A Thatcher state funeral would be bound to lead to protests


Thatcher Dead At 87

4 January 2012

The Tory prime minister wasn’t a great leader. She was the most socially destructive British politician of our times…

It might seem an odd time to be trying it on, but a drive to rehabilitate Margaret Thatcher is now in full flow. A couple of years back, true believers were beside themselves at the collapse of their heroine’s reputation. The Tory London mayor, Boris Johnson, complained that Thatcher’s name had become a “boo-word”, a “shorthand for selfishness and me-firstism”. Her former PR guru Maurice Saatchi fretted that “her principles of capitalism are under question”.

In opposition, David Cameron tried to distance himself from her poisonous “nasty party” legacy. But just as he and George Osborne embark on even deeper cuts and more far-reaching privatisation of public services than Thatcher herself managed, Meryl Streep’s The Iron Lady is about to come to the rescue of the 1980s prime minister’s reputation.

As the Hollywood actor’s startling Thatcher recreation looks down from every other bus, commentators have insisted that the film is “not political”. True, it doesn’t explicitly take sides in the most conflagrationary decade in postwar British politics. It is made clear that Thatcher’s policies were controversial and strongly opposed. But as director Phyllida Lloyd points out: “The whole story is told from her point of view.”

People are shown to be out to get her – but not quite why. We see the angry faces of protesters and striking miners from inside her car, not the devastated communities they come from. By focusing on her dementia, it invites sympathy for a human being struggling with the trials of old age. Remarkably, a woman who vehemently rejected feminism is celebrated as a feminist icon, and a politician who waged naked class war is portrayed battling against class prejudice.

Lloyd herself is unashamed about the film’s thrust: this is “the story of a great leader who is both tremendous and flawed”. Naturally, some of Thatcher’s supporters and family members have balked at the depiction of her illness.

But her authorised biographer, the high Tory Charles Moore, has no doubts about the The Iron Lady’s effective political message. The Oscar-bound movie is, he declares, a “most powerful piece of propaganda for conservatism”. And for many people under 40, their view of Thatcher and what she represents will be formed by this film.

Meanwhile, last week’s release of 1981 cabinet papers has given another impetus to Thatcher revisionism. The revelation that she authorised a secret back-channel to the IRA during the hunger strikes and opposed Treasury attempts to deny Liverpool a paltry cash injection after the Toxteth riots has been hailed as evidence of the pragmatism of a leader known for unswerving implacability.

But most shocking are the secret preparations now being made to give Thatcher a state funeral. In the 20th century only one former prime minister, Winston Churchill, was given such a ceremonial send-off. Churchill had his own share of political enemies, of course, from the south Wales valleys to India. But his role as war leader when Britain was threatened with Nazi invasion meant he was accepted as a national figure at his death. Thatcher, who cloaked herself in the political spoils of a vicious colonial war in the South Atlantic, has no such status, and is the most divisive British politician of our time.

Gordon Brown absurdly floated a state funeral in a fruitless attempt to appease the Daily Mail. But the coalition would be even more foolish if it were to press ahead with what is currently planned. A state funeral for Thatcher would not be regarded as any kind of national occasion by millions of people, but as a partisan Conservative event and an affront to large parts of the country.

Not only in former mining communities and industrial areas laid waste by her government, but across Britain Thatcher is still hated for the damage she inflicted – and for her political legacy of rampant inequality and greed, privatisation and social breakdown. Now protests are taking the form of satirical e-petitions for the funeral to be privatised: if it goes ahead, there are likely to be protests and demonstrations.

This is a politician, after all, who never won the votes of more than a third of the electorate; destroyed communities; created mass unemployment; deindustrialised Britain; redistributed from poor to rich; and, by her deregulation of the City, laid the basis for the crisis that has engulfed us 25 years later.

Thatcher was a prime minister who denounced Nelson Mandela as a terrorist, defended the Chilean fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet, ratcheted up the cold war, and unleashed militarised police on trade unionists and black communities alike. She was Britain’s first woman prime minister, but her policies hit women hardest, like Cameron’s today.

A common British establishment view – and the implicit position of The Iron Lady – is that while Thatcher took harsh measures and “went too far”, it was necessary medicine to restore the sick economy of the 1970s to healthy growth.

