family against the miners of Tonypandy’.

    In 2010, 99 years after the riots, a Welsh local council made objections to a street being named after Churchill in the Vale of Glamorgan, because of his sending troops into the Rhondda.

    What chance for Mrs. Thatcher then?

  • Point taken, Joe.

    And certainly I hope we never have to go through anything as bitter as the miners’ strike again. The will of the elected government and the rule of law had to prevail.

    But that doesn’t mean I don’t have human sympathy for the miners: they weren’t all saints, some of them engaged in unprovoked violence (as did some of the police), but it was not their fault that their industry was becoming increasingly obsolete, nor that they were so badly served by their union leader. The solidarity they showed in coping with the hardship caused by the strike itself was a paradoxical example of the self-reliance that Thatcher extolled. I disliked the triumphalism shown in some quarters when they were eventually defeated.

    The bald fact, of course, is that the pit closure programme of the 1980s was nothing new; the coal industry had been in decline for decades under public ownership. The largest 958 pits were taken into public ownership in 1947, at which time over 700,000 men worked in the industry. Before the miners’ strike began in 1984 this had dwindled to 170 pits and the numbers employed was below 200,000. In the early 1960s the scale of pit closures had only been mitigated by banning American coal imports, in breach of our free-trade obligations under GATT.

  • Matthew Huntbach. What we needed were Colleges of advanced Technology – Salford et al not a massive increase in arts depts. Contempt for trade technology and profits and those who undertake such activities, appears to be equally shared by left wing middle class arts graduates employed by the public sector and 19C land owning aristocrats . I am always amazed as to how few Labour voting middle class types read engineering at university and go to work for engineering/manufacturing companies.

    One reason why some foreign countries have better run nationalised companies such as France , the civil servants are recruited from the Ecole Polytechnique , which is similar to Imperial. In the UK most senior civil servants have arts degrees . Nationalised companies can be well run provided there is no overmanning, no resistance to new technology, no excessive pay, bad employees can be fired and customers come first ,not employees.

    In the late 70s , UK nationalised companies had some of the highest debts in the world. If the unions had believed in their abilities they could have offered to buy the nationalised industries from the nation and run them themselves with the subsidies being reduced over a fixed time, say 20% reduction per year . If the NCB under Scargill gave the same profitable service as John Lewis he would have been a national hero.

    The problem is that none of the unions put forward plans how nationalised industries could be run without subsidies or even better at small profit.
    Some Coal Data
    NCB in the 80s was being subsidies at £1.B/year.
    Pre WW1 1M men employed, 300M T coal produced , over 3000 pits
    1947 700,000men, 200MT coal produced
    1963-1968 340,000 miner leave industry
    Pre WW1 ships change from coal to oil
    1950s trains change from coal to diesel
    1970s change from town gas made from coal to gas from N Sea.

    In the 1930s large number of factories constructed building appliances in W London ( Hoover Building ) car factories built in Oxford and S of Birmingham . Aeroplane production started in Southampton, Bristol and Surrey. Large numbers of houses were built in the southern suburbs in the 1930s. What we see in the 1930s is the development of medium and advanced /high value manufacturing which largely occurred south of Birmingham

    Why did’nt Labour governments in 1945-51, 1964-66 and 1974-1979 try persuade medium to advance manufacturing companies being set up in areas of heavy industry? This way as heavy industry reduced the numbers employed , people could be re-trained and enter medium to advanced manufacturing . Of course this approach was prevented when Red Robbo caused strikes at BL costing £200M. The problem was that by the late 60s most unskilled /sem-skilled unions were run by shop stewards who would not listen to reasonable suggestions from union leaders. B Castle’s ” In place of strife ” produced in 1968 in order to reduce strikes was opposed by J Callaghan . J Gormly was against Scargill leading the NUM because he saw the trouble he would cause. The unions/Labour had period of 1966-1978 to show that they could run nationalised industries without subsidies and for the benefit of customers in a similar manner to the Co-op or John Lewis : they failed.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Apr '13 - 5:56am

    Charlie

    One reason why some foreign countries have better run nationalised companies such as France , the civil servants are recruited from the Ecole Polytechnique , which is similar to Imperial. In the UK most senior civil servants have arts degrees.

    Yes, my first degree is from Imperial. I don’t believe the problems are all down to trade unions, as you put it. I believe they are more down to snobbery and the British class system. The low standing of engineering is part of that snobbery. Any school child who is good at science is urged to go into Medicine, because in the British class system, that’s the only respectable thing you can do that’s science-oriented. I’ve been there and done that – I spent many years as the admissions tutor for my university department, I could see how science and engineering departments scrabbled to fill their places, having to go low down on grades to do it, while Medicine departments in the same university had so many applicants they could turn away anyone with less than straight As.

    This same snobbery played a big part in what you attribute purely to Trade Unions. A lot of it was down to class division between management and workers. Too many managers who, to be frank, were not that able, but had got there because of the right social class background. And not being able and being so culturally different from the workers, they made big mistakes and antagonised them. I’m not saying all the points you made were wrong, but I am saying you are being very one-sided.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Apr '13 - 6:00am

    JRC

    It is very magnanimous of you be so understanding Margaret Thatcher’s innocent motivations but the experiences of many are different

    I think you have entirely missed my point.

  • Matthew Huntbach,

    I don’t think I did but the tone of that which you quote above is unfair and so I withdraw it with apologies.

    Joe Otten,

    No, it is the policies. Just not the policies that you dictate. At no point have I stated that the whole of Margaret Thatcher and her legacy could be understood as simply to wreck lives. To characterise my comments as such is to turn debate into ad hominem attack, (ironically the point at which I entered this debate and which you have already conceded above). The motivations that I have claimed for her are not my feelings but the feeling she stated at the time. That she hated the unions and their membership is no secret, the nature of enmity makes it inconceivable that she hated the enemy within any less than the enemy without. That she considered mass unemployment a price worth paying in order to bust the unions is not speculation, she stated it was. That it was a matter of policy to destroy the power base of industrial workers is again, no secret. And, that she was prepared to condemn millions to unemployment, with the suffering that caused, in order to press down on labour costs and create a pool of flexible labour is also no secret.

    These policies caused suffering, were done willingly and were motivated by hate.

    Alex Sabine,

    First I must apologise for dragging you into a specific point I was making in response to Joe Otten’s comment. Your comments and doughty support for your selected policies led me to the conclusion that it would be absurd to expect you to support the Labour party simply because you support those policies. I was trying to illustrate the very absurdity of that “curious logic” as you so ably put it. Although your point is somewhat undermined by then going on to describe how you consider it bizarre and illogical that Labour supporters would appear to do the same. The error in your analysis of Labour supporters is the same as Joe Otten’s; you frame the debate on the very narrow set of policies which you dictate, ignoring their context and the full effects of how they were implemented. You then define the massed individuals as one and attribute your interpretation of their failure to the whole. Each individual is then characterised as a node emanating from the collective. As an aside: I always find it curious how those who would describe themselves as liberal and thus accept the nature of personhood to be autonomous individuality, then go on to characterise their opponents as a Star Trek style Borg collective.

    My feelings about Margaret Thatcher are exactly as I stated in my first post. My feelings about her during her premiership were different. As does Joe Otten, you extrapolate the general in my view from the specific and conclude a motivation that I do not have, ironically you do this with the tacit argument that it is such an extrapolation that motivates my emotions about Margaret Thatcher. I have described a different aspect to the policies that you wish to support. As I have stated above, the motivation and policies that were mobilised in order to achieve the outcomes that you admire were no secret. I do not ‘believe’ that mass unemployment was a policy, it is a fact that it was. I don’t ‘believe’ that the fight against ‘the enemy within’ was a motivation, it is a fact. I don’t ‘believe’ that protest was met with brutal violence in Trafalgar Square or Orgreave, it is fact. I don’t ‘believe’ that starving the NHS of funds and increasing waiting times to be counted in years, or having the sick left on trolleys in corridors in crumbling hospitals, was policy, it was a fact that it was. A belief would be my feeling that the latter was a policy to increase the attractiveness of private health care by making the NHS as uncomfortable as possible, you see the difference?

