Paddy Ashdown pays tribute to Margaret Thatcher (and shows Nick how it’s done)

MPs in the Commons and peers in the Lords have been queuing up this afternoon to record their tributes to Margaret Thatcher, including both Nick Clegg and Paddy Ashdown.

To read both their tributes, please scroll down the page.

Nick’s come in for some stick on Twitter, mostly from right-wing MPs/journalists, for instance Mark Reckless and Sarah Wollaston; even the usually fair-minded Isabel Hardman of The Spectator called it “sour”. I’ve both read and watched Nick’s remarks and don’t buy that criticism at all.

But two things do strike me. First, it’s a very perfunctory speech. The only two personal comments he makes are a nod to his Sheffield constituency (“where the mere mention of her name even now elicits strong reactions”) and a rather glib aside about her infamous “there’s no such thing as society” quote (I say glib because there’s a lot more to the quote than that: disagree with it by all means, but recognise there was a context to it).

Secondly, and more disappointingly, it tells us nothing about Nick and his views on Margaret Thatcher. Yes, of course the tribute is about her, not him; but surely everyone who grew up in the 1980s has a view on what she got right and what she got wrong? What’s Nick’s? Instead, he squirms round it equivocally: she “elicits” strong views… “whether people liked or disliked her”“remember her with all the nuance, unresolved complexity and paradox that she possessed.” There is a studied, deliberate vagueness here. I want to know what Nick thought then; and what he really thinks now. I think the closest we probably get to that is his observation that “much of her politics was subtle and pragmatic”: that’s the aspect I suspect Nick admires.

That’s why those Clegg-critics who sniped at Nick’s tribute surprise me: there’s far too little of him in his speech, not too much.

If you think I’m being unfair, contrast Nick’s words with those of Paddy (also pasted below, though no video clip). They are personal, funny, warm, honest, (self-)critical, insightful, brilliant, and… surprising.

Paddy, after all, is a politician who unabashedly self-defines on the centre-left, yet he unambiguously praises her economic reforms: “aggressive liberalisation of the markets, stripping down the barriers to business and lowering taxation. In these things she was right at the time … At the time when she did those things, they needed to be done … she was without a doubt the commanding politician and the greatest Prime Minister of our age.” (Though he does include the caveat: “I suspect that revolution she started has perhaps somewhat run its course.”)

For many Lib Dems, such things won’t matter at all, I realise. Many of you will have grown bored with the Thatcher coverage. Others of you will sympathise with Nick Clegg trying to find polite things to say.

For myself I find this staged eulogisation within a recalled Parliament a distinctly odd exercise: MPs are there to debate and decide matters of national import, not feel compelled to offer up anecdote and op-ed reflection. So let me conclude with my own heartfelt tribute-question: can you imagine Mrs Thatcher wanting to sit through hours of MPs’ speeches?

Over to Paddy and Nick…

Paddy Ashdown

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon:
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow my noble friend and I must say that I wholly agree with his conclusion. As the Leader said in opening, those of us whose paths crossed with hers all have our own personal anecdotes and remembrances about Margaret Thatcher. I have two. First, in a life that has, I suppose, had some small excitements, nothing that I have ever experienced so terrorised me as having to stand up as a young, inexperienced, wet-behind-the-ears leader of my party to question her in the House of Commons when she was at the full plenitude of her powers, with the inevitable result that I would be ritually handbagged twice a week in front of the microphones of the nation. Thank God there was no television in the Chamber then. [Ahem, not quite: here’s one YouTube clip (begins at 30s).]

My second remembrance illustrates the point made by the Leader of the House about one of Lady Thatcher’s best qualities and most formidable weapons. My wife and I had been invited to one of those Downing Street events to mark the visit of some foreign leader; I honestly cannot remember exactly who it was. Afterwards, as we came down the stairs of No. 10, we met the Prime Minister coming up. My wife, who, I should explain, is much more rampantly left-wing than I am, hated her policies with a passion. The Prime Minister stopped and talked to us for a few moments. As she moved away, my wife hissed through gritted teeth, “She’s absolutely bloody charming, damn it”. So she was—to everyone, except of course those who happened to be in her Cabinet, as this row of wholly unextinct volcanoes sitting in front of me will no doubt attest.

This was only one of her many paradoxes. As the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, pointed out, she was not at all the straightforward, black and white, no-nonsense, unbending warrior leader that she latterly liked to portray. She knew, at least until the very end, when to compromise and did so, perhaps most significantly when, although relishing her anti-Europeanism, she nevertheless signed Britain up to the single European market.

In my view, three qualities set her apart as something different but each of them had its drawbacks. The first was a passionate commitment to freedom. As a Liberal, needless to say, I mostly welcomed that, although perhaps not as much as I should have at the time. Later, in Bosnia, when I tried to get a stagnant economy moving, I found myself putting into practice many of the very things that I had opposed when she introduced them: aggressive liberalisation of the markets, stripping down the barriers to business and lowering taxation. In these things she was right at the time, even if today we find that, taken to excess, some of these attributes have not led to greater prosperity for all but to near ruin and a disgusting climate of greed for the few. In this, I suspect that revolution she started has perhaps somewhat run its course. Our challenge today is to find a kinder, less destructive, more balanced way of shaping our economy, but that is today. At the time when she did those things, they needed to be done.

However, her belief in freedom was, one might say, strangely partial. She did much to enhance individual economic freedom, and our country was much the better for it, but she did far less to enhance the political freedoms of, for instance, the gay community or the people of Scotland, or perhaps most markedly and paradoxically—and this has been commented on, too—the standing of women in society. She was—and arguably, given the context at the time, this was one of her very greatest achievements—Britain’s first woman Prime Minister. However, her influence and power came not from the exercise of the female principles in politics but from the fact that she was far better than any man at the male ones.

Her second defining quality was her patriotism. David Cameron, the present Prime Minister, recently called her the “patriot Prime Minister”. It is a good phrase and an apposite one. However, her patriotism too, though so powerfully held and expressed, was more about the preservation and restoration of Britain’s past position than it was about preparing us for the challenges of what came next. She used her formidable talents to give our country a few more years of glory, and for that we should be eternally grateful. However, that legacy means that Britain today still finds itself uncomfortable and undecided about its true position in the world, not least in relation to Europe, where the infection that she planted still has the capacity to rip apart her party. There can be no doubt that she restored our country’s position in the world but in a way that perhaps today makes us even less able to answer Dean Acheson’s famous challenge that, having lost an empire, we have yet to find a role.

Her final triumphant quality was of course her courage. This, I think, is the pre-eminent quality of leadership and she had it in abundance. Yet this, too—her greatest asset—had its dangers. I used to have a principle in distant, more robust days that I would never take on operations anyone who was not at least as frightened as I was, but she was frightened of nothing. She could see the risks but she ignored them if she believed she was right, and paradoxically this, in the final analysis, was what ended her long term as Prime Minister. Is it not always hubris that gets us in the end?

She was complex, extraordinary, magnificent, fallible, flawed and infuriating. One thing, however, is certain and cannot be denied except by those so sunk in bitterness that they will not see: she won great victories for what she stood for at home and huge respect for our country abroad. If politics is defined—and I think it can be—by principles, the courage to hold to them and the ability to drive them through to success, then she was without a doubt the commanding politician and the greatest Prime Minister of our age.

