Thank you, for your both thoughtful and informative response. The ‘decline’ I’m speaking of is not just Mrs. Thatcher’s penchant for passing out ‘The Road to Serfdom’ as if it were a party favor. Consider Mr. Gary Younge’s 2013 essay: Mrs Thatcher never won more than 44% of the vote, except for the period after the war over The Malvinas, the pathetic last gasp of the Empire! An attempt to rescue Britain from its imperial decline. Compare it to the invasion of Granada in 1983 by Dutch Reagan, he always wanted to play John Wayne!
With the exception of the immediate aftermath of the Falklands war, Thatcher was never a massively popular politician. She never won more than 44 percent of the vote, though in Britain’s winner-takes-all parliamentary system that was enough to secure massive majorities. Her reign over the country was partial. She left her party decimated in Scotland, the North of England and most urban centers, relying on her electoral fiefdom in the South, the Midlands and rural areas. She was divisive, apparently revelling in the acrimony engendered by massive strikes, riots, hunger strikes and economic upheaval for which she was in no small part responsible. She was authoritarian, abolishing the city’s elected authorities because they opposed her agenda and banning Sinn Fein representatives’ voices from the television because they advocated armed resistance to the British occupation of Northern Ireland. (For six tedious years they would be shown with the lips moving, the sound of their voice turned down and their words read by actors). She was a crude majoritarian who never had the support of the majority and became a liability even to her allies. Her political career perished when she was shot by her own troops who tired of her leading them into reckless battle.
But while she was never popular she was a populist. She had a keen understanding of and affinity to some of the least appealing impulses in the British psyche. Her petty nationalism in Europe and post colonial nostalgia played out in the Falklands War; her monocultural racism, expressing sympathy for Britons who “fear rather being swamped by an alien culture”; her appeal to material acquisition over class solidarity or even class mobility; her ability to equate the private and privatized with freedom and choice and the public and nationalized with constraint and imposition.
Please note that this excerpt from the National Archives, which introduces this essay by Alan Travis on Mrs. Thatcher, who ties the War in the Malvinas to her long held project to destroy the power of the Unions: again the analogy with Reagan’s destruction of the Air Traffic Controllers Union is more than apt. An example of Thatcher’s attempt to forestall the reality of British decline as a world power.
“We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty,” Margaret Thatcher speech to the backbench 1922 committee, July 1984.
The Cabinet papers published under the 30-year rule lay bare the scale of Margaret Thatcher’s long-held ambitions to crush the power of Britain’s trade unions even before she had won her historic 144-seat majority landslide victory.
The Downing Street papers from 1983 show she told Ferdinand Mount, then head of her policy unit, that she agreed that Norman Tebbit’s gradualist approach to trade union reform was too timid and that they should “neglect no opportunity to erode trade union membership”.
Thatcher told Mount to put the policy work in hand but to keep his trade union reform paper, in which he referred to the unions as “a politicised mafia”, wholly confidential. “We must neglect no opportunity to erode trade union membership wherever this corresponds to the wishes of the workforce. We must see to it our new legal structure discourages trade union membership of the new industries,” wrote Mount.
He said that by the end of the century they also hoped to see “a trade union movement whose exclusive relationship with the Labour party is reduced out of all recognition. Again, it is absurd and unjust that millions of Conservatives, Liberals and Social Democrats should be supporting the Labour party directly or indirectly. This relationship fossilises the Labour party and stultifies the whole political dialogue.”
Although the prime minister responded by saying she agreed with Mount, his demand to ensure that trade union members had to opt in, rather than opt out of the political levy – as now being contemplated by the Labour leader, Ed Miliband – was regarded as a step too far at that time by Thatcher and Tebbit because it revived the argument about the financing of political parties. The Tories feared it could also lead to a quid pro quo ban on company donations.
More on the planning stage of this effort to destroy the power of the Unions:
They were not alone in their determination to take on the unions. As early as January 1983, Nigel Lawson – who had already spent two years as energy secretary building up coal stocks in preparation for the expected showdown with the miners – was telling Thatcher: “If Scargill succeeds in bringing about such a strike, we must do everything in our power to defeat him, including ensuring that the strike results in widespread closures.”
In March, Thatcher’s press secretary, Bernard Ingham, also urged her to take on the miners, telling her: “Events have not, however, challenged the post-war impression of their invincibility, for we have yet to beat a national stoppage … In my view the last thing we should do today is lend credibility to Scargill.”