    You have read my account of those policies and the effect that they had and concluded that I “obviously hate” Margaret Thatcher. The only conclusion I can find for this extrapolation is that you consider it perfectly rational to hate someone who would implement such policies.

    I have no interest in convincing others that their emotions regarding Margaret Thatcher are right or wrong or that they should share my own emotions. I do though think it right to point to hypocrisy and offence where it happens. I entered this debate because the initial article and Joe Otten’s comment both exhibited sneering contempt not far short of hatred to those whose experiences and emotional reactions were not in line with their own. They both attacked an amorphous mass as though each individual within that mass could be tarred with the same brush, (close to the very definition of dehumanising the enemy).

    It is impossible to assess the full legacy of Margaret Thatcher without including the extreme partisanship and hatred that she exhibited and engendered. To dismiss those who do is to stifle debate and deny the search for real understanding.

  • Matthew Huntbach. Union leaders such as Laird and Jordon of AEU, Hammond and Chappel of EETPU, Lyons of Power Workers were responsible. Unions such as NACODS- supervisors responsible for mine safety and unions representing the chemical industry were responsible.

    In general, it was the craft unions who were responsible and many craftsmen, charge hands and foremen voted for Thatcher in 1979 because of the irresponsible behaviour of the un/semi-skilled unions, especially the shop stewards. Over-manning largely occurred in the un/semi-skilled grades and their unions largely resisted new technology. B Castles 1968 “ In place of strife” was “rejected by the Callaghan and the unions, was used as a template by Thatcher for union reform. From the late 60s , many strikes were started by shop stewards in the un/semi-skilled unions and were opposed by the leaders of the unions . Gormley opposed Scargill.
    Personally , I would have like to see the unions buy the nationalised industries and agree to run them with say a 20% reduction in subsidy per year over 5 years . Nationalised industries could have been run like the Co-op or John Lewis . The problem is that the Labour Party /Unions never assessed changes in technology and trade and how it would impact on employment from 1945 onwards . It takes 5 years to train a craftsmen. If the Labour Party/unions had issued reports on changes in technology and trade say every 5 years and then predicted skills required: they could have ensured people had the education and skills to benefit from employment in new industries. However, the unskilled/semi-skilled unions usually resisted their members becoming craftsmen or engineers as it would mean losing members ( and influence within the Labour Party) and income . The EETPU used to have a training school to ensure members kept up to date with new technologies

  • Alex Sabine 12th Apr '13 - 5:15pm

    Fascinating stuff, Charlie. You are right about the increasing militancy of some unions being driven from the shop floor, and the emergence of a new class of more militant union leader. This was in part driven by their rejection of the ‘beer and sandwiches’ approach and what they saw as the complicity of the union barons and Labour governments in keeping wages down.

    Ironically they shared with the monetarist right a desire to return to ‘free collective bargaining’, though of course they objected to the idea that the rule of law should apply to industrial relations. What they really wanted was a form of anarcho-syndicalism, of the kind that existed for example in the print media.

    I agree with Matthew about the economically (as well as socially) perverse impact of the British class system and the snobbery associated with it.

    It was these same attitudes that led to the somnolent conservatism of much of British management – the lack of entreprenuerial instincts, the unwillingness to invest for the long term, the dependence on state subsidy or protection of one form or another, the backward-looking insularity – as well as of the governing class. The 1959 film I’m all right, Jack – (arguably a documentary as much as a satire) rightly lampooned both sides of industry.

    Indeed, it was similar attitudes – in particular a toxic mix of snobbery, sexism and defeatism about our national prospects – that led so many people in politics, the intelligentsia and some on industry to write off or patronise Thatcher, and which made her in many respects an outsider trying to break (not break into) the Establishment. I would argue that one of the positive aspects of her legacy is that she helped to change those attitudes and that culture, partly by her very example and partly by her policies.

    Of course the class system continues to disfigure various aspects of our national life – but as Alan Sugar put it, Thatcher ‘kick-started the entrepreneurial revolution that allowed chirpy chappies to succeed and not just the elite’.

    But whatever the failures of British company management, it was clear that the trade unions were the bigger problem by the 1960s because of their increasing militancy and their effective power of veto over the whole field of economic and industrial policy.

    In 1976 we even had the constitutionally highly dubious spectacle of a Chancellor making some of his key budget measures – rises in tax thresholds and allowances – contingent on trade unions holding down pay claims. (As we know, pay policy in any case completely broke down in the Winter of Discontent and the usual wage-price spiral ensued.)

    And by the time of the miners’ strike in 1984, there was a serious prospect of the unions being able to claim the scalp of a third successive British government, with the chilling effect that would have had on our democratic system.

  • I don’t understand the intense focus on the coal miners as the basis for criticism of Thatcher’s legacy.

    As I understood it then, as I still understand it now, she attacked the undemocratic manner of Scargill and the flying pickets in calling a national strike without a national ballot. She did not ‘hate’ the miners, she hated the restrictive practices of a powerful minority with a vested interest in refusing to modernise and who were prepared to use their power in defiance of the electorate to try to bring down governments.

    So although Thatcher got the blame for laying waste to those parts of Britain where heavy industry was concentrated the real responsibility still rests with those selfish union bosses who were actually more conservative, complacent and reactionary than she. They are damned for their attitude towards those they condemned as ‘scabs’ – and they talk about solidarity!

    By contrast I don’t see much credit going her way for developing the oil industry. Perhaps that’s to do with the fact the North Sea is relatively sparsely populated compared to South Wales, Yorkshire and the North East.

    Whether she believed it or not it was certainly unwise to get dragged into an argument where she could be accused of ‘waging class warfare’, nevertheless class (and gender, and race, and religion) barriers have ultimately receded compared to then and her election does represent a point at which British society did largely break free of the Briatin’s post-Imperial malaise to become an (albeit reluctant) member of the family of European nations.

    That’s not to say Thatcher wasn’t wrong, far from it, she was incorrect.

    The campaigns she waged across popular culture were not class-based, even if she portrayed them as such. So while we’re at it let’s not forget that she singled out football fans, ravers, gay culture and a large number of other areas across society.

    And let’s also not forget that while her proposals were extreme (eg the introduction of mandatory ID Cards for matchday tickets, raiding, Section 28) each area was a repository of unwanted behaviour (eg violent rioting and racism, violent criminal drug gangs, unsafe casual sex), and those problems only began to be effectively dealt with when less confrontational, more cooperative approaches were brought in to moderate the unacceptable dogmatism she came to represent.

    Although we might wonder whether she had a heart, Thatcher’s head at least started out unswollen. That she was able to dominate British politics for so long is less a compliment to her than an indictment of her enemies; she did not win any arguments, they lost them.

    Thatcher could’ve learnt to be a great leader of the opposition, the tragic shame is that she wasted so much of her potential.

  • Alex,
    ‘somnolent conservatism of much of British management’?

    Perhaps, but you’re forgetting something called the ‘brain drain’ during the post-war period.

    It’s a testament to the positive aspects of immigration that talented people now prefer to come to and stay in this country than leave or go elsewhere.

  • An interesting aspect of Icelands experience is that all the best graduates in computer science and mathematics were being sucked into the financial services industry prior to the financial crash. Hi-tech and engineering companies were being starved of new blood by a bloated and ultimately unsustainable financial sector.

    But then in the middle of the dark and cold winter of 2010 something happened. Iceland’s exporters, which had struggled to recruit skilled graduates because they were being poached by bonus-paying banks for a decade, got the engineers, scientists, IT graduates and brainpower that they needed.

    Since the financial crash, technology based companies are finding it much easier to recruit the graduates they need.
    Iceland’s president, Mr Grimsson, also says Britain could learn from the Icelandic experience by cutting its dependence on banking and finance, which draws talent away from more productive parts of the economy.
    Iceland’s ‘tenacity’ lifts economy out of crisis

    Could it be that this small Island of tough, tenacious, diligent and very hard working people will succeed where Mrs. Thatcher ultimately failed in undertaking the hard task of a major reconstruction of their productive economy with a solid vision of where their future prosperity lays?

