The True Legacy of Margaret Thatcher
Lady Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Britain’s first, and to date only, woman Prime Minister, died in bed following a stroke on 8 April 2013. Since her death there have been many people praising her and complaints about some people celebrating her death. It seems to me that those who are criticising the partying and making sychophantic eulogies never lived under her rule, share her politics, or were either too young or not even born when she was in power. In this article, I seek to redress the balance, to give the reader a true picture of what life in the UK was like under Margaret Thatcher. To demonstrate that far from being the saviour of Britain, she tore the country apart and caused entire communities and even families divided.
When Margaret Thatcher was first elected Prime Minister on 5 May 1979, the UK was in a state of discord. We had gone through the infamous “Winter of Discontent”, racked by strikes and other industrial disputes. In her victory speech, Thatcher quoted Saint Francis of Assisi;
Where there is discord, may we bring harmony.
Where there is error, may we bring truth.
Where there is doubt, may we bring faith.
And where there is despair, may we bring hope.
In reality Thatcher left more discord, she lied and created more error, she sowed doubt and destoyed faith and shattered hopes, leaving only despair.
There are those who try to claim that Margaret Thatcher was not responsible for the mass unemployment which were the hallmark of the 1980s. To say this is to ignore the facts. Thatcher raised taxes, increased interest rates and cut government spending in an effort to reduce inflation. And reduce inflation it did, however this was at a cost of falling Aggregate Demand and lower economic growth. The result of this was by the middle of 1980 the economy had been plunged into full scale recession and unemployment began to rocket. Shipyards, collieries, steelworks and other parts of the, largely nationalised, manufacturing base were deliberately run down and closed to save money. Yet the government still pursued its deflationary policies, even despite disquiet from within her own government and party. Amid calls for a u-turn on her economic policies, at the 1980 Conservative Party Conference, she famously stated ”You turn if you want to, but this lady is not for turning.” During 1981, in a famous letter to the Times, 365 economists signed a letter calling on the government to alter its economic policy and put an end to the recession. Thatcher completely ignored this advice.
This intransigence caused unemployment to rise and rise. At the same time there were rising tensions, not a few of which were based on race, in some inner-city areas. Eventually it boiled over into riots in many places, the most memorable being Brixton in London and Toxteth in Liverpool in 1981. At the same time there had been the peaceful Right to Work marches across the country, under banners with the slogan “Fight for the Right to Work”. Immediately the Tories jumped upon this and attempted to link the two events. At the Conservative Party Conference in 1981, Thatcher’s right-hand man, Norman Tebbit, stated “When my dad was unemployed in the 1930s, he didn’t go about rioting; he got on his bike and went looking for work. And he didn’t stop until he found work.” This infamous statement, which earned him the nickname “On yer bike Tebbit”, the government showed their utter contempt for the unemployed, most of whom had lost their jobs because of the government’s economic policies. Unemployment reached 3.1 million, the highest since the depression of the 1930s, by the end of 1981, and was to stay at over 3 million until 1986.
On 6 January 1982 the Prime Minister’s son, Mark Thatcher, and his co-driver went missing in the Sahara Desert whilst competing in the Paris-Dakar Rally. They were found safe and well six days later. For a Prime Minister who hated public spending, Thatcher had no qualms about taxpayers money spent on finding her son.
By early 1982 Thatcher was the most unpopular Prime Minister ever. She was about to be handed a lifeline.
8000 miles south of the British mainland lie the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic Ocean; a British dependency since 1833, which was always hotly disputed by Argentina, the closest country to the islands, who refer to them as Islas los Malvinas. In 1977 Argentina reiterated these claims and threatened to invade the Falkland Islands. The then Labour Prime Minister, Jim Callaghan, responded by sending two frigates to protect the islands. In 1981 Margaret Thatcher’s Defence Secretary, John Nott, carried out a defence review which saw swinging cuts wherever possible. Part of those cuts were to remove the two frigates protecting the Falkland Islands, despite the admiralty warning the government against this action. On 2 April 1982 Argentine forces landed on and occupied the Falkland Islands. Thatcher immediately responded by sending a task force south. With the right-wing media bolstering a culture of British jingoism, Thatcher’s popularity began to once more climb.
The United Nations Security Council were extremely concerned about the invasion of the Falkland Islands and the day after the invasion passed Resolution 502, calling for Argentine withdrawl and the cessation of hostilities, calling upon both countries to seek a diplomatic solution. To this end the Peruvian government started to draw up peace proposals which they were hopeful both Argentina and the UK would be agreeable to.