(Watch Nick Clegg’s tribute on YouTube here.)

clegg on leveson 2

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Nick Clegg):
On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I would like to pay tribute to Lady Thatcher. We send our sincere condolences to her family and friends, in particular to her children, Mark and Carol.

Like all of us who are not members of the Conservative party and who disagreed with many of the things that Margaret Thatcher did, I have thought long and hard about what to say. I am a Sheffield MP—a city where the mere mention of her name even now elicits strong reactions. I would like to think that she would be pleased that she still provokes trepidation and uncertainty among the leaders of other parties, even when she is not here, eyeballing us across the House. That those of us who are not from her party can shun the tenets of Thatcherism and yet respect Margaret Thatcher is part of what was so remarkable about her. It is in that spirit that I would like to make three short observations.

First, whether people liked or disliked her, it is impossible to deny the indelible imprint that Margaret Thatcher made on the nation and the wider world. She was among those very rare leaders who become a towering historical figure not as written in the history books, but while still in the prime of their political life. Whatever else is said about her, Margaret Thatcher created a paradigm. She set the parameters of economic, political and social debate for decades to come. She drew the lines on the political map that we are still navigating today.

Secondly, Margaret Thatcher was one of the most caricatured figures in modern British politics, yet she was easily one of the most complex. On the one hand, she is remembered as the eponymous ideologue, responsible for her own “-ism”. In reality, much of her politics was subtle and pragmatic, and she was sometimes driven by events. Margaret Thatcher was a staunch patriot who was much more comfortable reaching out across the Atlantic than across the channel. However, she participated in one of the most profound periods of European integration and was herself an architect of the single market. Although she was a Conservative to her core, leading a party that traditionally likes to conserve things, she held a deep aversion to the status quo. She was restive about the future, determined to use politics as a force for reform and never feared short-term disruption in pursuit of long-term change. In many ways a traditionalist, she was one of the most iconoclastic politicians of our age.

Margaret Thatcher was therefore far from the cardboard cut-out that is sometimes imagined. For me, the best tribute to her is not to consign her to being a simplified heroine or villain, but to remember her with all the nuance, unresolved complexity and paradox that she possessed.

Finally, there was an extraordinary, even unsettling directness about her political presence. I remember vividly, aged 20, reading that Margaret Thatcher had said that there was no such thing as society. I was dismayed. It was not the kind of thing that a wide-eyed, idealistic social anthropology undergraduate wanted to hear. With hindsight, what strikes me is that although I disagreed with the untempered individualism that those words implied, I never for a second thought that she was being cynical, striking a pose or taking a position for short-term effect.

You always knew, with Margaret Thatcher, that she believed what she said. It is interesting to reflect on how she would have reacted to today’s political culture of 24-hour news, pollsters and focus groups. She seemed blissfully indifferent to the popularity of what she said, entirely driven instead by the conviction of what she said. Somehow, her directness made you feel as if she were arguing directly with you—as if it were a clash of her convictions against yours. As a result, you somehow felt as if you knew her, even if you did not.

Whether she inspired or confronted, led or attacked, she did it all with uncluttered clarity. Her memory will no doubt continue to divide opinion and stir deep emotion, but as we as a nation say farewell to a figure who loomed so large, one thing is for sure: the memory of her will continue undimmed, strong and clear for years to come, in keeping with the unusual, unique character of Margaret Thatcher herself.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • I really liked Clegg’s speech and therefore find it dissapointing (although not that suprising) that he’s come in for some flak for it (nick robinson also said his speech was uncomfortable). I thought it was far superior to Miliband’s, who’s first half of speech seemed like it was merely facts. 2nd half was better, but he merely picked a couple of obvious things he agreed with and likewise some he disagreed with.

    Clegg’s seemed more like observations about her, which seems appropriate. I also liked his self deprecating joke about being an anthropology student. Ultimately, unlike Paddy, he didn’t know her at all so couldn’t have the personal anecodetes to tell.


  • Foregone Conclusion 10th Apr '13 - 8:25pm

    I feel a lot of sympathy for Nick, actually. It is always very difficult to give that kind of speech: knowing that a lot of people are much more familiar with the deceased, and have much warmer feelings, is always hard.

    Moreover, there is a political generational gap between him and Thatcher that must make it a rather odd experience. He sits on a front bench with people who were ministers in Thatcher’s government, but he wasn’t in active politics until after she had left the stage (I think I’m right in saying that he wasn’t even a member during university and immediately afterwards). Remember, there is a whole generation – Clegg is not in it, but he’s on the cusp of it – who are firmly post-Thatcher. The first children born in John Major’s premiership voted for the first time in 2010. For them, she is a historical figure – perhaps able to arouse strong feelings, but a historical figure none the less.

    People forget that ceremonialised mourning is often very hard on those who had no attachment to the dead person or positively disliked them. He chose the reasonable path of largely restraining from criticism and attempting to add some desperately needed nuance and analysis. That’s fine to my mind. If you can’t fake sincerity or personal feeling, take another approach. He did so, and he wasn’t offensive. That’s all you can really ask.

  • I thought Paddy’s speech was brilliant and Cleggs functional. But then again he has to sit in cabinet with Tories and avoid criticism from people like me who think he is too close to them. On balance then I think it was a good attempt at least on a par with Milliband.

  • The difference here is, Nick is the DPM at the same time as being a representative of a constituency and a leader of a party. The constituency and party are both likely to have members with less than favourable views on her to say the least. He could not do a hatchet job on her, no, but at the same time, he cannot make a insincere and sycophantic sounding tribute ether. Thus, he made a reversed and neutral speech that respected the tone of the affair without affronting those whom he represents.

    Lord Paddy on the other hand is more free to express he feelings as an unelected Lord, and dare I say it, popular party figure.

  • Paul In Twickenham 10th Apr '13 - 9:09pm

    I agree with Tony Greaves. A week ago I thought Thatcher’s legacy was overwhelmingly negative and I think no differently today. The only time she showed emotion was when her “colleagues” stabbed her in the back and booted her out. She showed no emotion for the millions of people she condemned to unemployment while squandering the greatest boon this country has ever had – North Sea Oil – on a tawdry, sordid orgy of consumerism.

    And as someone who was at University in the 1980’s and witnessed the appalling spectacle of the FCS in their cheap blue suits waving their “We love Maggie” flags and demanding that Nelson Mandela be hanged as a terrorist, I find the revisionism I have seen on this website frankly insulting.

    I thought that the only honest comment I’ve seen this week was a brief interview on Breakfast TV with Ken Clarke who told the plain facts without adornment.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Apr '13 - 9:17pm

    “I agree with Tony Greaves. A week ago I thought Thatcher’s legacy was overwhelmingly negative and I think no differently today.”

    Would you rather Michael Foot had won the 1983 election?

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Apr '13 - 9:20pm

    Of course I am not a Thatcherite or even a conservative but I feel someone’s death is not the time to stick the knife into them and criticise without them being able to defend.

  • Paul In Twickenham 10th Apr '13 - 9:30pm

    Would you rather Michael Foot had won the 1983 election?

    What has the hypothetical election of Michael Foot got to do with the fact of Mrs. Thatcher’s government? That is a straw man argument.