  • Paul in twickenham 12th Apr '13 - 6:42pm

    @Joe Bourke – It would be great if you are right about the opportunities for science and technology graduates to find employment outside the financial services industry. However I wonder about vacancy rates of any kind at the moment. I spend a lot of time in the physics department of various London University colleges and it seems to me that jobs are thin on the ground for the new graduates with incredible competition for postgraduate research positions. A few weeks ago I was watching Countdown and one contestant was a physics graduate from Galway. He was working in Nottingham printing T-shirts.

    We continue to squander our greatest resources.

  • Alex Sabine 12th Apr '13 - 6:52pm

    JRC – I feel like we’re stuck in a quagmire, the wheels are spinning furiously, but the car isn’t moving anywhere. I have read your post twice and I’m struggling to understand some of your objections about what you claim I am ‘extrapolating’ and what my motivations are. I will attempt to answer a couple of your points that I think I do get the gist of as clearly as I can.

    1. I’m not applying different standards to myself (a ‘floating voter’ with liberal sympathies) and Labour supporters. I put the case for Thatcher having got more right than she got wrong on the big questions of the day, being the right leader for the time, and someone whose economic legacy has proved remarkably enduring.

    Had her commitment to economic freedom been matched by more liberal instincts and actions on (among other things) the proper balance between state power and civil liberties, on sexual equality and on the role of local government, my support for her record would be much less qualified. In some respects the governments that followed hers have remedied these black spots, in too many others (centralisation of the state and the erosion of civil liberties for example) they have made them worse.

    Likewise, I know there are many Labour supporters who approve of the domestic record of Blair’s administrations but see the Iraq war as an unforgivable error/deception. They may even have been uncomfortable with the record on civil liberties and the authoritarian drift. Some turned against the party in protest, many others continued to vote for it and support it.

    One charge you appear to be making is that I’m highlighting a select few of Thatcher’s policies. Well, among those I cited as achievements, in this and other threads, were: trade union and labour market reform; privatisation; the end of state control over prices, wages, dividends and rents; the eventual taming of inflation (though it temporarily reignited at the end of the Lawson boom); the abolition of exchange control that had imposed severe travel restrictions; and more generally, the turnaround in Britain’s relative economic performance from the crisis-riven laggard of Europe to one of its more successful economies. Not to mention her important contribution, along with Reagan and Gorbachev and the likes of Lech Walesa, to the fall of communism and the liberation of eastern Europe.

    Taken as a whole, I’d say that’s a pretty substantial body of achievement. Of course, as well as the things I’m not so keen on, there were many problems she didn’t fix, that continue to bedevil us today. The highly intelligent conservative commentator Ferdinand Mount put this point well earlier this week, I thought, when he wrote:

    ‘Of course, all reforms have unintended and often perverse consequences. The trouble is that, on the whole, politicians can only think about one thing at a time. In the Eighties and Nineties, the imperative was to bring Britain back from the brink of economic collapse: to make her industries and services competitive again, to liberate the energies of her managers and to turn the country back into a place that people wanted to live and work in again. Margaret Thatcher was a towering figure in that last-ditch project, indefatigable and implacable.

    ‘Unfortunately, in the smoke of that long and painful battle, other abiding imperatives were lost sight of: the need to maintain the shape of our institutions, the need to preserve the local dimension, the proper governance of companies and the importance of making them fully accountable to their shareholders and to the public, the need to keep markets free of harmful monopolies and to root out restrictive practices in the boardroom no less than on the shop floor.

    ‘These are the challenges for the current crop of politicians. If they do one quarter as well as she did, they will deserve a footnote in her chapter.’

    So the basic point is the ‘select few’ issues you say I highlight in support of Thatcher happened to be the most urgent and important and contentious issues of the time. On these, she was largely right and Labour was largely wrong, which is why Labour changed its position between the nadir of its 1983 rout and its landslide re-election in 1997 on almost every one of the issues that had defined the politics of the period: the trade union laws, the balance between the public and private sectors; how to control inflation and the need to do so as a precondition of stable growth; competition rather than state planning and industrial subsidy; the need to avoid punitive tax rates; the importance of NATO and multilateral defence policy.

    Now, you can dismiss this as all history, and I’ve already said that today’s agenda is different and there are new challenges. But the very reason the agenda has moved on is that Thatcher’s answers to the big issues outlined above have become part of the political common ground.

    By all means disagree with this new orthodoxy, challenge it, reject it… I was merely pointing out that this is not what Labour did in order to win power, nor was it what it did once it was in government. It tinkered at the edges, it taxed and redistributed a bit more (though surreptitiously), it spent a lot more on public services (running persistent structural deficits in order to do so) – but on the fundamentals of the economy, its shape and structure, it was happy to leave the Thatcher reforms in place and even to build on them. This underpinned everything else it did on the domestic scene.

    That is why I find it bizarre and hypocritical for those who supported the key planks of Labour’s domestic programme to demonise Thatcher and her policies. From the Socialist Workers Party, or the Greens, or the BNP, or whatever other fringe party has consistently opposed liberal economics and capitalism, it would make a lot more sense.

  • Paul
    “We continue to squander our greatest resources.”

    No, what was not cultivated over decades will not spring up overnight.

    Our greatest resources can’t easily find ideal niches because relational positions have become more tenuous as a consequence of hyper-specialisation in the globalised economy and a greater array of skills are required to gain a foothold.

    So don’t underestimate the power of ingenuity – printing T-shirts may give that physics graduate exactly the real-world insight to complement his education and put his talents to better use than he earlier imagined.

  • David Allen 12th Apr '13 - 7:06pm

    Care to try printing T-shirts for yourself then, Oranjepan?

  • Alex Sabine 12th Apr '13 - 7:33pm

    2. Your other complaint was that (to paraphrase) I was lumping all Labour supporters together as an amorphous group and showing no awareness of the diversity of views among them; and that this is particularly odd since I regard myself as a liberal.

    Perhaps I didn’t make it explicit enough, but the ‘Labour supporters’ I was directing my comments to were those who (a) deplore Thatcher and her works, and yet (b) broadly supported Labour’s agenda in government. From my reading of reaction to Thatcher’s death among bloggers and the commentariat it seemed there were a sizeable number of these people, and that their denunciations of Thatcher were ritual and visceral and irrational given their own policy positions.

    Clearly, there are plenty who do not fall into this category. For example, there are those who acknowledge Labour’s debt to Thatcherism (Tony Blair for example, or MPs like Gisela Stuart, Barry Sheerman, Frank Field, bloggers like Dan Hodges) and therefore blend criticism of her government with praise for the enduring economic reforms. That is a consistent and tenable position.

    There are others who always opposed Labour’s conversion to markets and still do, and essentially don’t accept the victory of capitalism over socialism (Ken Livingstone, for example, or Diane Abbott or Dennis Skinner). Naturally enough they haven’t changed their view of Thatcher and still see Labour’s acceptance of her reforms as apostasy. I don’t know how many of these people there are in the Labour party; but I would venture that if their views had prevailed, the party’s exile from power would have lasted a lot longer than 18 years.

    And of course there will be other shades of view. So, no, I’m not expecting Labour supporters to be of one view. It was the chorus of denunciation that struck me, given that – presumably – at least some of these people still think their party was right to compromise with the modern world, and the electorate, over the 1983-97 period and then in government…

    If not, I await their new policy platform with interest.

  • Alex Sabine 12th Apr '13 - 8:15pm

    JRC – One more thing: I don’t know where you get your ‘facts’ from, but many of them seem to be baseless assertions about Thatcher’s motives, verging on paranoia, and others are demonstrably false.

    For example, we get the hoary myth about ‘starving the NHS of funds’, when in fact health spending was increased by more than 3% per year in real terms during the Thatcher years. As far as I’m aware, the only government that has actually cut spending on the NHS was Labour in 1977, after they had taken the country to the brink of bankruptcy and the IMF ordered a cuts programme to get our books in order.