On 30 April 1982 the UK government announced the Total Exclusion Zone, which established a 230 mile radius zone from the centre of the Falklands Trough, which no aggressor may enter. The UK stated that under any breach of this, they would exercise Article 51 of the UN Charter and act in self defence. On the same day the Argentine battle cruiser, ARA General Belgrano was spotted in the South Atlantic, apparently sailing towards the TEZ. On the following day, 1 May 1982, intelligence of the Belgrano was passed to Margaret Thatcher, who agreed to a request from Admiral Sir Terence Lewin, the Chief of the Defence Staff, to alter the rules of engagement and allow an attack on the Belgrano outside the TEZ. The submarine HMS Conqueror loosed two torpedoes on the Belgrano, outside of and sailing away from the TEZ, sinking the vessel and killing all 323 aboard.
As well as killing 323 men on a vessel presenting no immediate threat, the sinking of ARA Belgrano broke the ceasefire of UN Resolution 502 and destroyed the Peruvian peace proposals. From then in there was open hostilities between the UK and Argentina (although ironically war was never declared by either country), resulting in the loss of 255 British armed forces personnel, 646 Argentine military and 3 Falkland Islanders. It was probably due to the sinking of the Belgrano that Argentina responded by sinking SS Atlantic Conveyor, a largely unarmed supply ship, with the loss of 12 sailors, on 25 May 1982. British forces who landed on the islands were shocked to find that all too often those soldiers they captured were scared young boys, little more than schoolchildren, conscripted and sent there by the neo-fascist Argentine military junta. Argentine forces surrendered 14 June 1982.
During the war the UK was helped by intelligence from Chile, which was then under the rule of General Augusto Pinochet, under whom more than 30,000 Chileans were killed in brutal circumstances. Thatcher had removed a trade embargo on Chile in 1980. Many years later in 1990, Pinochet was toppled and fled to the UK where Thatcher visited him, thanked him for his help in the Falklands conflict and for “bringing democracy” to Chile. It is quite ironic that Thatcher died on the same day the body of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda was exhumed to have it examined for possible poisoning, believed to have been carried out under Pinochet’s orders.
Of course, the Falklands conflict was all about the right to self-determination of the islanders choosing to be British. Margaret Thatcher herself had stated “The wishes of the islanders are paramount.” Any link to Britain and Argentina squabbling over the natural resources of the South Atlantic was of course purely coincidental. As was the fact that the only company on the islands, the Falkland Islands Company, was at that time a subsidiary of Coalite Charrington, whose then Chief Executive was Dennis Thatcher, husband of the Prime Minister.
After the Falklands conflict, Margaret Thatcher’s popularity was at the highest it would ever be. To keep the jingoism (which many of us found sickening) going, the government organised the Falklands Victory Parade in London, to take place on 12 October 1982. This was supposedly for Thatcher and the nation to thank those who had served in the conflict. One little known fact about the Falklands Victory Parade however is that veterans with any visible injuries were banned from taking part in it. Thatcher didn’t want the UK public to see the realities of the conflict.
In 1983 John Nott’s proposals for the Falklands were abandoned, the islands were highly militarised (outnumbering the islanders) at huge expense to the taxpayer.
Also in 1982, if anyone was still under any illusions about Margaret Thatcher being a feminist icon, she herself stated exactly how she felt about that. In a lecture on women’s rights, she stated “The battle for women’s rights has been largely won. The days when they were demanded and discussed in strident tones should be gone forever. And I hope they are. I hated those strident tones that you still hear from some women’s libbers.” But then, this was also the women who once told her advisor Paul Johnson, “The feminists hate me, don’t they? And I don’t blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison.” Thatcher also boasted that when at home either at 10 Downing Street or Chequers, she never once employed a servant but cooked the evening meal and did the housekeeping herself. She was even once photographed washing dishes. The message was clear; women were supposed to stay at home and be the good little wifey. I think she really missed the sarcasm when Labour MP Barara Castle referred to her within her cabinet as “The best man among them.”
In February 1983 unemployment reached a record 3,224,715, yet the government continued their economic policies which were forcing the closure of many businesses. The larger corporations, however, were able to flourish in this economic climate, whom smaller companies simply could not compete with.
Amid the birth of globalisastion, the car manufacturer Vauxhall launched the Nova supermini, which was assembled outside of the UK in Zaragosa, Spain. This angered unions whose members were losing jobs to the outsourcing of jobs to other countries.
Margaret Thatcher was re-elected on 9 June 1983 with a landslide 144 Conservative seats in parliament (but with only 42% of the popular vote). Having a huge majority was to be a disaster for democracy as it gave the government the belief they could do whatever they wanted.