It did nothing of the sort. Average growth in the Thatcherite 80s, at 2.4%, was exactly the same as in the sick 70s – and considerably lower than during the corporatist 60s. Her government’s savage deflation destroyed a fifth of Britain’s industrial base in two years, hollowed out manufacturing, and delivered a “productivity miracle” that never was, and we’re living with the consequences today.

What she did succeed in doing was to restore class privilege, boosting profitability while slashing employees’ share of national income from 65% to 53% through her assault on unions. Britain faced a structural crisis in the 1970s, but there were multiple routes out of it. Thatcher imposed a neoliberal model now seen to have failed across the world.

It’s hardly surprising that some might want to put a benign gloss on Thatcher’s record when another Tory-led government is forcing through Thatcher-like policies – and riots, mounting unemployment and swingeing benefits cuts echo her years in power. The rehabilitation isn’t so much about then as now, which is one reason it can’t go unchallenged. Thatcher wasn’t a “great leader”. She was the most socially destructive prime minister of modern times.

Twitter: @SeumasMilne


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4 Reacties to “A Thatcher state funeral would be bound to lead to protests”

  1. kruitvat Says:


  2. kruitvat Says:

    Thatcher was ready for Falkland Islands deal, National Archives papers show
    Newly released papers show PM was privately adopting more flexible approach amid US pressure to avoid military action

    28 December 2012

    Margaret Thatcher was prepared to do a deal with Argentina after the invasion of the Falklands over the status of the islands, including the question of sovereignty, as she came under intense pressure from the US to avoid a military response, government papers released on Friday reveal.

    UK government declarations and rhetoric at the time gave the impression that nothing short of the withdrawal of all Argentinian forces, the reaffirmation of British sovereignty and a return to the position as it was before the invasion would be acceptable. But the papers show Thatcher and her senior ministers were privately adopting a more flexible approach, including allowing a continuing Argentinian presence on the islands.

    Less than two weeks after the Argentinian invasion on 2 April 1982, Thatcher described a “diplomatic solution” as being “a considerable prize”. She was responding specifically to a plan whereby in return for withdrawing its troops Argentina would be represented on an interim commission and on Falkland Islands councils.

    Francis Pym, the foreign secretary, is recorded as saying: “It would be a remarkable achievement if this could be brought about, at a time when Britain’s military position was still weak.”

    Asked in private evidence to the subsequent Franks committee of inquiry about her reaction to the invasion, Thatcher said: “I just say it was the worst, I think, moment of my life,” the papers reveal. Asked if she was prepared to cede sovereignty over the islands if the islanders agreed, she replied: “Yes”.

    The disclosure that Thatcher was contemplating a peaceful solution to the Falklands dispute, even after the British taskforce had set sail, is contained in confidential annexes to cabinet minutes released under the so-called 30-year rule.

    Sir John Nott, then defence secretary, said on Thursday he had not been against a negotiated settlement if the Argentinian troops left the islands. “I was always prepared to negotiate. It turned out it was not ever possible, but that’s a judgment with hindsight,” he told the Guardian.

    Nott added that Pym was desperate for a negotiated settlement, which had irritated Thatcher. There were plenty of opportunities for a diplomatic settlement but the Argentinian junta was “more intransigent than the prime minister”, Nott recalled.

    In one paper, stamped Top Secret, Thatcher is recorded as saying that under the plan being discussed by the US and at the UN, “the withdrawal of Argentine forces would have been secured without military action. Argentina would gain representation on the interim commission and on the local councils; and a commitment to negotiations to decide the definitive status of the islands by the end of the year, although without any commitment to a transfer of sovereignty.” She added: “Repugnant as it was that the aggressor should gain anything from his aggression, this seemed an acceptable price to pay.

    “But it would be crucial to insure against a second invasion and the best way of achieving this appeared to be to involve the United States government in the enforcement of the interim agreement and in the security of the Islands thereafter.”

    On 19 May, two days before British forces landed on the islands, Thatcher told the war cabinet that in a “sincere attempt to reach agreement to avoid bloodshed”, Britain had not insisted on what should be its “full and just demands”. Any interim deal, however, must ensure there would be “no prejudgment of the longer-term future”.

    The war cabinet noted: “In practical terms, administration mattered more than sovereignty.”