    Oranjepan, I agree with your point about the focus on the mining industry as if it were the litmus test of Thatcher’s record. As I pointed out anove, the coal industry had been in decline for decades, under public ownership, and under governments of all colours. The 958 largest mines had been nationalised in 1947, at which time some 700,000 people worked in collieries. By 1984, before the closure programme that triggered the miners’ strike, these numbers had dwindled to 170 pits and 200,000 miners employed, because of falling demand and lower production costs in developing countries.

    To mitigate the scale of closures in the early 1960s the Conservative government was reduced to banning American coal imports, in breach of our obligations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

    To listen to some Labour detractors of Thatcher, you’d think this woman was solely responsible for the demise of the coal industry. It’s a myth.

    Indeed, it’s a little-known fact that the Wilson/Callaghan governments of the 1960s and 1970s closed more pits than Thatcher. The number of coal mines open declined from 545 in 1964 (the start of Wilson’s government) to 304 by 1969. When Labour came back to office in 1974, there were 250 working mines and by 1979 this had fallen to 219. Under Thatcher the numbers fell further, to 65 by the time she left office in 1990.

    So, around 150 mines closed under Thatcher and more than 270 under Labour’s two spells in the ’60s and ’70s. But of course we are to believe that Wilson and Callaghan were bowing to economic realities while Thatcher was motivated by sheer spite… Come off it.

  • Stuart Mitchell 12th Apr '13 - 8:29pm

    Alex: Nobody is questioning that there were huge problems in the UK economy in the late ‘70s. But the fact remains: you claimed Thatcher had replaced all that with a much sounder foundation that would bring about lower unemployment in the long run. 34 years later, we’re still waiting for it to happen – large-scale unemployment, especially among the young, seems to be a permanent feature of a post-Thatcher economy. Am I just being impatient here – should we give the medicine another few decades to work?

    Incidentally, your claim that unemployment rose sharply through the 1960s and 1970s isn’t accurate at all. The only sharp rise during the period was in the mid-70s, but by the time Thatcher took office it had been falling for 18 months.

    The New Labour = Thatcherism stuff is just bizarre. Blair was no more a Thatcherite than Churchill and his Tory successors were socialists for retaining most of the Attlee settlement (some of which is intact today). Thatcher would have destroyed a lot more of it if she could. She was constrained by what the electorate would accept, just as Blair was. There was plenty for Thatcher-haters to approve of in New Labour (the minimum wage and the scrapping of section 28 being two random examples).

    You accuse the left of “caricaturising” Thatcher, but the truth is they never needed to. Their image of Thatcher as an autocratic, confrontational leader who didn’t believe in society was built entirely on things she had said herself. The left did not put those words in to her mouth.

    Thatcher’s influence on modern politics is much more negative than positive, in the sense that her ultra-confrontational and callous style now seems like a relic of a dark past. It’s true that she foresaw which way the economic wind was blowing much more effectively than the Labour Party of the time – hardly difficult given the total mess Labour were in after the moderates abandoned it to the extreme left – but Britain, like the rest of the world, would have modernised in myriad different ways over the last 30 years whether Thatcher had existed or not. And for the record, communism would have been defeated without her, too.

  • Stuart Mitchell 12th Apr '13 - 8:34pm

    “There are others who always opposed Labour’s conversion to markets and still do, and essentially don’t accept the victory of capitalism over socialism.”

    This really is nonsense. Sidney Webb’s over-enthusiastic rhetoric aside, Labour have always believed in a mixed economy.

  • I am with Stuart on this; while it is clear that something had gone horribly wrong in the 70s and reform was needed, Thatcher’s only lasting legacies are the ones of destruction. The things she brought to replace what she destroyed have not stood the tests of time.

    =Her New Right ideals for education doomed a whole generation to underachievement.

    =Her franchising model for public transport has been universally rejected as ineffective and wasteful.

    =Her rail reforms have left us with one the developed ones most defunct rail systems in the world, which strangles social mobility and leads to a host of other social problems, such as overcrowding in major cities.

    =Her attacks on civil liberties and brutal enforcement of her draconian laws still leave black stains on our history today.

    =Her selling off of natural resources to unknown and uncaring private organisations speaks for itself.

    =Her selling of social housing has led to chronic housing problems we have today.

    =Her handling of Ireland is another black spot on our history.

    =Her handling of Europe is part of why we have such a broken relationship with them.

    =It is truly sickening to think she used the Flaklands war just to win an election, and prior to that was quite happy to negotiate with the fascists.

    =Her foreign policy saw Nelson Mandela labelled a terrorist (until it was politically untenable to hold such a stance), but let Pinochet walk free,

    =Her reforms of the banking sector planted the seeds which led to our current mess.

    I could go on, but I shell stop here, while I realise a lot said about her is wrong, or unfair, and we should not forget that Major had a fair run, Labour had 15 years of rule and our Coalition is almost up to three, but still I cannot see much of her legacy as a good thing, I sadly only see the destruction her rule left in its divisive path.

    PS I am sorry, but to call Atlee a communist is like calling Marx a socialist. While socialism, even the one practiced by Atlee, may have similarities in places to communism and may even agree with it on some accounts, that does not make them the same theory. Socialism, as a theory, is as board and diverse as Liberalism, but that does not mean any part of it is communism, and whether one agrees with it or not, they should at least pay it the respect of understanding that,

  • Mmm, Alex Sabine,

    You now add paranoia to my childishness, very good. I’m sorry you are having difficulty. I thought it was fairly straight forward.

    I have given an account of policies that caused harm to individuals (mass unemployment). I have stated that it is a part of historical record that motivation for these policies was partly hatred (the enemy within). I have stated that there was callous disregard for the damage to individuals (a price worth paying). You take my recollection of this (the specific) and extrapolate that I obviously hate Margaret Thatcher and that I am arguing that this is the entirety of her record (the general). I don’t think at any point I have ascribed a motivation to you at all. Although I do feel that your propensity for insult suggests you might have one.

    As for the specific type of individual you find bizarre, perhaps I can help. The legacy of Margaret Thatcher includes far more than the policies you select. For example, it includes the policies I select too. It also includes a method for achieving those policies that caused a lot of collateral damage . The selections that you have made were indeed retained by the labour government, most of the rest of her legacy and methods were not. As Stuart Mitchell correctly states New Labour = Thatcherism is a false statement. There is therefore no contradiction even in the terms of the imaginary Labour supporter you define.

  • Alex Sabine 13th Apr '13 - 3:07am

    Stuart: On your last point, I am quite interested in Labour Party history as it happens – indeed I wrote my uni dissertation on it many years ago – so I am well aware of the different traditions in the party.

    From the early days it was an alliance between working men and trade unionists, high-minded socialist intellectuals of various hues, and managerial politicians whose views were shaped by their experiences of government. These elements were often in tension, but the famous Clause Four of the party’s constitution committed it to the socialist transformation of society – common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange – not merely to the reform of capitalism.

    In practice, things were less transformational, since, as Edmund Dell writes in his history of British socialism: ‘There was never a map defining a route a long which the democratic socialist battalions could confidently advance and at the end of which was democratic socialism. Nor could there have been such a map because there was no such route… The history of socialism in Britain is one of advance followed by retreat. Each advance was shorter, each retreat longer and more painful. Retreat was covered by a redefinition of words.’

    So you’re right that, in government if not always in opposition, Labour opted for a mixed economy rather than socialist transformation; and its tools were a mixture of Keynesianism, nationalisation of a raft of industries, state intervention (sometimes dignified with the term ‘planning’ but more often a series of ad-hoc responses to crises that arose) and the development of the welfare state.

    This was what many of the leading figures in the party – Attlee, Morrison, Bevin, Gaitskell, WIlson, Healey, Callaghan, Jenkins, Hattersley, Kinnock, Smith etc – were comfortable with, though many other senior figures and a big chunk of the party activists believed their mission was to replace capitalism with an economy based on public ownership.