Thatcher had already introduced a level of privatisation of publicly owned utilities, namely British Aerospace and Cable and Wireless. Her second tenure as Prime Minister was to see a huge drive for privatisation wherever possible. The car manufacturer Jaguar, which had been saved by nationalisation, was sold off, along with the remainder of British Aerospace, Cable and Wireless, and the wholesale sale of British Gas, which was punted to the public in the infamous “Tell Sid” advertising campaign. Today gas suppliers in the UK continually come in for criticism due to regular price hikes, despite making massive profits. It was around this time the new Labour Party leader, Neil Kinnock, accused Thatcher of “selling off the family silver”. On 8 September 1983 parts of the National Health Service (NHS) including cleaning, catering and laundering services were put out to private tender in a move which Social Services Secretary Norman Fowler predicted will save between £90 million and £180 million a year. In the event, it did not. The prices for these services actually rose, but now people were paying directly instead of via the public purse.
On 25 October 1983 US forces invaded Grenada, a British Commonwealth dependency, obstensibly to overthrow “Marxists”. On this occasion it seems that the wishes of the islanders were not paramount. In stark contrast to the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands, Thatcher took no action and remained on friendly terms with her greatest ally, US President Ronald Reagan.
It was no wonder that Thatcher did not wish to upset Ronald Reagan. She had already agreed to replace Britain’s ageing Polaris nuclear deterrent with the US Trident system, plus she had agreed to the placing of US Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCM) with nuclear warheads on UK soil. This was to be under a “dual key” arrangement, whereby the US President and the UK Prime Minister would take the joint decision to launch. Such an arrangement however was constitutionally illegal as it contravened Queen’s Order No.1, which states in wartime the government cabinet shall be in sole control of armed forces.
American GLCMs were a response to the Soviet Union developing the SS20 mobile nuclear missile system, and they were also based in Ronald Reagan’s belief in holding a “limited nuclear war” in the European theatre. This insane belief led one US General to state “We fought World War I in Europe, we fought World War II in Europe and if you are dumb enough to let us, we’ll fight World War III in Europe.” Added to this, by having the ability to take out the enemies arsenal before they could be launched, GLCMs were seen as a first strike weapon, and thereby not a deterrent. Little wonder then that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) reached it’s highest ever membership in 1983 and a CND protest in London on 22 October 1983 attracted over 1 million protestors. American GLCMs arrived at RAF Greenham Common, near Newbury in England on 13 November 1983, amid huge protests from the Greenham Common Womens Peace Camp. A little mention here about Greenham Common. As it became a USAF base, some servicemen there entered into something called “the dollar club”. In this every serviceman who did sentry duty put a dollar into a collection every week, and the first one to shoot a woman peace protestor would win the jackpot. Both the US and UK governments knew of this arrangement and did nothing to deter it. Thankfully, the pot was never won.
From the start Margaret Thatcher had maintained the importance of the family and marriage, and had partially ran her 1983 election campaign under the ticket of “Victorian values” (or “virtues” at time), talking of a traditionalism of family and church (which of course in reality never exsted). The brains behind that campaign had been the then Chairman of the Conservative Party, and Paymaster General to the UK government, Cecil Parkinson. Parkinson was Member of Parliament for first South Hertfordshire, before the 1983 election and Hertsmere after the election. He was a married man with three daughters. Having spearheaded Thatcher’s puritanical election campaign, this paragon of virtue was forced to resign in October 1983 after news broke that his secretary, Sara Keays, was pregnant by him. Cecil Parkinson was to be the first of a number of Thatcher’s ministers who were to fall when it was revealed that they were having extramarital affairs, to the point that “governement sleaze” is one more thing the 1980s is remembered for. Yet with absolute hypocrisy, Thatcher kept banging on about the importance of the family and attacked single mothers at every given opportunity.
In 1984 Thatcher removed the right to Housing Benefit from 16-17 year olds, expecting them instead to stay at home with their parents. There were of course teenagers who could not stay at home due to abuse from family members, some who had been thrown out on the street and some who were in places of care who suddenly found themselves with nowhere to go. Hundreds were made homeless as a result. In 1980 the government had given people the right to buy their council homes, which many jumped at the opportunity to do, not least because of the boast that paying a mortgage was cheaper than paying rent. Those who did so were to find themselves wage slaves, who could not dare take a day off (certainly not to go on strike) because they had to keep up their mortgage payements. By 1983-84 some were realising what they had got themselves into when their banks foreclosed on their mortgages, and with their being no “Security of Tenure” rule on private housing, they soon also found themselves homeless. Homelessness was further exacerbated by the failure to build more social housing, creating a shortage which remains a problem across the whole of the UK to this day.
The previous Conservative before Margaret Thatcher was Edward (“Ted”) Heath, who was elected in 1970. In 1974 he refused to raise miner’s pay and planned to close certain collieries. At that time the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) went on a national strike which led to power cuts and a huge loss of industry. It is widely believed that this strike brought down Ted Heath’s government. The NUM reached an agreement with the nationalised National Coal Board (NCB) after the 1974 strike to safeguard jobs.
