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14 April 2013

Thatcher the Marmite Politician

I want to say, honestly, before writing anything else, that Margaret Thatcher always gave me the creeps. She made my skin crawl every time she opened her mouth. She was truly the "Marmite Politician". (For anyone not familiar with Marmite , it's a savoury spread made from yeast extract, and people either love it or hate it). Thatcher produced an equivalent divergence of opinion throughout the UK. I was one of those who hated her, with every fibre of my being.

 I am not such an idiot that I cannot recognise she had some positive qualities, and I am ready to acknowledge that she deserved some credit in certain areas; and I do not subscribe to the current torrent of abuse and vitriol populating the pages of Facebook and Twitter. Nor do I condone the idea of dancing in the streets because someone has died (with the possible exception of Adolph Hitler).  Ironically Thatcher was in part responsible for what has become a more brutalised society that is prepared to indulge in such behaviour. She implied there was no such thing as society, and encouraged an ethos in which the advancement of "self" was the way to go.

So now she has departed this life, it is time not to indulge in vitriolic abuse and bad behaviour. I would like to look back on her time in office dispassionately at why she was such a divisive figure. There were positives and negatives. In my own view (and apparently the view of about 40% of the country) the negatives hugely outweighed the positives. Here is my own (far from exhaustive) list of "positives" and "negatives" ..


1. In 1979, Britain was a basket case. The Trade Unions ran the country, i.e., mostly held it to ransom. Dictatorial union leaders and shop stewards brought their members out on strike at the drop of a hat. We made cars that fell to bits. Our public services were hide bound in inefficiency and bureaucracy. Our power supplies were unreliable.  Domestic rubbish piled up in the streets. The dead were left unburied.

Margaret Thatcher's government introduced controversial legislation to democratize the trade union movement, preventing wildcat strikes and emasculating the powers of individual trade union leaders to pursue their own political interests (which at that time seemed to be driven by an insane belief in the benefits of Communism). In this respect, over the coming years British Industry was able to start functioning again, based on the premise that in order to survive it was necessary to produce goods that other people wanted to buy.

OK - so that's one Positive.

I've only got two others:
2. She was not prepared to countenance the idea that a foreign power could engineer a military take-over of a group of islands in the south Atlantic considered to be British Sovereign territory.  I have always been prepared to consider the counter claim made by Argentina, but to my mind you do not settle it by military invasion, and so Margaret Thatcher did right, in the circumstances of the day, to send a British Task Force to take back the Falklands.

On the back of that successful operation, she was able to secure a second election victory by a grateful nation (which up to then was increasingly wary of everything else she was doing).

3. On the world stage she stood up to any other country's leaders without fear, and usually got her way.

I'm afraid that's the end of my Positives. In my opinion - job done. Thank you and good-bye; sadly not to be.


1. She gave tenants of Council Houses (social housing) the legal right to purchase their home from the Local Authority, at a discounted price. This should have been a Positive (and it was for many people) but it became a Negative because she prohibited Local Authorities from investing the receipts from Council House sales in the building of new homes to rent. The theory, of course, is that property owners seem more likely to vote Conservative, than Council Tenants. Consequently local authorities were piling up huge financial reserves none of which could be used for the very important purpose of providing much-needed homes. That problem is still with us today.

2. She encouraged the closure of great swathes of manufacturing industry, including 99% of the country's coal mines, on the grounds of their financial inefficiency. This was done with such speed and apparent scant regard for the consequences on the hundreds of thousands of people thrown out of work, that the bitterness engendered survives to this day. No thought was given to making these industries efficient and serving the country. Just close them down.

3. Local Council services used to be funded (in addition to government grants) by the imposition of a tax system known as "The Rates". What you paid depended upon the notional "Rateable Value" of your house. The bigger and grander the property, the more you paid. Council tenants were exempt, and if you didn't own property you didn't pay rates. This was clearly unfair and needed reform. Margaret Thatcher's solution was a disaster .. The "Community Charge" - which came to be known as the "Poll Tax". Quite simply this stated that every individual paid a set sum per year, irrespective of whether you were a low-paid worker living in a two-up/two-down Victorian terrace house, or whether you were a member of the "landed gentry" living in a great stately pile on a country estate. Basically the richest man in the country paid the same local taxes as the poorest. Clearly this was no fairer than the system it replaced. It was foisted on Scotland first as an experiment, and then on the rest of the country. It caused social unrest, protests, and riots in the streets.

The legacy of this is that the whole of Scotland can now boast only one Conservative Member of Parliament.

One of the first actions of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative successor was to abolish the "Poll Tax".

Well, it seems I've listed three Negatives and three Positives. I could go on and on with the Negatives but I fear I have gone on for too long already, so I'll leave it here as an even split between good and bad; back to the Marmite analogy!