    I am not “sticking the knife” into her – if you want someone who did that then I suggest you talk to Geoffrey Howe rather than me. What I want is consistency. As I’ve posted previously, I look forward to the end of the current spate of hagiographies and the appearance of an honest assessment of her legacy.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Apr '13 - 9:39pm

    I was just dismayed at how you said her legacy was overwhelmly negative when she helped defeat the threat that communism posed Britain. At the time the Labour Party and the trade unions were committed to communism – of which they conveniently called socialism.

    I also think Thatcher takes far too much hatred for what happened to the north of Britain at the time. I think the real cause of unemployment in the 80s was the failed economic policies of previous Labour governments.

    Of course she should take responsibility for what happened on her watch, but the industries she closed down were already doomed by the time she took over.

    Finally, I believe all humans are ultimately good so I dislike it when people make out she was evil. I know you did not do any of the such and praised Ken Clarke for his fairly objective assessment, my frustration was just boiling over from what others have been saying about her.

  • Tony Dawson 10th Apr '13 - 9:48pm

    The Conservative Party, one would hope, would know more about its own leaders than outsiders. Twenty two years ago the Tories decided that their then leader was a total embarrassment and replaced her with ‘Mr Nobody’.

    The idea of a country, which is meant to be in dire economic straits, recalling its Parliament to have a chin wag about a former Prime Minister is more than a little strange. Even stranger is a determination to spend a fortune on a funeral. Who is picking up the tab? Who voted for this?

  • I’m in agreement with tony grieves up to a point. I think we are being asked to buy into a personality cult. It sort of reminds me of Micheal Jackson crossed with political desperation. .The thing is Mrs Thatcher didn’t die in office. She died of old age 23 years after being ousted by her own party. It’s a media thing.

  • Can we spare a thought for the loss of an 87 year old grandparent who brought great joy to families up and down the country ???

  • Paul,
    an honest assessment takes decades to become fully formed and is inevitably mixed, so complaining about ‘revisionism’ merely exposes your own biases without adding anything of substance.

    What I’d say is that Mrs T is a perfect demonstration of the contradictions inherent to both conservatism and socialism.

    There is a delicious irony that the first woman to rise to the position of PM in Britain was Conservative. She was able to precisely because the assumed patterns of repressive behaviour in British society were false and she was able to take advantage of the gap in popular perception.

    In almost every conceivable way Thatcher changed the national dialogue, and for that we can be thankful, though certainly not for the brutal ways in which she did it.

    The best comment I’ve heard was to commemorate the fact that she helped invent the manufacturing process behind ‘Mr Whippy’, a fitting legacy indeed!

  • Paul in Twickenham 10th Apr '13 - 10:59pm

    @Oranjepan – I agree that an honest assessment may take decades. And I am not an objective observer. I am repelled by the statement that “there is no such thing as society”.

    If I would say something positive about Mrs. Thatcher it is this – at least you knew what she stood for. I suspect that for many of our citizens the ability to distinguish the politics of Clegg and Cameron is seen as a talent comparable to the ability to distinguish Ant from Dec.

  • Paul McKeown 11th Apr '13 - 12:02am

    With all these eulogies, I trust now that all Prime Ministers will be accorded the same respect by the governing party of the day. Otherwise, this is just been an exercise in political propaganda. Thatcher did change much in British society, some of it for the better. But so did many governments run by many Prime Ministers.

    Or is the argument that the changes wrought by Thatcher are in some way more valuable, or have a deeper philosophical underpinning or will be more durable than those wrought, for instance, by the Liberals, Herbert Asquith and David Lloyd George and by Labour’s Clement Attlee?

    That would be nonsense: the unemployed are still supported by the state, the elderly still receive their old age pension and the National Health Service still cares for the sick free when they have need. Thatcher’s greatest legacy must surely be the de-nationalisation of state industries; that will not be reversed. Is it a greater achievement than the old age pension? No.

  • This blog, sensibly, set up a thread for “tributes only” in the immediate aftermath of the news. Far too many people took the opportunity to post a mix of positive and negative comment, all of it hamstrung to a greater or lesser extent by the convention that one does not speak ill of the dead. I found it remarkably unconstructive. Thus it was that, instead of the vigorously opinionated comment which I usually post, I found myself saying that it was best to avoid either applause or denigration when paying “tribute”. As Tony Greaves indicates, there are times when it is least embarrassing to say nothing.

    However, politicians should then move on, and carve out a political space for themselves in their ongoing response. The Tories would like to impress on us all that Thatcher “saved the nation” (what from? Argentinian global hegemony?) and that dissent in the province of a few embittered zealots from the distant past. People under thirty, who had little direct experience of Thatcherism, may well swallow that version of history if no other is convincingly put forward. In the longer term, we must put forward reasoned rebuttal.

    The “tribute” format, of course, continues to play into the hands of the Tories and their narrative. However, our leaders in Parliament could not simply take the advice I offered to blog posters, to say very little. They were forced to offer some sort of perspective.

    Paddy’s perspective carved out space for his own political position. He demonstrated that it is possible to be generous about Thatcher’s achievements while also making clear some major areas of disagreement. He also focused on Thatcher and on the national interest, rather than on self-definition. Paradoxically, the result was that he defined his own stances rather well.

    Nick’s perspective was much more hesitant. In worrying so openly about what he should say, and in concentrating so much time on values-free attributes such as Thatcher’s “directness” and “clarity” rather than on her more contentious beliefs, he advertised both a misplaced focus on his own personal stance, and an unwillingness to define too clearly what that stance really is. There was some well-polished boilerplate in the speech, but not a lot of beef. It was all of a piece with the local government campaign speech earlier this week, with its vacuous condemnation of the “inefficiency” of our opponents.

    Nick is not carving out a political space into which our party should fit. He isn’t making a case for the voter to support us. My view, which is regularly condemned as conspiracy theory, is that he dare not admit what his true long term aim is – integration into the Greater Conservative Movement. Those who don’t want to believe that should perhaps think about why else Nick is proving so unable to articulate a convincing political position for the Lib Dems.

  • Paul McKeown 11th Apr '13 - 12:37am

    “[Ahem, not quite: here’s one YouTube clip (begins at 30s).]”

    A very clear statement from Margaret Thatcher about the dangers of climate change. Note to self: play to the lunatic fringe amongst the Conservatives who refuse to accept the science.

  • It’s just as easy to distinguish between Ant & Dec as it is to separate the politics of Cameron and Clegg.

    Frankly that’s a deliberately dumb assertion, and the unconscious compliment of comparing the leading members of the coalition to the current masters of Saturday night television presentation is more than likely to be welcomed by them.

    In fact, since Cameron certainly doesn’t support William Hague or Michael Howard’s approach, just as Clegg doesn’t have the same problems as Jeremy Thorpe or Charlie Kennedy, you’ve unintentionally indicated the origins of their success.

    You also beg the question, where are Labour now? Can you distinguish either between the two Eds, or more importantly between what they said pre- and post-crash?

    I can’t, and we should ask, why not? Is it because they agree absolutely and the real world context hasn’t changed, or because they’re having their strings pulled by the same people and haven’t acknowledged the shift caused by the failures they were largely responsible for?

    Do you remember Blair and Brown, perpetually under strain to show unity, despite irreconcilable personal and political differences? The lack of difference from and between the two Eds is worrying because it points to the same lack of openness, which fatally undermines any serious claim to credibility, just as it prevents any accountability on their behalf, and this makes them unacceptable.