    I never suggested that Marxism was the dominant Labour tradition, or anything like it. But the party has always contained a minority (nowadays I would guess a small minority of MPs) who were impatient with the mixed economy and wanted to push nationalisation much further. In the 1970s and 1980s these included Tony Benn, Michael Foot, Ian Mikardo, Etic Heffer, Ken Livingstone and others.

    In the 1950s the Bevanites took this view, and in the 1970s and 1980s the Bennites – who wielded considerable influence in the party – were still more doctrinaire. If you doubt this, just read Labour’s February 1974 manifesto – fortunately Wilson, that cunning schemer, didn’t believe much of it but a fair bit of nonsense still came to pass. The 1983 election platform is the more famous example, of course. At this time the ‘Alternative Economic Strategy’ advocated by the Left entailed import controls and a siege economy combined with large-scale further nationalisation and entrenchment of trade union power. It did not accept anything like the mixed economy of the postwar settlement and of course ‘capitalism’ was a dirty word.

    The likes of Roy Jenkins had been publicly fretting about the dangers of pushing public spending any higher in the 1970s and worried that the mixed economy in which he believed was under threat from the Labour Left. Of course this ‘extremism’ was among the reasons the Gang of Four gave for leaving the party and forming the SDP.

    Partly because of this experience, and four successive election defeats, the influence of those with Clause Four style beliefs has of course dwindled in the Labour party. This was part of the point I was making. But I acknowledged that there will be some Labour supporters who still believe in it, who always resented the abandonment of the commitment to public ownership and socialist transformation. But evidently to you this ‘really is nonsense’ and I don’t know what I’m talking about…

  • Alex Sabine 13th Apr '13 - 6:11am

    Re unemployment, it rose throughout most of the developed world between the long postwar boom (which lasted until the OPEC oil crisis and associated recession of 1973-75) and the subsequent period. There was nothing unique about Britain in this regard. What is striking is the improvement in our unemployment rate relative to other countries, and especially to our main European counterparts.

    By the time Labour came to power in 1997, Britain’s unemployment rate of 6.8% compared to 9.8% in Germany, 12.5% in France, 15.8% in Spain, and 4.9% in the US (which had also pursued labour market deregulation), and was on a downward path. By 2000 the comparison was even more favourable.

    Another measure of the improvement has been the behaviour of unemployment and the employment rate during this recession. Given the sharp drop in GDP since 2008, the level of unemployment has been much lower than expected and the job creation record over the past couple of years is really quite impressive.

    Most economists attribute this at least in part to our flexible labour markets and the generally good industrial relations that have enabled pay restraint to preserve jobs. It is a big contrast with earlier recessions and unrecognisable from the character of the labour market in the 1970s.

    As I mentioned above, even Lord Oakeshott (who seldom has a good word to say anout Tories) gave Mrs Thatcher credit for transforming the labour market, reckoning that ‘unemployment would be millions higher in this recession’ without the 1980s reforms. That may be overstating it, but the effect has clearly been significant and beneficial.

    The point is that turning around an economy in the state that ours was in by the late Seventies is not like flicking a switch, it’s more like turning around a supertanker. You do not get instant results. The transition is painful. But the longer reform is postponed (and it had been cravenly postponed by the Labour and Tory governments of the 1960s and 1970s), the more brutal the costs of adjustment. To portray the decision to gradp that nettle as a deliberate strategy to punish people isn’t very credible in my view. You might as well say that previous governments had decided to deliberately punish people by storing up huge, almost intractable, problems for the future.

    As the distinguished political commentator Peter Jenkins put in on the 10th anniversary of Thatcher’s arrival in Downing Street, she came in ‘as liquidator to a bankrupt order’. The responsibility for that bankruptcy lay not just with the outgoing Labour government, but with the Heath government, the Wilson government of the 1960s (notably the fact that it had shelved Barbara Castle’s trade union reform plan), and with the actions of unions that thought using their muscle to bargain for pay that was increasingly out of line with productivity wouldn’t price people out of jobs once a government decided that it wasn’t prepared to accommodate higher pay by debauching the currency.

    One of the main causes of the rise in unemployment in the 1979-81 recession was the fact that pay claims were racing ahead despite the recession conditions. In that situation the government could only have prevented unemployment by allowing inflation (already in double figures) to let rip, as Heath/Barber had done to such disastrous effect and as Healey did in 1974. That would mot have been an act of kindness, but of gross irresponsibility and indeed cruelty, because it would have necessitated even more drastic action further down the road.

    (You make reference to Norman Lamont’s phrase about unemployment in the early 1990s having been ‘a price worth paying’ to get inflation down. It was a politically unwise thing to say, but it did actually contain a basic truth that is pretty uncontroversial among economists: that low inflation is a prerequisite for sustainably low unemployment, not an alternative to it. Callaghan had told the Labour party conference the same thing in 1976. The way to avoid spikes in unemployment is not to let inflation get out of hand in the first place. Flexible labour markets help cushion the adjustment because pay restraint can reduce job losses, as we’ve seen in this recession.)

    So, yes, the price of past mistakes was a painful adjustment to reality. Some of the fruits of the Thatcher reforms, like lower unemployment than other large European economies, took more than a decade to emerge – partly because of the policy mistakes at the end of the 1980s with the Lawson boom and then the ill-judged decision to enter the ERM.

    Others, though, were visible much earlier. For example, once the 1979-81 recession was over, real GDP growth averaged a brisk 3.2% per year for the rest of the 1980s, better than the previous decade and better than most other western developed economies. Productivity improved sharply. Manufacturing output recovered. The number of days lost to strikes had tumbled by the turn of the decade. Other than the serious blip of 1989-91, inflation – the British disease as much as strikes – had been tamed.

    I appreciate these are bald statistics, but they translated into tangible benefit to people’s lives just as surely as there was tangible hardship for millions caused by the transition. The problem is that the costs were immediate and clearly visible and concentrated in certain geographic areas, while the benefits were dispersed across the whole population and took years to be fully realised. This contrast is unfortunate for politicians undertaking major reforms and it explains why governments so often duck them even when they know what needs to be done.

    Thatcher marked a break from that tradition, and that is no doubt why she will always divide opinion so starkly. Which is why I find it instructive to look not at the rhetoric of her opponents, but what their actions and policy programme suggest they really think of her legacy.

    Tony Blair himself has always been quite clear that he regards the bulk of the 1980s reforms as having been necessary, even though they were all opposed by Labour at the time. The creation of New Labour signalled not that the party had embraced Thatcherism as its own credo, but that it had made peace with her reforms and intended to preserve them largely intact.

    Obviously it would be simplistic to say New Labour = Thatcherism, which I didn’t… I listed a number of important areas of difference, but the fact is that it accepted that a paradigm shift had occurred and that it was operating within parameters defined by the combination of the Thatcher reforms and the globalised market economy.

  • Alex Sabine 13th Apr '13 - 7:25am

    Okay, JRC, let’s get this clear. I haven’t ascribed a sinister motivation to you. I am quite sure you are sincere in your beliefs, and that they are based on real experiences.

    I did suggest at one point that ‘you obviously hate Thatcher and think she was intentionally cruel’. I thought that was a reasonable inference from your remarks on this thread – eg the fact that you said that you had ‘always believed that I would be celebrating’ when she died; that ‘suffering was deliberately inflicted’ and that she ‘wilfully and unnecessarily destroyed the lives of millions’. If you believe those things, yet don’t hate her, then I retract that part of my comment and salute your charitable spirit. I can’t quite see why you thought you would be celebrating her death if you don’t hate her, but let’s leave that to one side.

    I’m afraid I cleave to my belief that Prime Ministers in a democracy do not, as a rule, intentionally or deliberately set out to destroy people’s lives. If you are saying something different, that Thatcher was prepared to do things that she knew would create dislocation and even hardship as the price that had to be paid for rescuing the economy from near-bankruptcy, I concede that you may have a point. But if she believed the alternative was a much more brutal reckoning postponed, with the human consequences that would flow from that, can we really call that cruelty?

