Thatcher’s death: Thatcher created discord, not harmony


Unlike Margaret Thatcher, miners believed in society

9 April 2013

Miners were the ‘enemy within’. Their communities were targeted for destruction. If there is rejoicing at her death, bear this in mind

In 1984 Britain had 186 working coalmines and approximately 170,000 coalminers. Today we have four coalmines and around 2,000 miners. They lived in close-knit communities built around and based on employment at the local colliery. Miners were a hardy race of people who faced constant danger in the cause of mining coal but underneath that they were caring, sensitive individuals with a commitment to the communities in which they lived. They looked after their old and young as well as those who were ill or infirm.

They built and provided their own welfare facilities and, well before today’s welfare state was built, miners created their own welfare systems to alleviate hardship. They rallied around each other when times were hard. They recognised the need for cohesion when at any time disaster could strike a family unit or indeed a whole community. The latest pit to close, Maltby in Yorkshire, still has a death and general purpose fund to help fellow miners and their families in times of hardship. In short, miners believed in society.

These values were the exact opposite of those Margaret Thatcher espoused. For miners, greed was a destructive force, not a force for good. From the valleys of Wales to the far reaches of Scotland, miners were, by and large, socialists by nature but this was tempered by strong Christian beliefs. Thatcher’s threat to butcher the mining industry, destroy the fabric of mining communities and in particular the trade union to which miners had a bond of loyalty, was met with the fiercest resistance any government has met in peacetime.

For those miners and their families to be referred to as the “enemy within” by Thatcher was something they would never forgive and, if there is rejoicing at her death in those communities she set out to destroy, it can only be understood against this background.

Miners had always known that eventually any of the colleries would close and were always prepared to accept that as a fact of life and find employment somewhere else within the industry, but Thatcher’s attack was wholesale. It was seen for what it was, nothing to do with economics, but purely an attempt to destroy the National Union of Mineworkers by wiping out the entire industry.

Thatcher exposed the sharp edges of class division in Britain and the strike of 1984/5 was as much a clash of values as it was about pit closures. Arthur Scargill and the miners represented the only opposition to the prime minister and her destructive and divisive values and, after the strike, the way was open for the most aggressive neoliberal policies. Thatcher and Reagan went on to facilitate a colossal transfer of wealth from poor to rich, leading to the world economic crash we now witness.

Thatcher was a divisive woman who created discord, not harmony.—–

Photo: Police take action as violence flares with miners at Daw Mill colliery in Warwickshire, UK, in this 1984 file photo. It was a defining moment in British industrial relations, and its defeat significantly weakened the British trades union movement. It was also seen as a major political and ideological victory for Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party.

John Kane, a miner for 37 years and now a guide at the Scottish Mining Museum, south of Edinburgh: ‘The miners’ strike ended 28 years ago and there has been no softening of the anger toward Thatcher.’

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2 Reacties to “Thatcher’s death: Thatcher created discord, not harmony”

  1. kruitvat Says:

    9 April 2013

    Margaret Thatcher promised harmony, but brought only discord

    (Adam Bienkov argues the former prime minister will always remain resented by parts of the country)

    I can still remember the excitement I felt when Margaret Thatcher resigned as prime minister.

    She meant little to me personally. I was just an eight-year-old kid from a south London suburb. She hadn’t closed the local mine. She hadn’t made my parents unemployed.

    But when the news reached my school, we danced in the playground and chanted anti-Thatcher slogans on our way home.

    We hated her. We didn’t really know why, but we did.

    We were not alone. When Margaret Thatcher became prime minister she promised to unite the nation, but in the end she left it more divided than ever before.

    From the start you were either with Maggie or against her. You were either one of “her people” or the “enemy within”.

    History will remember her as a strong leader, but it was a strength that crushed communities. It was a strength that didn’t care.

    Millions were made richer by Thatcherism, but millions were impoverished as well.

    She is remembered as a uniquely capable leader, but her policies often achieved the opposite of what they promised.

    Her policy of monetarism was meant to reduce inflation. In reality it just caused unemployment to rise to heights not seen since the 1930s. Poverty, inequality and homelessness also soared.

    The decline of British heavy industry was probably inevitable. But while other countries managed the decline, Thatcher appeared to relish it.

    The sight of police officers battering miners over the head will live long in the memory.