  • Regarding the statement ‘there is no such thing as society’, I agree it was obviously wrong and a political gaffe in many ways, but it is interesting in many others too.

    Firstly, for the way it challenged a long-held assumption that we can take society (and an ever-expanding state, at that) for granted, but also for the way it gave license to the permissive self-absorbtion permeating society today.

    Society ISN’T something that just happens, it is created by individual actions which need to be fostered and encouraged in more positive ways.

    Thatcher was half-correct in this, but she was more than half-wrong in failing to either recognise or militate against the unintended consequences of her words.

  • Nick Cleggs address to Parliament seems to me to be quite appropriate for the occasion – neither effusive or hypocritical.

    He was able to be less reserved in expressing his personal views on Mrs. Thatcher in an interview with the Spectator immediately prior to the election Clegg: Heir to Thatcher? :

    Age, he claims, has taught him the point of Lady Thatcher. And, indeed, he now seems to see her as something of an inspiration. ‘I’m 43 now. I was at university at the height of the Thatcher revolution and I recognise now something I did not at the time: that her victory over a vested interest, the trade unions, was immensely significant. I don’t want to be churlish: that was an immensely important visceral battle for how Britain is governed. And what has now happened to the British economy? It has gone belly-up because, once again, we have allowed a vested interest to run riot.’ He is talking, of course, about the banks. ‘They represent a vested interest. This is what I sometimes don’t understand about the Cameron-Osborne act. A real liberal believes in genuine competition, a genuine level playing field and he is unremittingly hostile to vested interests.’ As Thatcher was to Scargill, so Mr Clegg intends to be to the banks. ‘What I find so striking is that the spirit — dare I say it — of the battle against the dominance of one vested interest, the trade unions, is exactly the same spirit we need now.’

  • Alex Sabine 11th Apr '13 - 3:55am

    Joe: I agree that the banking industry is a major vested interest today, although references to ‘pin-striped Scargills’ (was it Vince who said that?) are over-egging the pudding. Badly or recklessly managed, or otherwise dysfunctional, banks are a threat to our economic well-being, but not to the rule of law.

    I also agree with you if you are suggesting that what banking really needs is more competition and a genuine exposure to market discipline to ensure that there is a price for failure as well as rewards for success. More real capitalism and less cosy corporatism.

    The question is how this can be squared with the systematically important role of banks, which is what makes the consequences of their failure for the wider economy and society so damaging. Which, if any, of the banks’ creditors should be protected? How can we change things such that banks aren’t ‘too big to fail’, that they can be allowed to fail somewhat more safely?

    I’m not convinced we have convincing or adequate answers to these questions yet. We may not have as long as we think to get it right, though for the time being the trauma of the crisis may be recent enough to keep banks on the straight and narrow.

    In the meantime the politicians are hectoring banks to lend to credit-starved businesses on politically determined criteria while simultaneously urging them to fix their balance sheets and deleverage as fast as possible. To compensate for this pro-cyclical tightening of capital requirements (which the Keynesians on the Labour and Lib Dem benches seem to have remarkably little problem with), the government is using all sorts of wheezes to fire up the housing market. What could possibly go wrong?

    As someone once said, ‘it’s a funny old world’…

  • In case anyone was thinking I was being hyperbolic about Thatcher’s funeral arrangements being an affront to democracy, here is Peter Oborne in the Daily Telegraph coming to the same conclusion:

    The ‘debate’ in parliament yesterday lasted longer than the sum of all of the debates that have followed the death of all Prime Ministers after the war (including Churchill of course). And her supporters have the temerity to claim that Scargill is deluded. Take a look at yourselves.

  • I found the assessment of Thatcher alongside Clem Atlee offensive. Atlee and his government rebuilt a shattered post war Britain on the principle of Beveridge. – freedom from want etc. I remember the 1940s and we were better off in 1951 than in 1945 and that meant everyone. I don’t recall Clem deliberately disadvantaging millions of our citizens. Margaret Thatcher deliberately or otherwise did just that. Worse still she produced an meanness of spirit in our nation which is exemplified by a poll which says that over 60% of us believe that welfare is over generous, which fails to grasp that being “hardworking” (an exclusive group worthy of our respect and support) isn’t as easy as all that if 2.5 million are unemployed.

  • Grammar Police 11th Apr '13 - 8:14am

    I would disagree Stephen that Isabel Hardman is “fair-minded”. She has a real blind-spot when it comes to the Liberal Democrats; doesn’t really get us, and anything she doesn’t quite get she tends to think and write negatively of.

  • @Alex Sabine
    “although references to ‘pin-striped Scargills’ (was it Vince who said that?) are over-egging the pudding”

    Nonsense. The right-wing try to claim that Scargill was trying to hold the country to ransom, although he would claim he was trying to protect miners’ jobs. The bankers, on the other hand, did hold the country to ransom and received hundreds of billions in bail-outs in the blink of an eye. Thee City represents a far more powerful vested interest and dead-weight loss to the economy than anything Scargill could have ever dreamed of.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Apr '13 - 8:39am

    “Worse still she produced an meanness of spirit in our nation”

    What a load of rubbish.

    “I found the assessment of Thatcher alongside Clem Atlee offensive”

    Clement Atlee was a communist – if you believe that communism is better than capitalism then go and post on Labour List. I admit the NHS was a great achievement but Atlee supporters shouldn’t throw stones because they live in glass houses.

  • andrew purches 11th Apr '13 - 9:32am

    Whatever this former P.M’s economic achievements or shortcomings might be,()and the jury is still out on that one), from a social and human perspective her wicked destruction of whole communities in the East Midlands and the North are aspects of her leadership that she should never be forgiven for. It is noteworthy that no current politician of any hue has commented on the fact that she counted Pinochet as a great friend and Nelson Mandela a “terrorist”. For me, that sums her up.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Apr '13 - 10:14am

    Ian, I am sure Atlee was a very nice person indeed, but I disagree wholeheartedly with his economic policies.

  • Eddie
    “Clement Atlee was a communist”
    There were two Communist MPs in the 1945 Parliament .Attlee was not one of them.
    When Attlee passed away he was scarcely mentioned in the media.

  • Tom Richards 11th Apr '13 - 10:25am

    I feel like the only person on the internet who thinks this but I don’t actually have any particularly strong views on Thatcher – as far as I can see she, like any other PM, did some good things and some bad things. And, perhaps more uniquely, she seems to have had an extraordinary talent for winding people up/being quite adversarial while she did them. From the perspective of this (extremely politically interested) under 30 year old, the whole fuss seems very distant (and almost bizarre!)

  • I explained that I remember the1940s and Clem Atlee was not a communist. Anyone who thinks he was should be posting on the Ukip blog.

  • Tom Richards 11th Apr '13 - 10:28am

    … and is it really healthy for us to be still obsessing over (and still, for many people, defining their politics by) Thatcher – when she was PM 30 years ago in a completely different set of circumstances?

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Apr '13 - 10:38am

    Attlee believed in common ownership of the means of production, which in my book is communism. Not only did he believe in it, but he embarked on a widespread nationalisation programme too.

  • Ian Sanderson,
    I completely agree about the recalling of parliament and the over the top funeral.
    The elephant in the room in both cases is The Conservative Party’s less than healthy links to the military and the monarchy. No other party would have the gall or clout to do it.