    On that logic, every time a central bank puts up interest rates to curb inflation, it is knowingly inflicting cruelty; after all, it is potentially pushing debt-laden homeowners into repossession. It is ‘choosing’ to risk higher unemployment for the sake of maintaining the value of the currency. Yet, as we have learned from bitter experience, this is a false choice.

    Every time a government restricts trade, it is wilfully impoverishing its own people and keeping others in much poorer countries in poverty. This is unjust and self-defeating, certainly, but is it the product of wilful cruelty or just flawed thinking and political cowardice?

    And, yes, every time a government closes a nationalised coal mine, it is knowingly putting people out of work. Yet, as I have pointed out several times, if this really is wilful cruelty then the Wilson and Callaghan governments – which closed down more coal mines than Thatcher – were worse offenders.

    Of course, the reality is that these politicians didn’t act out of cruelty – wilful or otherwise – but out of recognition of the changing facts of economic life. They decided they could mo longer justify the subsidies to unprofitable collieries, the costs of which were borne by all other taxpayers, and hidden in the jobs in other industries that were stifled as a result.

    By what criteria is it humane to keep financial transfusions to a declining industry going, rather than releasing the money for other purposes which may create gainful and sustainable employment for twice as many people? If the net result is higher unemployment than need be the case, is it not more cruel to keep the status quo?

    Were newpaper proprietors acting out of wilful cruelty when they wanted to modernise the printing process, introduce computers and use the new capital investment to create better products and better and more highly paid jobs in the future? Or was not there greater cruelty in the behaviour of the print unions in their Luddite resistance to change, their insistence that their writ should run and efficiency could go hang, their tactics of intimidation against those who tried to engage constructively with change?

    Was it wilfully cruel to enforce the law against flying pickets so that those who wished to go to work could do so without intimidation? Or that a small local newspaper proprietor (Eddy Shah) could expand his business and create more jobs in the long run with the aid of new technology, at the expense of some redundancies in the short run? The National Graphical Association found that concept so unacceptable that they responded by planting five coffins in his garden, with a pretty obvious message attached. Was Thatcher wilfully cruel to personally intervene and ensure that enough police were on hand that he could go about his lawful business?

    I’m afraid I come to the conclusion that this concept of cruelty, of the wilful infliction of suffering, is a very distorting prism through which to view the actions that governments take, whatever their political complexion.

  • Ok Alex,

    re Paragraph 1: The past and the present are very different things, time is a great healer an all that. Why you would salute my charitable spirit and then demand it of others is beyond me, if you demand it surely it is to be expected of people and no salute should be sought or given.

    re Paragraph 2: I cleave to opinion that Prime Ministers are human beings and are motivated by the same range of emotions as the rest of us. “The enemy within” is an expression of hate, “a price worth paying” is an expression of callous disregard. These are her governments terms, not mine.

    The rest of your piece is in support of the former and is in most ways valid. However, If after all of your well meaning harm was done you then expected the victims to be grateful, you would be rightfully termed a despot. There is no recognition of her legacy if you do not recognise why and how she divides opinion.

  • Alex,
    whilst I do agree that most politicians do not set out to be cruel, they sometime hide harsh belligerence behind a rhetoric of belief.
    Over the last few days I’ve watched a lot of Clips of Mrs Thatcher in action. I think that one of the reason she is divisive is that she was clearly a bit of a demigod and over identified herself with the national interests. It;s there on film and there in her biography. Accepted, she did some things that needed to be done, but she often did them very badly in a hamfisted way. I can’t admire that ., Her tenure lead to ingrained unemployment not more opportunities Her economic record was actually pretty poor, turning the sales of utilities and the advantages of North sea oil into a deficit . There was no sense whatsoever in privatising water suppliers and the fact is privatised rail was run so badly that it lead to train crashes. The bits involved in maintenance were re-nationalised to avoid more deaths. Whilst, the allegedly profit making bits are currently subsidised so they don’t go bust.. Royal Mail now makes a profit by the way. and I notice that plans to introduce it to private sector efficiency have been quietly shelved . Doesn’t London underground also make a profit too? Mixed economies clearly work better than either state capitalism or market forces.

  • P.S

    Alex,
    Might I suggest that you look up Eddie Shah’s business career as a publisher and recent history. He is perhaps not the wisest example to cite.

  • David,
    been there, did that, still have the T-shirt to prove it.

    Liberal Al,
    rail franchising was introduced under Major.

    Thatcher signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1983, which paved the way for peace in Ireland by giving an advisory role to the Republic – considering the murder of Airey Neave and the Brighton bombing this was a remarkable concession at a personal level.

    The Falklands War can’t be dismissed as an electioneering stunt, though you shouldn’t blame a politician who was suffering disasterous poll ratings during a miserable first term from latching onto such a success to transform it into a symbol of the ideological battle being fought at home and position themself as a winner.

    Britain’s role in Europe is to be a constructive critic, and we have a more mature relationship with our neighbours by engaging in frank and honest debate with them. Thatcher fulfilled this role adequately if not fitfully, but was certainly more positive than the unilateralists such as Michael Foot who really had nothing at all to offer on that front.

    There are so many valid criticisms of Thatcher that it’s like having 10 chances at an open goal, why choose to miss the target?

    Glenn,
    agreed, I’m highly suspicious of the supporters of the cult of Thatcher and their motivations.

    You do, however, have to give credit to her for having the ability to manipulate her image in such a way that the gullible and selfish could be coralled so easily into being disciples.

    Sadly it demonstrates how the basic human need to passively believe, whether in or against a person or a set of fixed ideas, so easily displaces meaningful action.

  • Alex Sabine 14th Apr '13 - 1:23am

    Glenn: Without wishing to be pedantic, rail privatisation was done by John Major’s government, not Thatcher’s. I agree it was a botched design. It did, though, bring in a large amount of outside investment after a long investment vacuum and damaging politicisation of investment decisions under governments of both parties, and was accompanied by a big increase in rail travel despite increased fares.

    (Labour’s IMF-sponsored cuts of 1976-78 and Ken Clarke’s deficit reduction of the mid-to-late 1990s both relied disproportionately on squeezing the capital budget while allowing current spending to continue to grow; and successive governments had preferred cutting investment plans to raising fares, leaving the railway network in a dilapidated state.)

    You blame train crashes on rail privatisation, but of course they happened under the nationalised regime too. Vince Cable’s take on this is interesting: he thinks there was an over-reaction by regulators after the Hatfield crash in 2000. In 2004 he wrote: ‘The railways are suffering years of chronic disruption caused in part by a tightening of safety regulation to a standard which reduces risk far below that in competing modes of transport, notably motoring.’

    He complained that there was ‘little sense of proportionality or risk assessment and an apparent lack of awareness of possible unintended consequences… By establishing the clear priority of the railways with passenger safety, they have created a risk-averse culture similar to that of the early 19th century, when men with red flags preceded trains at walking pace, thereby pushing passengers onto the roads where standards of safety were much lower.’

    Whether the railways are privately or publicly owned, responsibility for ensuring their safety ultimately rests with the regulator; and decisions on the balance between safety and speed/efficiency will always be a question of proportionality.

    Indeed it can be argued that privatised utilities can be more effectively regulated than nationalised ones because regulation is independent of ownership: the regulator has no proprietary interest and less of an incentive to cover up inefficiency or malpractice. We had a striking example of this with the rail regulator Tom Winsor, who did not hold back in exposing the shortcomings of Railtrack and holding its feet to the fire. The regulatory board structure that succeeded him has, I fear, been less robust.

    Regarding privatisation more generally, I agree that it was far from perfect. In some cases more could and should have been done to break up the large nationalised concerns and promote competition. The main opponents of it at the time, the Labour party, did not object to it on these grounds however. Instead, in addition to their view that state ownership was inherently superior, they railed against the nationalised industries being sold off too cheaply – yet fragmenting the ownership would have reduced profitability and therefore the market price of the assets.

