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The fight against Thatcherism must go on

Yesterday, at 12.02, the anarchist Ian Bone wrote on his blog “Thatcher died this morning”. Moments after it hit Twitter and Facebook, though, as always, it was taken with a pinch of salt. That was until the BBC and Sky broke the news on its airwaves – the former Prime Minister had died, this was no longer a baseless rumour.

It is the humble opinion of this author that April 8, 2013 should mean nothing to the left, though. While parties were ongoing until the early hours yesterday, in Brixton, Glasgow and other places, and Trafalgar Square will host, against its will, a street party to mark the death of the controversial politician, July 30, 2011 should be the day we rejoice.

On that day the Baroness’ pipsqueak of a son, Sir Mark Thatcher, confirmed to Telegraph journalist Tim Walker that his Mother’s office in the House of Lords had been closed down.

This marked the date when Thatcher withdrew from public life, and holds none of the crass baggage that celebrating her death does.

However if celebrating this day in July, rather than the one in April, doesn’t fill you with much cause for celebration, that may be because her political legacy lives on. Thatcherism.

Asked to sum up exactly what that means, Nigel Lawson, Thatcher’s Chancellor, once described Thatcherism as:

Free markets, financial discipline, firm control over public expenditure, tax cuts, nationalism, ‘Victorian values’ (of the Samuel Smiles self-help variety), privatisation and a dash of populism.

Thatcher will be remembered by many as the Prime Minister who brought in section 28, a homophobic law which barred the “promotion” of homosexuality or homosexual relations as equal to heterosexual ones, but even David Cameron has apologised for this.

Many of the Victorian values that she turned in to public policy have been overturned, either as embarrassing, out of date or both. What remains, unchallenged by today’s political elite, is her economic ideology.

As Simon Jenkins writes of her today: “As leader she was initially hyper-cautious … She was an ardent pro-European, and her 1979 manifesto made no mention of radical union reform or privatisation. It was thoroughly ‘wet’.

This is often forgotten; but what ought to remind us on the left, of why we should oppose and continue the fight against Thatcherism today, comes from Milton Friedman: “the thing that people do not recognise is that Margaret Thatcher is not in terms of belief a Tory. She is a nineteenth-century Liberal.”

Ironically, given the rhetoric Tories use to dismiss the European Union today, it was Thatcher herself who created the grounds where the EU could flourish in the UK. In ruthlessly destroying the lives of many miners during the 1980s, as well as so much else of the British workforce, she weakened the industrial base of the country. While the good of job security and national industry were common sense to workers and unions, Thatcher — who visualised herself more as an empire leader — had more radical plans in mind.

Thatcher destroyed the public sector and brought about neo-liberalism while modelling a new workforce; the unskilled worker. A skilled workforce in many industrial trades, at a time where there was virtually full employment, was not the type of economic model that would gain Thatcher her standing in Europe. Furthermore, while Enoch Powell warned of the rivers of blood, Thatcher’s capitalism required as many workers as possible (too many if necessary, to keep unemployed workers as back-up to drive down wages and undercut unions). The best way to sustain this model was to free up trade, movement and exploit the immigrant workforce – a set of principles which has been written into every European Union treaty from Maastricht to Lisbon.

The fight against Thatcherism must go on, but we must remember why it goes on. Not because Thatcher embodies all of the left’s prejudices, but because she was a pro-EU Liberal.

One Comment

  1. Chris says:

    Well, liberal in a very anachronistic sense. Not liberal in a way most liberals were in the 20th century. A liberal in the 19th century may be a conservative in the 20th, because times moved on.

    And in terms of her authoritarian statism, she was certainly no liberal.

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