The cabinet papers released by the National Archives on Thursday show that the preparations – including a debate among Whitehall officials over whether troops should be used during the miners’ strike – were well under way. Lawson also argued for a rapid acceleration in the pace of the pit closures secretly scheduled for 1983/84, demanding that 34 pits, including a dozen in Yorkshire and the Midlands, should be listed, rather than the 20 that eventually sparked the start of the strike in March 1984.
The papers show that detailed discussions on withstanding a coal strike went on in a secret committee of Whitehall officials known as Misc 57 throughout 1983. A good deal of work had already been done in 1982, when it was decided that it was not practicable to use servicemen to move coal by rail.
By that October, in a “secret and personal” note to Thatcher, Peter Gregson, the Cabinet Office deputy secretary, was telling her that using the army to move coal by road would be a formidable undertaking: “4-5,000 lorry movements a day for 20 weeks … the law and order problems of coping with pickets would be enormous … a major risk would be the power station workers would refuse to handle coal brought in by servicemen this way”.
Misc 57 had thought there might be a limited role for the troops in delivering ancillary materials, such as lighting-up oil, under close supervision.
But Thatcher was careful not to close the door on the use of the army to move coal from the working pits to the power stations, and ordered further work to be done. In the following May, the issue was reopened when the Cabinet Office derided such uses of the army as “spectacular gestures which are likely in practice to worsen the situation”.
Mrs. Thatcher, at best ruled, without anything resembling a majority of voters. An authoritarian personality, who even fought with, and shamed her coterie of male policy technocrats , which led to her downfall. Even her political allies grew tired of her unslakable imperiousness!
Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg’s classic song Ding Dong the Witch is Dead summed up the opprobrium in which Mrs. Thatcher was held at the time of her death. Even though the British ruling class, the Tories and New Labour, found the funds for a lavish State Funeral. The utter collapse of the Free Market Delusion in 2008, and the subsequently failed Austerity, at the time of her death, made voters realize the true extent of Thatcher’s failed Economic Program, her authoritarianism: that expressed the perpetual mendacity of her interpretation of The Road to Serfdom, as, in fact, a narrative that described the dismal political present.
Yet the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, under the fiercest attacks from both Tories and New Labour, including Labour and the left have an antisemitism problem’ has failed to stop his popularity. His political flourishing, in a politics still in the thrall of the demonstrable failure of both Neo-Liberalism and its successor Austerity, is described in the Financial Times and other conservative publications as part of a dread Populist uprising against The Elites. Call this the desperation of a failed political class, awash in a nostalgia for the mendacious, authoritarian Mrs. Thatcher! What they have is the rather wan Mrs. May.‘s specious, yet predictably hysterical ‘
Here is another reply to StephenKMackSD Britannia rules the waves that you might find of interest: it was removed because Barry doesn’t understand that the FT doesn’t allow profanity.
|Barry another planet said:|
|StephenKMackSD Britannia rules the waves I think you must put your rose coloured spectacles on when you visit western Europe. The sh*t hole that is the Paris in and around the Gard du Nord, bears no comparison to the bright, modern station that is Kings Cross and the state of the art redevelopment around that area. And Berlin is certainly nothing to shout about. It will be a lot easier to visit when they finish the new Berlin airport, 10 years late and 6 times over budget. Doesn’t quite match up to Crossrail, the biggest building project in Europe, on time and on budget. Sometimes the facts dont quite match peoples illusions of reality.
As for your nonsense about the British labour scene, of the three countries you mention, UK, Germany and France, only one is up a creek without a paddle and thats France. Average wages in the UK and France are about the same at $43,000, but the real difference, as we all know, is the unemployment rate. Productivity is bound to look good, if the youth unemployment rate is around 25% and half of all new jobs are temporary.
And I think Health and safety has little to do do with the unions and everything to do with the fact the UK has always taken this issue far more seriously than our neighbours in Continental Europe. And for all our efforts to drag them up to the same safety levels as the UK, we’ve made some progress, but they continually lag behind. As a cursory look at current HSE data show, the UK has an injury death rate of .55 per 100,000 employees, where France has a figure over 5 times higher at 3.14 per 100,000 employees. And France has more than twice the number of employees taking time off with work related injuries.
So take off those rose coloured spectacles, put the history essays away and actually look at the here and now.