    The belief that Thatcher just didn’t care about them will live far longer.

    Even in London which benefited more from her policies than anywhere else, many still suffered.

    The City of London expanded but so too did Cardboard City.

    And when the Greater London Council tried to fight against her policies, Thatcher simply abolished it.

    Of course there are many who still dearly love her. Those who benefited from the “yuppie” booms of the eighties have a reverence for her that is sometimes almost religious.

    But the Thatcher booms were built on a sea of cheap oil and personal debt, and we have been living with the consequences ever since.

  2. kruitvat Says:

    The death of a class warrior: Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013)

    Tom Mills 9 April 2013

    Thatcher did not seek to win over ‘hearts and minds’. Rather she attacked the social bases of collective thought and action, making building any alternative unimaginable. Throughout the long span of her life, she was a blue class warrior, through and through.

    … Neoliberalism was, and is, a political project requiring political agency to achieve its hegemony; and in Britain it was Margaret Thatcher more than anyone who was responsible for transforming the neoliberal dreams of men like Hayek and Friedman into a waking political nightmare.

    … In the Grantham of the real world, as opposed to the conservative utopia of Thatcher’s imagination, she will not be fondly remembered. During her premiership several of the town’s manufacturing companies were forced to shut down and the nearby Nottinghamshire coal mines were closed. As Tim Adams has reported, several years ago 85% of the readers of the town’s local paper voted against the erection of a bronze statue of Thatcher

    … Thatcher left Grantham in 1943 having won a scholarship at Somerville College, Oxford and seldom returned. She studied Chemistry and was appointed President of the University’s Conservative Association. After graduating in 1947 she worked for several years as a Research Chemist, first at British Xylonite (BX) Plastics, where she joined a trade union, the Association for Scientific Workers. She then joined the food company J. Lyons and Co., where it is often said that she was involved in the development of soft scoop ice cream. According to Jon Agar though, there is no firm evidence of this.

    In the General Elections of 1950 and 1951, when she was still in her mid-20s, Margaret Roberts, as she was then, stood as the Conservative candidate in the Labour stronghold of Dartford. 1951 was also the year she met, and soon afterwards married, the millionaire businessman Denis Thatcher. Her husband’s financial patronage proved invaluable, allowing her to train as a barrister and eventually to secure a seat in the constituency of Finchley in North London. Yet as Peter Clarkenoted in reviewing her Path To Power, the importance of her husband’s considerable wealth was barely acknowledged by Thatcher. She preferred to dwell on her humble roots as a grocer’s daughter and to imagine that her achievements were attributable to drudgery and self-discipline.

    … Thatcher was first elected to the House of Commons in October 1959. She subsequently held junior posts in the Macmillan Government before becoming shadow spokesperson for education and in 1970 she entered the Cabinet as Education Secretary in Edward Heath’s ill-fated Tory Government. It was in this period that in response to demands for departmental spending cuts she cancelled free school milk, only to be forever taunted with the rhyme ‘Thatcher, Thatcher Milk Snatcher’.

    Heath and Thatcher and were not personally well disposed to each other and along with other members of the Tory hard right she would later come to bitterly resent his supposedly conciliatory politics. As far as the Tory radicals were concerned, Heath had started out on the right track. At a January 1970 meeting at the Selsdon Park Hotel in Surrey, his shadow cabinet and policy team developed a set of reactionary policies designed to curtail the waves of radicalism and popular mobilisations which unnerved the British establishment in the 1960s. They proposed a new law on trespass (designed to combat the direct action protests of the student anti-racist movements) as well as new industrial regulations intended to curtail an increasingly intransigent working class. Meanwhile business and finance was to be deregulated and taxes cut. In words that could have been describing Thatcherism, the Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson condemned the Selsdon policies as ‘an atavistic desire to reverse the course of 25 years of social revolution’ and ‘a wanton, calculated and deliberate return to greater inequality.’

    … If the policies were indeed intended to break with the post-war consensus (and it is not at all clear that they were), then Heath failed where Thatcher later succeeded. Attempts to limit the power of the trade unions ended in humiliating defeat at the hands of the National Union of Mineworkers and Heath’s free market policies were abandoned after Britain’s capitalists in fact showed little interest in investing in British industry. Other economic policies proved equally lamentable. The lifting of administrative controls over bank credit in 1971 (which had been lobbied for by the City of London) engineered a short-lived economic boom concentrated largely in property, which collapsed dramatically with the worldwide economic slump and the subsequent hike in oil prices. In 1974 Heath was essentially forced from office by a newly assertive labour movement after he challenged the unions with the campaigning slogan ‘Who Governs Britain?’ – and lost.