Margaret Thatcher had been opposed to this agreement and was also a strong proponent of nuclear power, seeing it as the obvious replacement for coal fired power stations. Not as many may think today for any environmental reasons but rather to break the power of the NUM. In late 1983 she appointed Ian MacGregor as Chairman of the NCB. In March 1984 MacGregor announced that the post 1974 agreements were obsolete and that the NCB was going to embark upon the closure of 20 collieries, with the loss of 20,000 jobs across the UK. The result was to be a national miner’s strike.
Many things have been said about the miner’s strike and many have laid blame at the door of NUM President Arthur Scargill. It is worth noting however that what became a national strike started with small pockets of strikes here and there, decided by miners themselves, many of whom were NUM miners and some who belonged to other unions, or none at all. It was not until 12 March 1984 that Scargill announced that these strikes were to be galvanised into a national action. There can be no doubt however that the entire thing had been planned to provoke a strike. It was not known at the time but Thatcher had ordered the stockpiling of coal at power stations (doesn’t sound very much like an environmentalist move to me), and Scargill and the miners took the bait. The 1974 strike took place in the winter, but in 1984 the country was just coming into spring in what was to be one of the hottest years on record. This stockpiled coal was further supplemented from Poland and Russia (so much for Thatcher being against the Soviets – and thanks for nothing Mr Gorbechev).
The 1984 miners strike quickly became acrimonious and Thatcher and her mouthpiece, the media, did their utmost to portray the striking miners as violent thugs. With pockets of violence occurring on some picket lines, thing culminated in the “Battle of Orgreave” on 18 June 1984 when 5000 police on horseback baton charged around the same number of striking miners, inflicting brutal injuries. After Orgreave, Thatcher stated “There are those who are using violence and intimidation to impose their will on others who do not want it…. The rule of law must prevail over the rule of the mob.” Arthur Scargill’s response was “We’ve had riot shields, we’ve had riot gear, we’ve had police on horseback charging into our people, we’ve had people hit with truncheons and people kicked to the ground…. The intimidation and the brutality that has been displayed are something reminiscent of a Latin American state.” There have been many accusations on both sides, including that soldiers and hired thugs were dressed up in police uniforms. Rules brought in by Thatcher against “secondary picketing” and “flying pickets” (people not directly involved with a particular strike travelling to it) saw the freedom of movement of miners being restricted and miners being harrassed and receiving violent treatment at the hands of the police. There was of course violence on the part of some miners, and one incident saw a taxi driver who was driving a strike-breaking miner to work killed, for which two miners were convicted of manslaughter. History however has come down on the side of the miners. In 1991 South Yorkshire Police were forced to pay £425,000 compensation to 39 miners for wrongful arrest at Orgreave. If anyone should doubt that the police ever baton charged peaceful, unarmed, picketing miners, I can assure them that I saw it with my own eyes when I was helping to distribute food donations to striking miners at Bilston Glen Colliery, Midlothian, Scotland.
There is no doubt that the 1984 miners strike was a carefully orchestrated political action by Margaret Thatcher to destroy the NUM, the most powerful union in the land. Former head of British security service MI5, Stella Rimington, admitted in her autobiography that she and others embarked upon covert operations against the NUM leadership, including phone tapping and “counter-subversion” exercises. It was probably from these that a smear against Arthur Scargill grew, suggesting that he had met with Lybian leader Colonel Gadaffi. Many miners arrested maintained that police had questioned them over their political affiliations. As far back as 1980, the government had changed the law on benefits, which meant that families of strikers could not apply for a “Special Needs” payment and the same clause also allowed for a compulsory deduction from strikers pay. In August 1984 two miners, maintaining that the NUM had called a strike without a ballot (not true, it had started from a pocket of ballots) took the union to court over this and won their case. Scargill personally was ordered to pay £1000 and the NUM to pay the ridiculous amount of £200,000. When the NUM refused to pay, that was the courts’ signal to sequestrate their assets. However the NUM had moved their assets abroad, making them difficult to get at. Nonetheless, by February 1985 some £5 million of NUM assets had been seized, leading to further hardship for the strikers and their families.
The long strike, leading to hungry families, was all too much. With a great many men having no choice but to return to work, the strike was formally ended on 5 March 1985. The aftermath was to be much more disastrous than the 20 pits closed. Many being untended had fallen into disrepair and had to be closed for safety reasons. It was effectively the end of the deep mining industry in the UK, and nobody will convince me that is not what Thatcher intended from the outset. She gloated for years to come of her victory over the miners, and never showed one iota of sorrow for the men who lost their jobs, the families she had left hungry, or the communities which the strike tore apart.