    The receipts should strictly have been treated as capital not regular government income – which was the thrust of Harold Macmillan’s oft-quoted jibe about ‘selling off the family silver’ – although given the ongoing nature of the programme there was arguably some justification for treating it as general revenue.

    Leaving aside the more problematic cases such as British Rail, it’s worth remembering that among the corporations that were privatised were BP, British Aerospace, Cable & WIreless, Amersham, National Freight, British Telecom, British Airways, British Steel, Rolls-Royce.

    I don’t see many people seriously arguing that these should be returned to state hands, yet before Thatcher it was regarded as politically impossible to turn them over to the private sector. Doing so was not a minor achievement, was genuinely pioneering, and in the subsequent decade was emulated by governments of left and right around the world. Even the famously dirigiste French embarked on a major privatisation programme, under both Gaullist and nominally socialist governments, against all their natural instincts because they recognised the pragmatic advantages.

  • Alex,
    I.m not against privatisation. and I over egged the pudding about rail. The problem I have is that things like rail and water and a lot of public services are not privatised. They are franchised and there is no real choice involved. In fact real choice would actually be virtually impossible. In these cases I believe all privatisation achieved was a short term boost to the stock markets in the 1980s and early 1990s followed by crony capitalism, that has placed an unnecessary middle man between the product and its delivery, whilst still sucking up money from the public purse for diminished returns. Some things, I believe are better run through public ownership because the infrastructure is so large and the choice so minimal that they can’t benefit the country whilst really generating enough profit to sustain private enterprise. Trains run on fixed tracks and the consumer choice is determined by where you live, not price , Ditto for water, and this is even worse because refusing to pay will criminalise you, I believe these should be taken back into public ownership.
    Another problem is, price fixing.. This is plainly what is happening with energy. I believe these should be looked at and opened up to new providers because they are no longer truly competitive businesses. Adam Smith, I believe warned about this kind of thing

  • @Oranjepan

    Rail: I never said she did, in fact, I expressly separated rail from all other forms of public transport for this very reason. However, she did introduce the franchising model for public transport, and she did reform our railways for the worse.

    Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1983: This was deeply unpopular in Northern Ireland, with only the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and the cross community Alliance Party supporting it, and as such, it led to mass riots and strikes. It was also quite unpopular in the Republic because it confirmed Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United kingdom and led to only further violence from the IRA. While some claim this treaty paved the way for the Good Friday Agreement, that is historically contentious at best, and is hardly a glowing redemption for her failures in Ireland.

    Flaklands: Thatcher was willing to undertake peaceful negotiations in relation to the Flaklands until she realised she needed something to boost her polling, then suddenly she became a patriotic. The Flaklands were an unwinnable black spot for all concerned, yes, but that does absolve Thatcher of her cynical part in all of it.

    EU: Thatcher never set out what she wanted to achieve from joining the EU and took a hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, approach to the protests from the Right. By simply, just not engaging with their concerns at the outset she planted the seeds for what she see today.

    You said I chose to miss, but then hardly put forward a glowing rebuttal, yourself, and even ignore half of of what I previously wrote.

  • Stuart Mitchell 14th Apr '13 - 2:08pm

    “I don’t see many people seriously arguing that these should be returned to state hands”

    I don’t see many people celebrating most of these, and the other privatised companies, as rip-roaring successes either.

    My gas and electricity supplier makes a billion Euro profit and is 85% owned by the French government. I’d much rather buy my energy from a company that made a billion Euro profit and was owned by the British government.

    Should I really be raising a glass to Thatcher for selling off BP cheap in the ’80s to help with the short-term finance of burgeoning benefit payments? At exactly the same time she was doing that, Saudi Arabia was nationalising its oil industry. Silly Saudi Arabia, they must be really suffering now.

    BT is doing such a great job as a private concern that the government is forced to throw subsidies at it to get it to invest adequately in modern broadband infrastructure. As for the energy market, we keep hearing grim warnings that our generating capacity will reach perilously low levels in the near future. Responsibility for planning a way out of this inevitably falls back on the government. Why aren’t the markets fixing these problems?

    During Labour’s term in office it was blatantly obvious that many of the privatisations – in particular, rail – had not been good for the public. At one stage the renationalisation of rail looked like a distinct possibility, and polls still show that the public would like that to happen. The main thing that’s stopped it’s happening is the expense, not an unshakeable belief in Thatcherism.

    Ultimately, Alex, you and I could sit here till the end of time cherry-picking facts to support our views, as economists have done through the ages. None of us can ever know whether a different approach in the ’80s would have put us in a better position today. Thatcher’s economic “miracle” looks pretty unimpressive compared with a country like Singapore, which has trounced us hands down economically over the past few decades despite being a corporatist state in which the government controls enterprises worth around 60% of GDP and owns 85% of the housing. Your suggestion that Thatcher has won all the major economic arguments is a peculiar view from someone who clearly knows a lot about the history of economics, and hence should realise that things have a tendency to change.

  • Stuart Mitchell.
    The French civil servants which run the nationalised industries are largely products of the Ecole Polytechnique and ENA. The problem with the British nationalised industries they were heavily over manned- coal, steel and shipbuilding. The French decided to generate elecctricity from nuclear and did not have such large steel and shipbuilding industries ..

    The UK had the largest debts for nationalised industries in the World by 1979. The UK had from 1945-1979 to find a way from nationalised industries in a profitable manner.

    Singapore never had the large numbers of strikes from 1960-1979 do not think Lee Kwan Yew would have approved.

  • A wonderful post. I understand exactly where you are coming from and agree with every single word.

  • Stuart. Thank you.

  • Alex Sabine 15th Apr '13 - 6:34pm

    @ Stuart Mitchell
    ‘Your suggestion that Thatcher has won all the major economic arguments is a peculiar view from someone who clearly knows a lot about the history of economics, and hence should realise that things have a tendency to change.’

    I didn’t say anything as teleological as that; I’ll leave sweeping statements about inevitability and historical materialism to Marxist intellectuals or their right-wing equivalents. (The other people keen on ‘inevitability’ arguments were the EU integrationists, though a lot of them have gone quiet recently…)

    I simply noted the behaviour and actions of Labour in office, that for 13 years they had every opportunity to reverse the defining monuments of ‘Thatcherism’ yet chose not to.

    Even now, in their ‘blank sheet of paper’ phase from the luxury of opposition, Ed Miliband’s hazy ideas for ‘responsible capitalism’ don’t seem to involve much undoing of the 1980s reforms.

    Tony Blair, of course, has always been clear on their enduring nature. In his memoirs he puts it bluntly, saying the ‘basic fact’ that ‘Britain needed the industrial and economic reforms of the Thatcher period’. In his view the task for Labour was to see how the principles of competition and choice could be applied in the public sector, which he felt she had left largely unreformed.

    Of course I’m aware that many Labour supporters aren’t that keen on their party’s most successful prime minister, and perhaps they now want to recant his record on domestic policy as well as Iraq. But it is interesting that the new models of capitalism that are being bandied about don’t seem to involve all that much backsliding on the Thatcher-era reforms, more a distancing from Gordon Brown’s finance-driven model and tacking to the populist right on immigration.

  • Stuart Mitchell 15th Apr '13 - 7:52pm

    @Alex
    “for 13 years they had every opportunity to reverse the defining monuments of ‘Thatcherism’ yet chose not to.”

    From the purely economic perspective we’ve got bogged down with here, that is correct. As I mentioned previously, Labour would have liked to reverse a bit more of it than they did, but the Tories had changed everything during their 18 years in power and it would have been like trying to push a huge boulder with your bare hands. (Note, similarly, how many years it took the Tories to undo substantial parts of Attlee’s economic legacy, and he was only in power for six years.)

    But actually, very little “economic time” has passed since Thatcher left office, and if capitalism and the markets have reigned triumphant since then, it’s been a funny sort of triumph. Only five years ago we saw the biggest nationalisation in UK history; the Daily Telegraph called it “the day the capitalist system in the UK finally admitted defeat”.