  • James Sandbach 11th Apr '13 - 10:57am

    I agree with Stephen that Clegg’s speech (who can pull off good speeches in solemn times) failing to rise to the occasion was poor and perfuctory on the Thatcher character, governance and legacy – not a patch on Cameron’s or Miliband’s who both made generous statesmanlike speeches. But to be fair, it’s a hard trick to pull off to make a speech questioning or sewing doubt on the thatcher legacy when you’re DPM in a Government run by thatcherites.

    @Orangepan “It’s just as easy to distinguish between Ant & Dec as it is to separate the politics of Cameron and Clegg” OH DEAR! Has it really come to this? – Cameron and Clegg as the Ant & Dec of politics leading the country at time of great crisis (the only alternative being the two Eds’ Wallace and Grommit act)

    Paddy’s speech was excellent – I was suprised he didn’t mentions Thatcher’s call for more EU action to stop the Serb (Milosevic dicatorship) genocide against the Bosnian Muslims on which they shared a common position with the Major Government being hopelessly and almost complicitly week on this tradedy in Europe (was one of the few things I did agree with Mrs T on, whilst I deplored her freemarket approach and divisive social policies at home)

  • @Eddie Sammon
    “Attlee believed in common ownership of the means of production, which in my book is communism. Not only did he believe in it, but he embarked on a widespread nationalisation programme too.”

    Get yourself a sense of proportion. Attlee’s government presided over a mixed economy that was mostly private. He did nothing to abolish private schooling or healthcare, both of which have continued to this day. He did nothing to disestablish the church, or abolish it as a real communist would, and he did nothing to deny the freedom of the press. How in any sense of the word was he a communist? He was a communist in the same way Thatcher was a fascist.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Apr '13 - 11:10am

    Clement Attlee was about the biggest example of a socialist you can find and there is absolutely no difference between communism and socialism! Karl Marx who wrote the Communist Manifesto advocated nationalising industries and he used the words communism and socialism interchangeably!

    I am not saying he was a revolutionary communist like the former leaders of the Soviet Union, but he was one in the original sense of the term.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Apr '13 - 11:13am

    What does the Oxford Dictionary say about socialism?

    “a transitional social state between the overthrow of capitalism and the realization of Communism.

    Up your game!

  • James Sandbach 11th Apr '13 - 11:30am

    Goodness – so Atlee was a Communist; you learn something new on LDV every day! This is not doubt why he served as deputy to a Tory MP, was one of the joint founders of NATO to protect the West against eastern bloc ideological communist agression , distanced himself Stalin’s Russia (Churchill and Joe had been quite chummy at Yalta), accepted lots of loan financing from the US Government, and appointed Ernie Bevan as his right had man who tried purging the Trade Unions of communist influence.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Apr '13 - 11:46am

    James, I have already said that “he was a revolutionary communist like the former leaders of the Soviet Union”. He also said ” Russian Communism is the illegitimate child of Karl Marx and Catherine the Great”, so he warned about people getting their views on communism from the Russian interpretation. All comparisons to communism should be drawn with Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, not Russian history.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Apr '13 - 11:48am

    I misquoted myself there, I said: “I am not saying he was a revolutionary communist…”.

  • As the leader of a party and Deputy PM, Nick Clegg didn’t have many options at the parliamentary recall “debate” (concerning the death of Margaret Thatcher). Remembering some of his comments of the past and coming from a party which was often HM Loyal Opposition mark 2 during Thatcher’s premiership, he could have been foolish and not attended at all or possibly made a rant like Glenda Jackson for Labour. That he clearly made the decision to be a loyal and discrete MP but not praise Thatcher, was, in my book, the correct leader’s response to a difficult situation. I just wish he had learned and not read his reply, but his notable discomfort was obvious (summed up appropriately by the BBC reporter Nick Robinson). If this marks the turning point in Nick’s remarks, I will be doubly pleased – this country still needs statesmen and women who think before they offer their heads to the chopping block of public tweeting-style comments.

    So well done Mr Clegg for not making a hash which would follow you in future elections. However, the behind-the-scenes rumblings between the PM and the Speaker was not so delicately resolved. I am one who thinks the Speaker’s wish to follow protocol should have prevailed and would have prevented the rants which were inappropriate, even if they were correct in principle, and the sickening overdone responses from some on the government benches. It leaves the funeral procession next week to make a totally horrifying spectacle – to end in a way which could have been better handled throughout – as was Gladstone’s funeral, by all accounts.

  • @Eddie Sammon
    I think I would rather listen to Thatcher on Atlee than you… she admired him as a patriot and said so in her memoirs….

    As for being a communist he described himself, and acted, as a centre left leader. As others have noted he was instrumental in organising NATO against the threat of communism. Prior to his round of nationalisation many industries had horrific safety standards and post being taken into public ownership they improved both in terms of workers rights and efficiency. What some of them became is not down to Atlee.

    Back in the early to mid 20th Century Unions were fighting for rights we all take for granted today. Fair pay, safe working environments etc. My grandparents and great-grandparents were all heavily involved in trade unions and none could be described as communist. My grandfather despaired of what unions became in his later years but celebrated the advances within his working life, and rightly so. We became a better society and unions played a part in that. I think it is entirely wrong to view him in the same light as some from Labour and the Union movements current or recent left wing, his approach seemed to be both warranted and reasonable.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Apr '13 - 12:53pm

    In my book anyone who believes in the common ownership of the means of production is a communist. I know the Russians hijacked the term but that’s something different. I’ll agree to disagree on the rest.

  • Is it really necessary to dignify the above instances of historically ignorant and malicious red-baiting with a response?

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Apr '13 - 1:29pm

    Typical, when the left loses an argument it resorts to personal abuse. If someone wants to say that the difference between capitalism and communism is not the difference between private and public ownership of property then I would be happy to hear it.

    David, you say that I am undertaking malicious red baiting; however it was those who slag of a woman who just died and at the same time try to blame the unemployment in the 80s solely on Thatcher who are really the ones doing the baiting. They act as though if it wasn’t for Thatcher the unions would have saved the economy. Fat chance.

  • @Eddie Sammon
    “Typical, when the left loses an argument it resorts to personal abuse. If someone wants to say that the difference between capitalism and communism is not the difference between private and public ownership of property then I would be happy to hear it. ”

    OK, so since most property was in private hands and state spending accounted for less than half of the economy during Atlee’s premiership then the only option is to conclude that he was a capitalist (given that you don’t seem to recognize that there might be a spectrum between the two extremes)

  • Alex,

    “I’m not convinced we have convincing or adequate answers to these questions yet. We may not have as long as we think to get it right, though for the time being the trauma of the crisis may be recent enough to keep banks on the straight and narrow.”

    I would have to agree with your comment. On the issue of bank recaptalisation, I do think this has to take precedence over increased lending. Well capitalised bank balance sheets are both a precursor to a return to normality and essential to managing the process of writedown of bad loans that are still has a long way to go. Access to finance in the SME sector is a problem that predates the financial crisis and will not be resolved by artificial efforts to increase lending in the face of declining aggregare demand.

    Banking regulation is a big subject, but I do think culture change is at the heart of the problem. The days when a Bank of England governor could raise an eyebrow and the commercial bank boards would get the message that they needed to reign-in their more risky activities are long gone.

