RICK EVANS explains why he believes the former PM’s legacy has been a Britain more divided, more unequal and more fundamentally unfair
IT was the recently the fourth anniversary of Margaret Thatcher’s death, but her ideas live on and we all still have to live with them every day.
She was undoubtedly a very successful politician, winning three elections, and in a way she was a politician to be respected because she was someone who stuck to her beliefs and looked after her class.
Tony Benn said there were two sorts of politicians: weathervanes who blew around and changed their minds in the hope of picking up votes, and signposts. Now there are fewer signposts, but both Thatcher and Benn were.
Now before you start to think this is some gushing eulogy, I can assure you it’s not — but what she achieved from her point of view was remarkably successful.
In 11 years she started to change the fabric of society into what we have now. Of course she didn’t do this on her own and was heavily advised what to do and how to do it.
But let’s look at what she believed in and what she did. Her great mantra was that nothing must interfere with the running of the market. It was sacred. She believed in a small state and that nearly everything could be run by market forces.
One of her central pillars of belief was privatisation, that monopolies could be run by the private sector. This would make everything more efficient and prices and bills would go down, and we would all benefit.
What she really meant of course was that by doing this her rich friends would be able to make money in their interests by turning state utilities into a cash cow for big corporations.
The idea of a people’s shareholder economy was quickly forgotten. Indeed it never took off. And as for lower prices and bills, well, they are higher now than ever. For example, our privatised railways are the most expensive in Europe.
Another central core of her beliefs was that she believed the trade unions were too powerful and had to be “dealt with.” She certainly was ruthless in her attacks on them.
This was a calculated attack on people’s pay and conditions as she believed ordinary people were paid too much.
Thatcher didn’t believe in a highpay economy but rather a low-wage, regulation-free one.
So gradually what working people had fought for and won was lost as the market ruled in the name of “efficiency.” Good jobs became no jobs, for example in the coalmining industry, or good jobs became low-paid ones.
She also deliberately let our prized manufacturing industry go to the wall as government assistance would interfere with the “market.” Of course that industry was heavily unionised as well, so that being destroyed to a large degree was a double whammy.
The biggest lie that Thatcher pushed was that the wealth would trickle down from the top to the bottom, meaning that the wealth from the richest in society would somehow find its way to the poorest, thereby making a fairer society.
This has been proved to be totally false. In fact the reverse has been the case. In 1977-8, before Thatcher took office, Britain was the most equal it had been before or since.
The Gini coefficient — a common measure of income inequality — reached its lowest level in 1977. The proportion of individual Britons below the poverty line was at its lowest in 1978.
These were great successes of the then Labour government. When Thatcher took office in 1979 she began to relentlessly and deliberately destroy this achievement that had been slowly brought about since the end of the second world war.
She cut taxes on the richest while unemployment sky-rocketed, while at the same time promoting poorly paid jobs at the expense of well-paid ones.
Consequently, inequality has generally got worse since the late ’70s, although it has to be said this also happened in a lot of Western countries.
This is to me the true legacy left by Thatcher — a more unequal society.
In the late 1990s she was asked what her greatest success was, and her answer was: “New Labour.”
That to me says everything about the journey the Labour Party embarked on from the early 1980s to the late 1990s.
Thatcher wanted to destroy socialism as a viable alternative in this country and she almost succeeded.
However good ideas, don’t die easily. Saying the last rites for socialism was premature.
It saddens and angers me that Labour accepted so much of the Thatcher consensus, in the end believing it was the only way to victory.
It wasn’t and still isn’t, but what she helped to do was put the Tories on the front foot. Thereafter Labour was on a constant journey towards the right in the mistaken belief it was the only way to get back into power.
I never believed that was the answer for Labour to win an election, as I believed it could have won in 1997 on a more radical left-wing platform. We are still living with that legacy today.
I believe Thatcher’s legacy is nothing to be proud of. She helped to make Britain more divided, more unequal and more fundamentally unfair.
Under her tenure the rich got richer and the poor poorer as the rich were awarded massive tax cuts.
She also successfully played the narrative that the nation’s economy was like a household budget, which of course it isn’t, but plenty of people bought into it.
The public utilities which belonged to us all were sold off to the Tories’ mates, as profit became king above all else. She helped to decimate manufacturing industry and destroyed the coalmining industry while at the same time seriously eroding the strength of the trade unions.
As a by-product, whole communities were destroyed. Some have never recovered to this day. These things weren’t an unforeseen consequence or bad luck, but deliberate and intended.
Thatcher’s whole objective was to free the rich to become even richer while the rest had to put up with the actions of her beloved market forces. Pay ballooned for the rich minority but plummeted for the majority of us.
Some people loved her, some hated her, but she knew exactly how to appeal to the ones that loved her by appealing to their base instincts. She only fell in the end because she came to believe she was invincible and made a massive error of judgement by introducing the hated poll tax.
This was a tax so blatantly unfair that the people rose up against it, and all of a sudden she didn’t seem so invincible. The Tories, fearful they would lose the next election, stabbed her in the back and got rid of her.
But although she was gone her ideas and her Chicago School of Economic friends lived on, and still live on today. She was a very effective politician and looked after the people she represented very well. But that was only a small minority of people.
For most of us ordinary people living in the real world she was a disaster, as she made us poorer, divided us and ultimately encouraged greed at the expense of the better side of human nature. That is why I couldn’t stand Thatcher as I grew up in the ’80s and still can’t today. That is what she means to me.