The official figures speak for themselves. Ten people were killed in the strike. One was the taxi driver David Wilkie, six were striking miners and three were teenagers who were killed when they were engulfed by coal when they were trying gather some from a slag heap in the winter of 1984, in a desperate attempt to help heat their families homes.
In the middle of all this another significant event happened, the 1984 Conservative Party Conference took place in Brighton. As you have seen, Thatcher hated spending public money and cut it back wherever possible. Which makes one wonder just why Brighton then was crawling with police and armed forces and a frigate was offshore, especially considering this was a party, event, not a governmental one. Not that it made any difference. On the night of 12 October 1984 a long delay time bomb, planted by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) exploded in the Grand Hotel, Brighton, where Thatcher and other delegates were staying, killing five people and injuring 31, including Norman Tebbit. Thatcher narrowly escaped any harm. I personally condemned this action, as I always shall do. Had the IRA been successful, they would have made a martyr out of Thatcher, which I for one would never have wanted. Bad enough she is now being lauded as some sort of demigod.
Also in 1984 Margaret Thatcher went to Oman to lobby for the British company Cementation to be given the £300 million contract to build a university there. The following day she was joined by her son, Mark, whom at the time no-one was aware was actually the Consultant for Cementation. This was the largest of a series of allegations of Mark Thatcher using his mother’s position and influence to seal his business contracts.
Margaret Thatcher always resisted pressure to impose economic sanctions upon South Africa when they still imposed apartheid. The UK at the time was South Africa’s biggest trading partner and British companies operated within the former colony. At this time former African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela was still languishing in jail, where he had been since 1967. Thatcher continually referred to Mandela, who would go on to be South Africa’s first black president and a world class statesman as “a common terrorist”. In March 1984, four white South Africans were arrested in Coventry, remanded in custody, and charged with contravening the UN arms embargo, which prohibited exports to South Africa of military equipment. Thatcher took a personal interest in this and had daily reports about the case sent to 10 Downing Street. Within a month the four were released and allowed to travel to South Africa under the understanding that they would return to the UK later that year for trial. In June 1984 Margaret Thatcher received a state visit from South African President Pik Botha, which was roundly condemned by the opposition and everyone else opposed to apartheid. In August of that year Botha refused to allow the “Coventry Four” to return to the UK, preferring instead to forfeit £200,000 bail money put up by the South African embassy in London.
In July 1985 Thatcher, citing the support of Helen Suzman, a South African anti-apartheid MP, claimed that economic sanctions against Pretoria would be immoral because they would make thousands of black workers unemployed. Claiming instead that industry could be used as the instrument for destroying apartheid. This opposition to sanctions was challenged by visiting anti-apartheid activists, including South African bishop Desmond Tutu, whom she met in London, and Oliver Tambo, exiled leader of the ANC. She distrusted the latter, however, again on the grounds that the ANC to her mind were “terrorists” and because of Oliver Tambo’s links to soviet bloc countries (which is obviously wrong unless you are importing coal from them).
Thatcher definitely overstretched herself over the matter of economic sanctions against South Africa. At the 1985 Commonwealth Conference, some leaders of British Commonwealth countries (former British Empire countries who maintain friendship with the UK)including Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, that her opposition to sanctions threatened the existence of the Commonwealth. Thatcher caved in and allowed limited sanctions against South Africa. However, in return a total embargo of South Africa was rejected and restrictions imposed by other Commonwealth nations lessened.
In April 1985 Defence Secretary Michael Heseltine voiced his support for a European-based takeover of Westland, the UK’s only surviving helicopter manufacturer, which he insisted would safeguard British jobs. Margaret Thatcher and her Trade and Industry Secretary Leon Brittan instead favoured a take over by the US firm Sikorsky. Heseltine was opposed to the offer from Sikorsky and called a conference of the National Armaments Directors (NAD) of Britain, France, Italy and West Germany to sign a document which would commit each country to only purchase helicopters designed and manufactured in Europe. Thatcher and Brittan held to the view that it was up to Westland, not the government, as to which bid was preferable to them. Two cabinet meetings took place in December 1985 over the Westland affair, where Brittan stated that NADs objections should be ignored. At the second meeting Thatcher refused to listen further on the grounds that Westland had already accepted the Sikorsky bid. On 12 December Heseltine attempted to discuss Westland without warning in a cabinet meeting and Thatcher stated she had no intention discussing the matter. This angered Heseltine who claimed that a he had been given to understand a meeting over Westland had been convened. Thatcher flatly denied this.