    If Nick Clegg remains committed to the sentiments he expressed before the election – ‘What I find so striking is that the spirit — dare I say it — of the battle against the dominance of one vested interest, the trade unions, is exactly the same spirit we need now.’ – then the ringfencing of retail of investment banking needs to be driven forward.

    A parrelel to this from the seventies and eighties is the regulation of the package holiday business. European wide package holiday regulations and the separation of tour operator activities from ticket agency activities helped considerably in mitigating the effects on consumers of some of the more egregious financial collapses in this area.

    Allthough not on the same scale of importance as the banking sector, the regulatory regime developed by the Civil Aviation Authority that includes fit and proper person tests; licensing of volumes of activity; monthly and quarterly monitoring and stringent financial criteria have proved successful in changing the culture of this industry. The days of the pile em high and sell em cheap holiday operators are gone and while the industry has seen consolidation this has strengthened rather than weakened financial stability.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Apr '13 - 2:02pm

    I would like to add that I take back when I said “typical of the left” because that is as unfair stereotype. Some would classify my politics as on the left, but I won’t go into detail here.

  • Eddie Sammond.
    Atlee did not nationalise all industries and did not set up a dictatorship of the proletariat. In fact aircraft companies like AVRO, Bristol , Vickers,and DeHavalend , were amalgamated as BAE by the Conservatives in te 1950s. The BBC was also set up by the Conservatives and was essentially the only broadcaster allowed in Britain until the 1960s. So by your reckoning most Conservative PMs were also Communists , as were a few prewar Liberal leaders.!
    I would argue that Labour have never really even been a socialist, let alone a Communist Party, and are merely a socialistic amalgamation of some Liberal traditions, some Conservative protectionist instincts and workers organizations.

  • Alex Sabine 11th Apr '13 - 2:40pm

    I disagree with a lot of what Steve Way and James Sandbach have said about Thatcher and her policies, whereas by and large I agree with Eddie on her economic record; but I strongly support them in defending Clement Attlee.

    I do so despite, not because of, his government’s economic policies. The nationalisation programme (extending well beyond the pragmatic takeover of loss-making and strike-ridden industries or ‘natural monopolies’ into the commercial sector) did not deliver greater efficiency, and did remarkably little to further the socialist goal of handing power to working people through ‘common ownership’.

    If it had been taken further on the lines advocated by the Labour Left, and combined with the import tariffs and sweeping capital controls they also urged, in time it may have become a serious threat to freedom. Fortunately Attlee and the many non-doctrinaire members of his Cabinet stopped short of that. As it was, the nationalised industries were (as Jo Grimond later put it) merely ‘among the greatest millstones round the neck of the economy’ rather than an existential threat to freedom.

    Edmund Dell, a Labour minister who wrote a magisterial tome on British democratic socialism in 2000 called A Strange Eventful History, says of the nationalised industries: ‘That they were publicly owned gave the public no sense of ownership. A further embarrassment for the Labour party, as it searched around for additional industries or companies to nationalise, was its discovery that many on the shop floor, as well as managers, were hostile…

    ‘Certainly the new status was not evidenced by any development of industrial democracy nor by any other of the objectives of nationalisation such as production for use rather than profit, except in the sense that the nationalised industries were persistent loss-makers. Nationalisation was a technocratic act, placing industries under the control of managers thought better capable of running them than their predecessors, though they were often the same persons.’

    The chief beneficiaries of postwar nationalisation were not the workers, certainly not the taxpayers, but the former owners of the industries who were compensated handsomely for their acquisition by the state.

    Yet this very fact illustrates not only the folly of large-scale nationalisation, but also another important thing about Attlee and his government: that he believed in due provess, in basic property rights, and in constitutional government. 

    He took the democratic route to his version of socialism as a matter of political principle as well as political necessity. He said in 1950 that communism was abhorrent to him because it ‘denies the dignity of the individual’ while he rejected Conservatism (though he had a great many small-c conservative instincts) because it ‘ranges the individual in classes’.

    Communism was wrong not only because it rejected democracy but because – even in theory, let alone in the Soviet reality – it denied personal freedom, treating individuals as instrumental to the goals of the proletariat as a class.

    He was a believer in step-by-step social reform under democratic conditions, a decent and humane end which he (mistakenly in my view) thought must be achieved through the machinery and planning apparatus of the state.

    Though there were some in Labour circles who saw the 1945-51 as paving the way for Marxist transformation, Attlee himself had an aversion to theoretical blueprints and much preferred the British characteristic of pragmatism. Or as he put it, in typical fashion, in the Commons in 1950: ‘The British have the distinction above all other nations of being able to put new wine into old bottles witjout bursting them.’

    And as James Sandbach notes, Ernie Bevin had a passionate hatred for Communism, not least because of its repression of workers and trade unions, and was in my view an outstanding Foreign Secretary who did much to put Britain’s weight behind the cause of the free world.

  • Alex Sabine 11th Apr '13 - 3:05pm

    Where I think Eddie is right is that from full-blown socialist economics, it is but a small step to communism. There is as much a threat to personal freedom from the abrogation of private property rights and free exchange as much as from the trampling over the norms of Parliamentary democracy.

    Attlee didn’t fully grasp this, and in the hands of a less scrupulous and more doctrinaire socialist – or in a country without Britain’s free institutions and traditions – we could have moved a lot further along Hayek’s ‘road to serfdom’. Fortunately enough of the spirit of Orwell prevailed, even if bureaucracy took a powerful hold in the postwar years and has never let go.

    I was struck by the fact that in yesterday’s tributes/debate on Thatcher, the Labour MP Gisela Stuart said she thought the Road to Serfdom should be required reading because it contained an essential insight about the link between a market economy and a free society, that Thatcher recognised this whatever her other faults, and that in her native Germany this had been understood across the mainstream political spectrum at a time when it was anathema to the British Labour Party.

    She cited with approval the comment of Ludwig Erhard, the architect of Germany’s postwar economic renaissance (who followed the opposite path to the Attlee government in the economic and industrial sphere, dismantling wartime controls while cutting taxes and spending) that ‘the market is social’, ie it is one of the key institutions of a free society and vital to its preservation. It is not government which makes the market social, though it may take action to mitigate the uneven distribution of rewards that is inevitable in any economy based on free exchange and private property.

    To summarise my rather meandering post: Let’s acquit Attlee of communism, recognise that he was – as Thatcher put it – ‘a serious man and a patriot’, but be thankful that the traumas of the1970s ushered in Thatcher rather than the Bennite wing of the Labour Party with their siege economy and anti-democratic syndicalism.

    I’m afraid the corporatist social democracy offered by the SDP/Alliance wasn’t equal to the task, offering not a decisive break with the failed consensus but (in Ralf Dahrendorf’s words) a ‘better yesterday’.

    To take just one example, even though the Alliance was free of Labour’s institutional dependence on the unions, its commitment to incomes policy – especially if ‘voluntary’, ie achieved through officially organised negotiations with employers and unions – meant that in practice the unions would have retained the power of veto over all national policy that they had exercised so destructively in the 1960s and 1970s.