    … Heath stayed on as Conservative Leader after suffering yet another general election defeat to his long term rival Harold Wilson. Meanwhile, Margaret Thatcher and other reactionaries in the Conservative Party, who longed for a spirited counter attack on the labour movement, began to coalesce around the figure of Keith Joseph – Heath’s former Secretary of State for Social Services who shortly after the first 1974 election defeat was apparently converted to the newly ascendant dogma of neoliberalism.

    Neoliberalism had been developed for several decades by a group of intellectuals belonging to an elite organisation called the Mount Pelerin Society. Probably the most influential of their number was the Austrian political economist Friedrich Hayek, who famously argued in The Road to Serfdom that any government intervention in the economy would ultimately lead to authoritarianism. Thatcher first read The Road to Serfdom at university and after his Damascus moment Keith Joseph encouraged her to explore Hayek’s other writings. (After being elected leader Thatcher is said to have brandished a copy of Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty, pronouncing, ‘This is what we believe!’)

    … In the UK Hayek’s ideas had been championed by the Institute of Economic Affairs, a think-tank funded by a millionaire businessman and run by two committed pamphleteers, Ralph Harris and Arthur Seldon. Keith Joseph had been in contact with them both, as well as with other key neoliberal thinkers such as Alan Walters, an economist and a member of the Mount Pelerin Society, and Bill and Shirley Letwin (the parents of the Conservative Minister Oliver Letwin). With the support of these right-wing trailblazers, Thatcher and Joseph together founded a new think-tank called the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), which set out to win over the Conservative Party to neoliberalism. Along with the Institute of Economic Affairs, the CPS became a hub for the New Right, which was now able to operate independently from the official Conservative Party policy machine, which was still aligned to the so called ‘One Nation Conservatism’ associated with Edward Heath and other influential Tories like Chris Patten and James Prior.

    … Thatcher came to lead the hard right faction of the Conservative Party as a result of a remarkably ill-judged speech given by Keith Joseph in October 1974 on the subject of the family and ‘civilised values’. Joseph spoke of a ‘degeneration’ and ‘moral decline reflected and intensified by economic decline’. The poor, he said, should be helped of course, but – and we hear echoes of this today in the speeches of Iain Duncan Smith – ‘to create more dependence is to destroy them morally’. Keith Joseph’s ultimate undoing was a section of the speech in which he said that the ‘balance of our population, our human stock is threatened’ since ‘a high and rising proportion of children are being born to mothers… who were first pregnant in adolescence in social classes 4 and 5.’

    … Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party in February 1975.

    Her media advisor in her leadership campaign was Gordon Reece, a former television producer who had set up a company producing corporate videos and providing media advice to business executives. Thatcher, the supposed ‘conviction politician’, was thoroughly rebranded by Reece, who persuaded her to change her dress sense, posture and even to take elocution lessons. As Germaine Greer has noted, ‘Reece began the long process by which the millionaire’s decorative wife with the fake, cut-glass accent was made over into the no-nonsense grocer’s daughter’. Thatcher herself later recalled: ‘Gordon was terrific. He said my hair and my clothes had to be changed and we would have to do something about my voice. It was quite an education because I had not thought about these things before.’

    … Reece hired the advertising company Saatchi & Saatchi, whose chairman Tim Bell became another key advisor. Together Reece and Bell carefully orchestrated Thatcher’s media appearances and, in a break with the classic Tory strategy, courted the tabloid press, meeting regularly with Larry Lamb of The Sun and David English of the Daily Mail.

    The Sun, which had been owned by Rupert Murdoch since 1969, had for a period maintained a broadly left-wing stance, but by that point had switched its support to the Conservatives and despite having previously been highly critical of Thatcher during her time as Education Minister, had lent her its full support. As James Curran and Colin Leys note, this rightward shift reflected changes to the political economy of the media, which from the 1960s onwards became dominated by large corporations, reversing the trend toward journalist autonomy…..

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