In January 1986, despite claims of no governmental interference, Thatcher wrote to Westland Chairman Sir John Cuckney, assuring him of her government’s support. Michael Heseltine had wanted to include less supportive views, but Thatcher disallowed this. Heseltine then received a letter from Lloyds Bank, claiming that should the Sikorsky bid go ahead, Westland risked losing European orders. He promptly leaked this letter to the press. When Thatcher learned of this leak, she referred the matter to the Solicitor General, Sir Patrick Mayhew. Mayhew replied to Heseltine, claming inaccuracies in the letter. This letter from Mayhew was then leaked to the Press Association. The Attorney-General, Sir Michael Havers, took a stern view of leaks and threatened to resign if an official inquiry was not set up to look into it. Thatcher agreed to do this. At a further cabinet meeting on 9 January, Thatcher stated that all answers relating to Westland should be cleared through the Cabinet Office. Nicholas Ridley stated that this should include past as well as present and future statements, to which Thatcher agreed. Heseltine, arguing that Cabinet collective responsibility should be observed, stated that he and other ministers should be allowed to reaffirm past statements. Thatcher disagreed and it was at that point Michael Heseltine exploded with anger and walked out of the cabinet room, out of No.10 Downing Street and immediately announced his resignation to awaiting media. Within hours he had penned a 2500 word letter outlaying his reasons for walking out of the government, stating that Thatcher was to blame and that she and her cabinet had gravely damaged collective responsibility. This anger was to rankle within Michael Heseltine and he was to take his revenge a few years later.
On 27 October 1986, Margaret Thatcher created a Frankenstein’s monster when she imposed measures to suddenly took measures to deregulate the stock market, including abolition of fixed commission charges and of the distinction between stockjobbers and stockbrokers on the London Stock Exchange and change from open-outcry to electronic, screen-based trading. This event became known as the Big Bang because of the increase in market activity. The Big Bang, a cornerstone of Thatcherite ideology, created a new class of nouveau riche, who got rich too quick and without consideration for others who stood in their way. She was not alone of course. It was the era of the yuppie and of “Gordon Gekko, greed is good” capitalism. But then, Thatcher was a huge fan of “Reaganomics” The Big Bang inevitably led to a loss of ethics within the financial industry, which ultimately led to the banking crises of the 1990s and early 21st century, which in turn has led to the disastrous financial climate of the present day.
Margaret Thatcher won a third election victory on 11 June 1987. This was not through any real popularity of her party or policies but rather through the intransigence of other parties. Undoubtedly one major failing of the Labour Party was that they had adopted a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament, which the Tories made the most of by spreading scare stories and propaganda in the media. The main reason for a Conservative victory however was the rise of the centrist Social Democratic Party (SDP)-Liberal alliance, which split the opposition vote and thereby allowed the Conservatives to win with a reduced majority.
Buoyed by this success, Thatcher embarked on her most aggressive policies of privatisation, which saw British Steel, British Petroleum, Rolls Royce, British Airways all sold, as well as the public utilities of water and electricity. The latter met with fierce opposition, particularly as in England & Wales it meant water being metered (because Scotland had a different water rates system, metering did not apply). It is nowadays believed that such opposition was the only thing which prevented Thatcher’s government from introducing further privatisation within the NHS.
The 1980s had seen HIV infection reach epidemic proportions in the UK and Margaret Thatcher’s handling of this crisis was particularly haphazard. Not helped at all by Thatcher’s health minister, Edwina Currie (one of the few women she appointed to her cabinet) stating in February 1987 that “Good Christians won’t get AIDS.” The first Conservative reaction to HIV/AIDS had been particularly homophobic and had only gone as far as suggesting that gay men practice abstaining from sex. Some commentators have claimed that Thatcher dealt humanely and sensibly with HIV. I would counter that early preconceptions about the disease, homophobia, and ignorance led to an explosion in cases in the late 1980s. Things were certainly not helped by the right-wing media labelling it a “gay plague”, which gave the general heterosexual population the misconception that they were somehow immune. And that of course was exactly what Edwina Currie was suggesting, and which her boss, Thatcher, did nothing to dissuade her from saying, nor did she ever counter that statement. This was to prove disastrous as people contracted HIV from sharing needles when injecting drugs, from blood transfusions and of course from heterosexual intercourse.
In late 1986 a government committee on AIDS was set up under William Whitelaw, the Deputy Prime Minister. In early 1987 an advertising campaign was launched, “AIDS – Don’t die of Ignorance”, with leaflets delivered to every household in the UK and television commercials. This campaign has been much lauded. However, even it stated that HIV had previously been confined to “small groups” but was spreading. The inference was still clear that HIV was a “gay plague”. The adverts themselves were morbid and the leaflets misleading. One thing that did come out of the government committee however was that the government was forced into a climbdown on it’s condemnation of the gay community.