    @Charlie: You’re overlooking the point that nationalised industries don’t have to be profit-maximising; they might be run on welfare-maximising lines instead. Though ironically enough the fact that nationalised industries CAN be run profitably was proved by Thatcher herself, when she made them profitable before selling them off (cheap).

    Nobody is trying to defend the way things were in the ’70s, though of course it suits you to concentrate on that as if it were the only alternative to Thatcherite privatisation. When you look at some of the highly successful state-owned (or partly state-owned) companies in other countries, raking in profits for their taxpayers and competing successfully overseas, it makes the UK privatisations of the ’80s look like a lousy deal for us.

  • I don’t think that reversing changes in the Thatcher era were either practical, desirable, palatable or wanted by the larger British public. The main issue I had with Thatchers administration was the failure to invest adequately in the economic regeneration of the communities most affected by the closure of defunct industries.

    In truth though that failure lies more with the succeeding Major, Blair & Brown governments who had the time and opportunity to deal with the fallout and regional imbalances of the ‘Thatcher Revolution.’ That the first tentative steps to the necessary economic rebalancing is only now being undertaken is more an indictment of the succeeding Tory and Labour governments than Thatcher herself.

  • Stuart Mitchell 16th Apr '13 - 6:38pm

    Joe: “I don’t think that reversing changes in the Thatcher era were either practical, desirable, palatable or wanted by the larger British public.”

    That’s very true of some of the reforms, but not others. Reversing privatisation might be impractical, but opinion polls consistently show around two thirds of the public would like it to happen. The idea that most people came to agree with Thatcher on privatisation is just a right-wing fantasy.

    As for whether her successors are more to blame than she for failing to help the areas blighted in the early ‘80s… Remember that she was in power a full nine or ten years after mass unemployment kicked in; far longer than Major or Brown, and as long as Blair. The government wasn’t short of revenue during that period. The only significant thing she did to tackle the unemployment figures was to keep changing the methodology so a lot of people got taken out of the stats. Unemployment is like cancer – the longer you leave it, the more difficult it is to cure.

    Being from Manchester, I saw the city literally left to rot during the Thatcher/Major years, then get substantially rebuilt once the Tories were out. It’s often said that the 1996 IRA bombers did far more to help regenerate the city than Thatcher or Major ever did. During the Blair years, you could barely see the sky for all the construction cranes towering over Manchester.

    I’m hoping I won’t ever have to think about Thatcher much after tomorrow. Except that I’ve asked someone to buy me her memoirs for my birthday – something I would never have done while she was alive to collect the royalties.

  • Stuart Mitchell. One aspect which you ignore is attitude to training . As one moves from unskilled through to semi-skilled, craft , technician , scientist/engineer it become more important that people want to be retrained . It takes 5 years to train a craftsmen or take an A Level/degree route . Not enough people from the late 60s realised there was movement away from low value to high value engineering/manufacturing. In the 80s , there was TV programme based in Lancs where manufacturer complained that as production of kitchens became more high tech he needed apprentices with O Levels in Maths, physics, Technical drawing and English but was having a major problem finding them and feared for the future of his company due to German competition.

    A friend was treated as a scab because when he was a draughtsman in the 80s he learnt to use CAD – Computer Aided Technology: his friends refused to drink with him. In the early 80s there were large open plan rooms full of draughtsmen and by the late 80s /early 90s they had been replaced by a few CAD technicians.

    Manchester, Liverpool Lancashire were particularly hard hit because of the high percentage of unskilled/semi-skilled labour in docks, cotton industry and mining industry. Eric Heffer MP of Liverpool pointed out Liverpool’s reliance on unskilled dock labour was a major problem . Where someone was a mine electrician and especially a foremen , their skills and managerial responsibility meant they could obtain work well paid work overseas.

    If the Labour Party/unions had really been interested in improving the quality of life of people they would have visited Japan and Germany in the 60s and been saying to all their members the need to upgrade skills.

    After all Turing and Ferranti worked at Manchester University developing computers in the late 40s/50s. If Labour/unions had pushed electronic technology, Sillicon Valley could have been in NW England. If one looks at the combined technological skills of Liverpool , Manchester and Salford Universities s in the late 40s to late 50s it probably surpassed Stanford, Caltech etc, which underpin the technolgical advances of Sillicon Valley. Rather than sending union officials off to Ruskin college Oxford they should be sent on technological courses to understand how technology will impact on employment.

    Thatcher winning in 1979 coincided with major advances in computer aided design, computer aided manufacturinng ,and the meteoric ascent of Japanese industry . Japanes economy grew at (9% /yr from 1953-1965. Japanese imports in transistor radios, hi-fi systems, motorbikes , cars etc, had a major adverse impact on British manufacturing from 1965 and especially from 1970 onwards. Many of the consumable goods people wanted from the mid 60s increasingly came from Japan. British bikes often needed a kick of mule to start, Japanes had electronic ignition.
    Japanese goods offered value for money, choice, reliability and prompt and reliable delivery. Japanese industry used statistical techniques, Khazen ( continuous improvement ) to introduced Total Quality Management using a highly educated and disciplined workforce. In the 1970s British cars were often delivered late and had faults, especially the Monday and Friday cars. Japan developed Just in Time Manufacturing , to reduce costs- well this method will not work if you have strikes such as the 1970s Dock strikes.

    The transistor was invented in Bell Labs in the late 40s , yet it was the Japanese who used them so effectively to produce cheap tranny radios and record players teen agers could afford to buy. Where was the Labour Party /unions supporting the manufacture of affordable consumer electronics in the mid 60s?

    When Wilson used the phrase ” White Heat of Technology ) in 1963-1964, The Labour Party /unions had 15 years up to 1979 to undertake the upgrading of peoples education and technical skills. Look at what Germany and Japan achieved between 1948 and 1963!

    As they “when you are un-employed it is the recession , when I a um-employed it is depression”. Anyone who becomes un-employed suffers a tragedy . Until we as nation whole heartedly , embrace the same attitude to obtaining technical education and skills, continuous improvement , total quality management and continuously upgrading skills we cannot compete with Germany, Japan, and S Korea. However, we can learn from Japan . Post 1945 Japan built new factories rather than use the existing and outdated ones we did in the UK and therefore were able to leap frog us when it came to innovation in manufacturing technology. I consider that if produce a population better technically educated and skilled we can leap from USA, Germany, Japan, S Korea and China . Some British car factories have higher productivity than Japanese ones . If we use shale gas of N England we can bring back manufacturing the same way it is happening in the USA. Cheap land in the former industrial areas of the UK; highly technically educated and skilled workforce , cheap shale gas and good technical universities can create high value manufacturing.

  • Stuart.

    it is a fair comment. Michael Heseltine was perhaps the only minister in Thatchers cabinet that appreciated the necessity to regenerate ares blighted by the economic policies

    As Environment Secretary in 1981, he opened Britain’s first Enterprise Zone at Corby in Northamptonshire. Heseltine was responsible for developing the policies that led to five bi-annual National Garden Festivals starting in 1984. He established Development Corporations that were directly appointed by the minister and overrode local authority planning controls.

    As well as beginning the turnaround of Liverpool after the nadir of the 1981 violence in Toxteth – against Thatcher’s gut feelings – Heseltine constructed a framework for regional revival more generally. The government offices in the regions, were his idea and he saw them through from birth to flourishing, again against the scepticism of the The Lady and many Conservative colleagues.

    More recently, he was commissioned to draw up “Plan H” or “No Stone Left Unturned” to stimulate growth in local areas. Since then 81 out of his 89 recommendations have been adopted. He has also co-authored a report with Sir Terry Leahy called Rebalancing Britain which dealt in detail with the challenge of bringing more investment to Merseyside.

    If Tory wets like Heseltine had held more sway in the Thatcher & Major governments and Brown & Blair had focused as much energy on an industrial strategy as they did on public services, we might be a lot further down the road today in preparing to meet the competitive challenge of fast developing Bric countries.

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