    Again, Jo Grimond hit this nail on the head. As he said in 1981: ‘We should not delude ourselves into thinking that an incomes policy is other than a serious infringement of freedom… Nor have the Liberals explained how it is to be worked; and even if thy had, it is certainly not a permanent answer to our economic troubles. At present, the Liberal-SDP alliance occasionally looks too much like a halfway house on the old road to state socialism.’

    And three years earlier, at the time of the Lib-Lab pact, he warned: ‘It is not capitalism that is in crisis. It is Socialism that is in collapse. The faith has vanished. The principles are shatterd. It won’t do for Liberals merely to say that they will put on the brakes. Even if you slow down the Gadarene swine, they will go over the precipice eventually.’

    Thatcher’s key achievement was to drag Britain back from that precipice, albeit at great cost, and lay the foundation stones for the more prosperous and less divided decades that followed.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Apr '13 - 3:53pm

    I’m normally a Clegg critic, but on this occasion I very much prefer Clegg’s contribution to Ashdown’s.

    What I like about it is that it is very careful not to take any position on Thatcher’s politics. That is good. On the occasion of remembering someone who we have to pay tribute to because of her great influence, but where there are strong differences of opinion regarding that influence, it would be best if BOTH sides avoided the politics. I’m sorry, but if one side is going to use her death to praise her politics and make what I would regard as VERY dubious claims about the benefits of her politics, that’s turning it into a political debate, that would be forcing me to respond and attack those policies and thereby her.

    To be frank, I find Paddy Ashdown’s speech to be appalling in the way it accepts so much about Margaret Thatcher that I believe to be pure propaganda pushed out by the few who have benefited from her sort of policies in denial of the hugely damaging long term effects of them.

    I want to be decent on an occasion like this, I want to remain silent on the politics, because if I am not silent in the politics what I have to say is not nice. If I am going to be decent and not attack the woman for her politics at this time, can’t those who admire her policies respect that decency and not provoke me by spouting out praise for those policies. And, yes, that includes you, Lord Ashdown.

  • @Alex Sabine
    ” less divided decades that followed.”

    Sorry, which country are you talking about? It certainly isn’t this one based on the hard evidence of increased wealth inequalities and geographical political loyalties.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Apr '13 - 4:00pm

    Alex’s insightful posts are the ones I like, intellectual arguments against my arguments. I do not wish to speak ill of Clement Attlee, but I felt I had to counter the argument that Thatcher was so inferior to Attlee, if at all.

    I totally agree with Alex’s point that “Where I think Eddie is right is that from full-blown socialist economics, it is but a small step to communism.”

    I studied Karl Marx in one of my modules in uni and I have never been able to see a big difference between socialism and communism so have been suspicious of it ever since. This was some years ago and I was less interested in politics at the time, but if I get time tonight I will read the Communist Manifesto; I think it is important we keep up to date with such texts.

    In the 1945 Labour Party manifesto it does say that Labour is committed to the nationalisation of land, many industries and has an ultimate aim for the “Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain”, all very suspicious if you ask me. You can also add the fact that it is reported that the Labour Party and trade unions were trying to get help from the Soviet Union to defeat The Tories in the 80s.

  • David Pollard 12th Apr '13 - 11:32am

    I was disappointed because of what Nick Clegg didn’t say. he should have ended with a comment of how divisive she was and it is the job of modern day politicians to build on the good things she achieved and heal the wounds she left behind.

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Apr '13 - 3:23pm

    I have been surprised that both Paddy Ashdown, and then Ming Campbell on QT last night, made such effusive and glowing comments about Mrs Thatcher. Fine, on a human level one should pay respects but as far as I’m concerned, they are being carried away by the moment and the building hysteria in the Tory party and in the press.

    And don’t get me started on the hagiography. Some people have highly selective memories.

  • David Allen 12th Apr '13 - 4:26pm

    Yes, Paddy littered his speech with tributes, as necessary to the occasion. He then carefully undermined Thatcher’s political legacy on each in turn.

    On her “passionate commitment to freedom” Paddy added: “today we find that, taken to excess, some of these attributes have not led to greater prosperity for all but to near ruin and a disgusting climate of greed for the few. In this, I suspect that revolution she started has perhaps somewhat run its course.” And also “she did far less to enhance the political freedoms of … the gay community …the people of Scotland, or … the standing of women in society”. So, today Thatcher’s “freedom” is a busted flush.

    On her “patriotism” Paddy added: ” She used her formidable talents to give our country a few more years of glory… However, that legacy means that Britain today still finds itself uncomfortable and undecided about its true position in the world, not least in relation to Europe, where the infection that she planted still has the capacity to rip apart her party. … She restored our country’s position in the world but in a way that perhaps today makes us even less able to answer Dean Acheson’s famous challenge that, having lost an empire, we have yet to find a role.” So, today Thatcher’s “patriotism” is a busted flush.

    Finally on her “courage” Paddy added “This, in the final analysis, was what ended her long term as Prime Minister. Is it not always hubris that gets us in the end?” So, Thatcher’s “courage” has always been a busted flush – it always derived from a selfish and self-deluding hubristic belief in her own infallibility.

    That’s a brilliant and much needed demolition job cloaked in the garments of a tribute.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Apr '13 - 3:39am

    David Allen

    That’s a brilliant and much needed demolition job cloaked in the garments of a tribute

    Nope, sorry, I’ve read it again and I still can’t see it that way. Ashdown is saying she was right at the time and he was wrong to oppose what she did, as he puts it “At the time when she did those things, they needed to be done”. I disagree. She was wrong then, what she did was ultimately damaging to this country. Her solution to social and economic division in the country was to increase that division and make those at the bottom so scared that they would stop protesting about it. Well, it might have solved the symptoms of the problem, such as the strikes, but it did not solve the disease.

    Her solutions to the economic problems of this country was to sell us out, which is no better than incurring excessive debt while keeping ownership. Whatever short term benefits it may seem to give, in the long term, it’s very damaging. Thanks to her, Britain is no longer British – it is a colony of the international financiers. Her reputation comes because it is these same people and those controlled by them who are writing up history.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Apr '13 - 5:19am

    Matthew, please post your economic plan had you come to power in 1979. Disagree with Thatcher for sure, but anyone making her out as a disaster with evil intentions need to say what they would have done instead. Unless you supported Michael Foot and Arthur Scargill the communists.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Apr '13 - 5:21am

    “Her reputation comes because it is these same people and those controlled by them who are writing up history” – you are simply bitter and ignorant.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Apr '13 - 5:22am

    Did the press make up the fact she won 3 general elections and the fact the mines were losing money and weren’t reopened in the next Labour government? I could go on.

  • Paul McKeown 13th Apr '13 - 11:38am

    I think this thread has reached its Godwin limit with the word, “Communist”.

  • @Paul, I wonder if we did a pie chart on it, how much of a percentage of it would be taken up by Eddie alone. I really think he needs to study communism a little more…oh wait, he did not one module on it at university, so he must be an expert. Haha.

  • Paul McKeown 13th Apr '13 - 12:22pm

    @Liberal Al


  • Eddie Sammon 13th Apr '13 - 2:16pm

    I have read the difference between socialism and communism is “each according to his deed” to “each according to his need”, which is hardly a big step once you have nationalised all property. I know enough to comment about it. Besides, I don’t like the word socialist because it sounds nice, cuddly and innocent even though it is quite a dangerous thing.