But then, Thatcher proved herself to be homophobic at the 1987 Conservative Party Conference, when she stated that “Children who need to be taught traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay… …All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life, yes, cheated.” And the following year she was to act upon that.
What a pity Margaret Thatcher could not have instilled “traditonal moral values” within her party and government. Margaret Thatcher had appointed popular author and Conservative MP for Louth, Jeffrey Archer to the post of Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party in September 1985. This move had been against advice and misgivings from former Prime Minister Ted Heath and two of her closest confidantes, Norman Tebbit and William Whitelaw. He was certainly responsible for a great many gaffes, including one in which he suggested that unemployed young people weren’t willing to find work, at a time when unemployment stood at 3.4 million. He later apologised, claiming his words had been taken out of context, but Margaret Thatcher never once made any apology for Archer’s statement. In October 1986 Archer, a married man, was forced to resign due to allegations in the Daily Star newspaper that he had paid for sex via an intermediary with prostitute Monica Couhglan. Archer sued the newspaper, claiming that his payment to Coughlan was an act of philanthropy rather than the actions of a guilty man. Amazingly, he won his case and the Daily Star was forced to pay Jeffrey Archer £500,000 damages. However, in 1999 he was tried for perjury during the 1987 trial, found guilty and sentenced to four years imprisonment.
It was only to come out years later that around this time, John Major, who would go on to succeed Thatcher as Prime Minister and Edwina Currie, both married to others, were having an extramarital affair. So much for Victorian Virtues.
Thatcher’s government remained staunchly homophobic, and this was never more prevalant when the Local Government Act was passed in 1988 with it’s inclusion of the notorious Section 28. This odious legislation stated that no local authority was permitted to:
a. Intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality.
b. Promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.
This effectively made it illegal for school teachers, counsellors, or any other local government employee to tell any young person that homosexuality was natural. Thereby, it meant that homosexual youngsters had no-one to turn to and it further entrenched homophobic reactions among heterosexual young people. Teachers were afraid to even bring the subject up and some gay groups within schools, colleges and universities were closed down when their legality was questioned.
Margaret Thatcher was yet to introduce her most disastrous legislation yet, the Community Charge. This had been her own brainchild when she was Shadow Environment Secretary in 1974. The right-wing Centre for Policy Studies had looked at the Community Charge and shelved it as “unworkable”. The basis of the tax was to discard with property rates and instead charge a flat rate tax for every adult of voting age in a household, which led to it being labelled the “Poll Tax”. Under the auspices of the Poll Tax, a single person in an expensive home would pay exactly the same as each adult in shared, cramped accommodation. To put it in other words, the Lord or Laird living alone in his mansion or castle paid exactly the same amount as each individual employed person cramped into shared flats and bedsits. Some claimed that the Poll Tax was fair in that it abolished the rates. This ignored one basic fact; rates were included in the rents of many in council or privately-rented properties.
To add insult to injury, it was decided not to implement uniformly across the UK but to test the measures in Scotland first. This was completely contrary to the Treaty of Union of 1707, which clearly states that at no time shall Scotland and England be taxed separately. Scotland had made their feelings perfectly clear in the 1987 general election, when the number of Conservative MPs north of the border had been slashed to ten; the Tories worst showing in Scotland since before the First World War. There was also not one local authority at the time ruled by the Conservatives. As a result, many Scots felt that a government imposed upon Scotland which they never voted for was introducing taxation without representation.
The Poll Tax was implemented in Scotland from 6 April 1989, start of the financial year, and it was in Scotland therefore that the protests started. A great many people simply refused to pay under a protest with the slogan, “Can’t pay, won’t pay.” This led to those in debt being visited by bailiffs and poindings (pronounced “pindings” – a term in Scots Law) carried out on articles on their households which could be seized and sold to recover the debt. The Anti-Poll Tax Union (APTU) organised a mass protest of non-payment, which advised people on just what could and could not be pinded by bailiffs, as well as the legalities of allowing them entry to properties. Added to this the nature of the shared house market meant that not even the landlord knew exactly who was living there; tenants were replaced, and may have shared a “single” room with their partner. So the local council had no idea who was living where and when. All of this made collection of payments almost impossible. Sadly however, the “Poll Tax” was to live up to it’s name as there were instances of people not registering themselves on the electoral register to avoid payment. This of course also meant that they lost their right to vote, and it has long been considered by myself and others that this was the original intention of the implementation of the Community Charge.
Much has been said of the “Poll Tax Riots”, particularly by the media. In fact, “riots” were few and far between. The worst was a violent confrontation between protestors and police in Trafalgar Square, London, on 31 March 1990, a week before the charge was implemented in England and Wales, where there was mass looting and building site huts set alight. The government had a field day with this, condemning the protestors, as did their mouthpiece, the media. Some in the media even went as far as to blame Scots for the violence. This was an utter lie. There was also a protest in George Square, Glasgow, on the same day (which I attended), which passed without incident or as much as one arrest. In fact, there were a great many Poll Tax protests in Scotland and all passed without one arrest or incidence of violence.