    Even after the British landings, Thatcher’s senior advisers were considering how to alter the status of the Falklands and their relationship with the UK. “Some kind of association with the UN – or some kind of Anglo-American trusteeship – could meet our requirements if only the Argentinians could be brought to acquiesce to it,” Sir Robert Armstrong, the cabinet secretary, advised Thatcher on 25 May.

    He outlined the tactical advantage in preparing for what increasingly seemed an inevitable Argentinian refusal to accept any British offer. That, he suggested, was to publish an account of the diplomatic activity “as a means of wrongfooting them with international opinion by demonstrating our reasonableness”.

    Any backlash the government might have faced in parliament or the press for doing a deal was avoided by the intransigence of the Argentinian junta. “President [Leopoldo] Galtieri was an alcoholic and apparently incapable of rational thought,” ministers were told, according to cabinet minutes on 22 April 1982.

    From the start, Britain was under severe pressure from the US to reach a peaceful settlement. Less than a week after the invasion Al Haig, the US secretary of state, told Thatcher it was “important to avoid a priori judgments about sovereignty”, according to Foreign Office officials. They reported Haig as saying: “American opinion was now much in favour of our principled stance. But he was not sure this would last long – he remembered Vietnam!”

    The papers reveal details of a private telephone conversation between Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, the US president, on 1 June 1982. “President Reagan said the USA considered it imperative that the UK should show that it was prepared to talk before the Argentinians were forced to withdraw,” a note said. “As the UK now had the upper hand militarily it should strike a deal now.”

    Reagan warned that if Britain were “to retain some military occupancy she might face another Argentinian invasion in the future”. Thatcher said “she was sure that the president would act in the same way if Alaska had been similarly threatened … self-determination for the islanders had to be the paramount consideration”.

    Thatcher is recorded as saying as late as 29 May that Britain was “willing to consider change and did not necessarily expect a return to the pre-invasion status quo. The future probably lay in a settlement which did not involve either British or Argentine sovereignty but provided for some form of independence or quasi-independence for the islands.”

    Many pages have been weeded or redacted from the files.

    There is no reference in the minutes of the war cabinet to perhaps the most controversial decision of the war – the order to the captain of the submarine HMS Conqueror to sink the Argentinian cruiser the Belgrano on 2 May 1982.

    The decision was taken by an “ad hoc” group of ministers – including Thatcher, William Whitelaw, the home secretary, and Nott – on the margins of a war cabinet meeting at 12.45pm that day.

    The decision was taken on the basis of rules of engagement relaxed earlier in relation to the Argentinian aircraft carrier the 25 de Mayo, namely that Argentine ships could be attacked outside the exclusion zone imposed by Britain.

    Later controversy centred on the government’s initial but erroneous claim that the Belgrano was attacked as it was closing in on the British taskforce. A secret document shows that senior Whitehall officials were unaware of the circumstances surrounding the attack, which led to the loss of 323 lives.

    “The point is symptomatic of the difficulty we face in keeping up with ministers, when short cuts are taken,” noted John Weston, head of the Foreign Office’s defence department, in a secret note a few days after the sinking.


  3. kruitvat Says:

    April 8th, 2013

    Former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher Dead At 87

    Many features of the modern globalised economy – monetarism, privatisation, deregulation, small government, lower taxes and free trade – were all promoted as a result of policies she employed to reverse Britain’s economic decline.
    Above all, in America and in Eastern Europe she was regarded, alongside her friend Ronald Reagan, as one of the two great architects of the West’s victory in the Cold War.
    Of modern British prime ministers, only Lady Thatcher’s girlhood hero, Winston Churchill, acquired a higher international reputation.
    Lady Thatcher published two volumes of memoirs. The first, The Downing Street Years (1993), covered her time as Prime Minister, while the second volume, The Path to Power (1995), concerned her early life. She also published a magisterial volume on international affairs, Statecraft (2002).
    Known as the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher governed Britain from 1979 to 1990.
    She will go down in history not only as Britain’s first female prime minister, but as the woman who transformed Britain’s economy in addition to being a formidable rival on the international stage.
    Lady Thatcher was the only British prime minister to leave behind a set of ideas about the role of the state which other leaders and nations strove to copy and apply.


  4. kruitvat Says:

    Ex-Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher dies, aged 87
    ‘Her government privatised several state-owned industries and was involved in a year-long stand-off with unions during the Miners’ Strike of 1984-5.’

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