    Anyone who thinks the early Labour Party was not filled up with Marxists is simply being naive. It is obvious they bought into the idea that capitalism was exploitation and investment income was unearned, otherwise their wouldn’t have been a 98% tax on investment income and they would have simply joined the Liberal Party.

    I apologise to Matthew for being over abusive in my comments.

  • Stuart Mitchell 13th Apr '13 - 3:10pm

    Eddie: Words are our servants, not our masters. You’re taking the pocket dictionary approach to language. The word has been applied to a wide range of shades of political thought.

    The Oxford Dictionaries website sums it up pretty well. Quote in full :-

    “Definition of socialism

    [mass noun]
    a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

    • policy or practice based on the political and economic theory of socialism.

    • (in Marxist theory) a transitional social state between the overthrow of capitalism and the realization of Communism.

    The term ‘socialism’ has been used to describe positions as far apart as anarchism, Soviet state Communism, and social democracy; however, it necessarily implies an opposition to the untrammelled workings of the economic market. The socialist parties that have arisen in most European countries from the late 19th century have generally tended towards social democracy.”

  • I would agree with Alex Sabine’s conclusion in his comments above “Thatcher’s key achievement was to drag Britain back from that precipice, albeit at great cost, and lay the foundation stones for the more prosperous and less divided decades that followed”

    She never instigated confrontation herself – whether it was with the IRA hunger strikers, the Argentian Junta or Arthur Scargills’s bid to bring down her government..

    Her greatest failing in my view was a slavish adherence to the idea that the communities worst affected by the necessary closure of defunct traditional industries would rise ‘phoenix like’ from the ashes given the benefit of freedom from the choking embrace of militant unionism.

    There was insufficient regard to the condition of these blighted communities, that were in dire need of active state investment and economic reorganisation. We are only now beginning the necessary work of a rebalancing of the economy that will offer some prospect of an end to the structural unemployment that has persisted since the 1970’s.

    We endow Mrs. Thatcher with the ability to divide a nation and drive it a direction of her own making. This is far from the truth. She and her government were a reflection of the needs and aspirations of the British public at the time. The economic medicine she presribed was widely accepted, across all sections of society, as a necessary eelement of restoring order and future economic stability. She changed the country because the people of this country wanted it changed.

    If similar circumstances were to arise again in the future, I expect her ilk would once again be welcomed by the British public at large.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Apr '13 - 3:57pm

    I’m not focusing my debate on the use of the word socialist, I’m also using actions of the Attlee government at the time. I know this debate has now outplayed itself, I just wanted to put out a different perspective to the one that said Thatcher was inferior to Attlee; which I think I have achieved.

  • @JoeBourke “She and her government were a reflection of the needs and aspirations of the British public at the time.”
    I think this point of view suffers from the misapprehension that “the British public” was or is a single entity with monolithic “needs and aspirations.” Obviously it isn’t. “The British public” is a polycephalic beast, and when — as most frequently is the case — its two largest heads are obsessed with biting each other in the neck, the whole body suffers.

  • David,

    maybe so. But as othere have pointed out here and in other threads, Mrs Thatcher achieved her electoral success by reaching out beyond the traditional confines of the conversative party and appealing to a broad section of voters. Socio-demographic groups of voters that had historically been aligned with Labour switched their support to the Conservatives, including many of the traditional ‘working classes’ and most famously the Essex Men and Essex Women of places like Basildon, Brentwood and Thurrock.

    Important to both the 1983 and 1987 victories was the way the Thatcher governments successfully managed to boost the personal economic expectations of the British electorate. In other words, the public’s own economic circumstances became a very important issue for them and sufficiently large numbers felt that their situation would improve with Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street. This was the perception (if not necessarily the reality) for many voters and it was the foundation on which her electoral successes were built.

    As any MP will tell you they are elected to serve the whole constituency not just those that voted for them. We have a representative parliamentatry democracy in which Mrs. That cher secured a solid majority in three succesive elections.

    Thats as close as you can get to effective representation of the needs and aspirations of the British Public under our electoral system.

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Apr '13 - 7:43pm

    Dane, I agree Inheritance Tax is too low. I’m unsure about your campaign for a universal inheritance policy though, I think it is too unnatural and the money could be better spent elsewhere. Fixing the never ending deficit for one.

  • I agree that the Nick’s speech was much more superior to Miliband’s. It was just something that had to be done hence I liked it as simple and short.

    If I ever stopped voting for Lib Dems I would always recall the final words of Paddy’s speech: “stood…or huge respect for our country abroad…the greatest PM of our time”

    I would expect something like Glenda Jackson’s speech that has around 1,500,000 hits in youtube so far.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Apr '13 - 10:19pm

    Eddie Sammon

    Matthew, please post your economic plan had you come to power in 1979. Disagree with Thatcher for sure, but anyone making her out as a disaster with evil intentions need to say what they would have done instead.

    I wasn’t standing for election in 1979, I didn’t have an economic plan. I had recently joined the Liberal Party, you can probably find its 1979 manifesto on-line somewhere.

    I did not say Margaret Thatcher had evil intentions. I am sure in fact she meant well. But I think her policies had long-term bad effects for this country. One example is the sale of council houses without replacement. The consequence is that people who would have been housed at cost price in council housing back then are now houses much more expensively in private rented housing, with the taxpayers footing the bill in housing benefit. Of course it looked good at the time, this give-away of assets to those who had already been lucky enough to have been allocated cost-price council housing to rent. But it was at a long-term cost, and it was a trick that could not be repeated. Now we face the consequences. Not just financial, but also social, this lack of housing security is destroying stable family life, which Thatcher herself thought the bedrock of society.

    Margaret Thatcher’s emphasis on property ownership and “Tell Sid” privatisations as things to make money from spread this idea that money is not made from work, it’s made from owning thing. I would like to have seen a tax regime put in place that really does reward money earned from work, at the expense of money earned from passive ownership. The Conservatives stand for the opposite of this. Thatcher’s policy of allowing industry to decline in many places smashed the work ethic. I do believe that if industries such as mining were no longer viable, there should have been state planning to keep work going in those places dominated by such industries.

    Had Thatcher’s premiership not coincided with North Sea oil coming on tap, I feel the hollowing out of our country under her leadership would have become more obvious much more quickly. The windfall profits from it should have been invested, instead of being frittered away to disguise the anti-work nature of the Conservative Party.

  • “Had Thatcher’s premiership not coincided with North Sea oil coming on tap, I feel the hollowing out of our country under her leadership would have become more obvious much more quickly. ”

    This ^^^^^^^^^.

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Apr '13 - 10:49pm

    I agree with you that the social housing should not have been sold below market value; however I think selling them for full market price would have been a good thing.

    I agree that with hindsight there should have been some state planning to recreate employment, given the unique circumstances of moving from a mixed economy to a free market one.

    I wasn’t around at the time but it does seem she didn’t do enough to help the north rebuild. Overall, I look favourably on her for “saving” the economy from socialism, but I think she was too cruel in the implementation.

  • David Evershed 17th Apr '13 - 11:16am

    Margaret Thatcher was a Liberal on economic policy.

    Bringing inflation under control, making unions democratic and de-nationalising bus and rail transport; gas, electricity, and water; British Airways; Amersham International; etc are all Liberals policies. Vince Cable is following in her footsteps with the privatisation of the Post Office.

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