Throughout all of Margaret Thatcher’s time in government, she had constantly had Sir Geoffrey Howe by her side. He had served her as Chancellor of the Exchequer (1979-1983), Foreign Secretary (1983-1989) and Deputy Prime Minister (1989-1990). An unremarkable, quiet, ineffectual, little man, the British political broadcaster Sir Robin Day had once referred to interviewing Geoffrey Howe as “…like being savaged by a dead sheep.” Thatcher no doubt considered Howe to be a faithful little lapdog. In 1990, the worm was to suddenly turn. Thatcher had unexpectedly replaced Howe with the little-known John Major as Foreign Secretary in July 1989 and made Howe Deputy Prime Minister. Far from an upwards move, this was widely regarded as a demotion. This was not helped by Thatcher’s secretary, Sir Bernard Ingham, publicly deriding the post of Deputy Prime Minister in front of Howe and the rest of the cabinet. Howe was weakened politically and this was not helped when a principal ally of his, Nigel Lawson, resigned the same year after Thatcher refused to listen to his advice over UK membership of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. This resignation saw John Major become Chancellor of the Exchequer.
There were already whisperings among her cabinet of Margaret Thatcher’s attitude to government, and her refusal to listen to her ministers over the way the Poll Tax was damaging the government. Added to this Margaret Thatcher’s handling of matters within the EU were felt to be damaging to many Europhiles within the government. In October 1990 she attended the European Council in Rome, declaring (some say without consulting her cabinet) that the UK would never join a European single currency. The following week, on 1 November 1990, Geoffrey Howe shocked the nation and the political world by suddenly announcing his resignation. In his resignation speech he blamed differences between him and the Prime Minister over the handling of European affairs and stated, using a cricketing metaphor, “It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only for them to find, as the first balls are being bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain.” He then called upon other ministers to “consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long”. The night of the long knives had started. The following day Michael Heseltine, who had never forgotten the Westland Affair, announced his bid for leadership of the Conservative Party. Thatcher won the first ballot but Heseltine gained enough votes to force a second ballot. At first Thatcher was determined to face Heseltine in a second ballot but following a consultation with her cabinet, decided to withdraw. Following her final speech in the house of commons, she resigned as Prime Minister on 22 November 1990, and left 10 Downing Street in tears. She was replaced as leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister by her Chancellor, John Major, whom she nominated for the second ballot.
These were just some of the things Margaret Thatcher was responsible for. After she left office, much more was to emerge about her excesses during her time in office. She attacked the poorest of the poor, the weakest of the weak. The antithesis of a Robin Hood philosophy, she stole from the poor to give to the rich. She attacked anyone who did not fit into her white, ruling-class, Christian philosophy, including the poor, the working class, single and unmarried mothers, the LGBT community and many more. She abused and manipulated parliamentary democracy and instituted legislation that was both unfair, bigoted, and possibly illegal.
She was no feminist icon. Far from it, she set the cause of women’s rights back decades. The worst excesses of Margaret Thatcher mean that the UK will probably never again see a woman Prime Minister in our lifetime.
She was a vicious, tyrannical egomaniac and a bully who would use any means to get her own way and put down anyone who opposed her. Her megalomania ultimately became apparent even to those within her own party and government. And when she pushed them too far, they fought back. She saw her removal from office as a “betrayal” but ultimately Margaret Thatcher was the architect of her own downfall.
She undoubtedly changed Britain, but not for the better. Before she was elected in 1979 there were caring communities and hope. By the time she had left in 1990 she had torn communities apart and created a culture of “me first, second and last”, where greed and gain at any cost are seen as virtues. And what followed was no better. After John Major came Tony Blair, who pursued a Thatcherite agenda. When he was elected in 1997 one of the first things Blair did was invite Margaret Thatcher to No. 10 for advice on being Prime Minister. When Gordon Brown succeeded him in 2007, he did exactly the same thing. And the present Conservative/Lib-dem coalition government under David Cameron, with their constant cutbacks and the implementation of the Welfare Reform Act, including it’s “bedroom tax”, looks set to repeat all the same failed policies of Margaret Thatcher. It’s the same tired old shit in a shiny new bucket.
Margaret Thatcher shall certainly be remembered, but among a great many of us for all the wrong reasons. I despised her while she was alive and I shall not make a hypocrite of myself now. Do not ask me to respect her. I reserve my respect for the millions whose lives she destroyed, and the millions who suffer unto this day because of the culture she created.