In 1997, the re-branded Labour Party were the winners. For the next 13 years, much was said about the legacy of Margaret Thatcher and Thatcherism. Everyone, especially those born in the late 90s - the young people of today - were bombarded with tales of horror and emotive stories of milk grabbing, mine closing, factory shutting, warmongering, racist and misogynistic Tories. The Left of course had at their disposal, the press, state television, a fast growing public sector, unions still smarting from the decade past, teaching unions and swathes of the population demobbed from dying sunset industries. In the "Things Can Only Get Better" era, misinformation was easy to peddle. Half-truths and selective memories were fixed into hearts and minds as true historical fact. An entire generation would grow up with an inherited hatred and the Nasty Tory meme seeped deep into the psyche of a nation.
This is not to say everything about Margaret and the then Conservatives was perfect. Politics never is. Democracy doesn't work that way. I will not dwell on the negatives - there is no need. We have been subjected to it for long enough and those arguments will continue for decades to come. There is not a single politician on the face of this planet that isn't above reproach. Saints do not become leaders of state. Here, I will talk about the circumstances surrounding the Britain Margaret Thatcher inherited. The part BEFORE Left-wing history lessons about Margaret Thatcher begin.
This is the prequel.
- Britain in the 1970s was in total chaos. In 1979 alone, 12 million days were lost as a result of strikes. Power cuts were widespread and frequent. Homes and businesses had to use candles to light their rooms. If you picked up the phone and your neighbour was on it, you had to put it down and wait.
- Industry was in terminal decline, pretty much all over Europe. In 1980, state owned British Steel lost £545 million had £5 billion in debts written off (paid for by taxpayers of course). Against this backdrop, unions went on strike for a 20% rise in wages.
- Bin bags piled high. Dead bodies remained unburied. The State was excessive. Watch this short video clip. Government owned our phones, many of our homes, our airline, our energy companies, our recovery services and paid scant regard to how much things cost. The taxpayer would foot the bill. Personal taxes were as high as 83%.
- The Government even controlled how much money we could take out of the country when we went on holiday.
- Unemployment in 1980 was 2.24 million.
- Britain was facing double digit inflation which seemed to be the norm, an almost accepted feature of British economics. Under Callaghan's Labour government, inflation peaked at 26%. By 1979 it was still stuck stubbornly at 17% and crippling our economy. One restaurant owner said, "We couldn't even print our menus; the prices changed every week."
- The Miner's Strike will always be associated with Margaret Thatcher in government. Yet the simple economics of the problem prove that it couldn't have been avoided. Harold Wilson, the former Labour Prime Minister, closed three times as many pits as Margaret Thatcher, rendering many times as many miners unemployed. You don't hear that in the anti-Thatcher tirades you've grown up with. Thatcher inherited an industry rendered uncompetitive and inefficient by successive government failure and the forces of globalisation. It is extremely difficult to justify the continued subsidy of an industry losing, in those days, £250 million per year. 264 pits closed between 1957 and 1963. 346,000 miners left the industry between 1963 and 1968. In 1967 alone there were 12,900 forced redundancies. Under Wilson one pit closed every week. By the time the Tories were elected into power, mining production had fallen by two thirds. At one point, the industry was losing £1.2 million per day. Its interest payments amounted to £467 million for the year and the National Coal Board needed a grant of £875 million from the taxpayer. The Monopolies and Mergers Commission found that 75 percent of British pits were losing money.
- Subsidies and other industrial policies were attempted, yet the fate of mining was already decided years before Thatcher became Prime Minister. Margaret Thatcher simply turned off the expensive, taxpayer-funded, life machine. Of course, the impact on specific communities was tangible and deep, but a British Prime Minister had to put the national interest first.
- The welfare state that Left are so proud of couldn't function under the above circumstances, just as it can't today - but that is another story for another day. In the 60s and 70s it was mainly sustained by the overhang from the Industrial Revolution and British colonialism - the exploitation and impoverishment of a billion plus people and their resources - the out-of-sight-out-of-mind people living in remote villages all over the world, which goes a long way in explaining the guilt Left wingers always find themselves saddled with. That party had ended. We'd given up on the Commonwealth and embraced Europe. No longer would colonies, now former colonies like India, be expected to provide cheap raw materials. Margaret Thatcher was, perhaps the first person to acknowledge that.
- European journalists regularly labelled Britain the 'sick man of Europe'. The firemen's strike leading to a State of Emergency, Grunwick strike, Ford strike and lorry drivers' strike within just two years of Callaghan's reign. There was a defeatism, a sense of inevitable decline. A notion that Britain would never be as great as it once was. This consensus was incredibly damaging for the British economy which continued to skydive but also British society.
- Meanwhile, on the world stage, communism was bringing untold misery to millions in Eastern Europe.
There was no hope. No patriotism. No aspiration. One woman sought to change this.
Here's what happened then:
Real wages in Britain between 1979-1994, according to Access to History Britain 1945-2007, rose by 26%. This is compared to just 2% in France and 3% in West Germany. The United States suffered a 7% fall in real wages. Sky News reported figures which showed average earnings rocketed by 181% under Margaret Thatcher compared to 61% in the 11 years previous.
Everyone became wealthier under Thatcher, including the poor. The Institute for Fiscal Studies states that median earnings rose faster under Margaret Thatcher than they did under John Major or under Blair's credit-fuelled artificial boom of his second and third terms of office.
Britain grew by 23%. We grew faster than our main competitors, comfortably quicker than France or Germany. Borrowing fell from around 4% of GDP to 1%. Debt, as a percentage of GDP, fell from the high 40s to 26%. Thatcher presided over a net jobs increase of 1.6 million. We were parachuted to being the world's fourth largest economy. British factories boosted their output by 7.5pc between the second quarter of 1979 and the third quarter of 1990, when she left Downing Street, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Unemployment in 1980, as I said above, was 2.24 million; by 1990 it was 1.85 million.
In 1979, the number of firms was 1.89 million; by 1989 it was 3.09 million. The number of people self-employed rose from 1.91 million to 3.5 million within the same period. Thatcher created a situation where businesses and individuals strived to make a better life for themselves.
Her Right To Buy policy gave millions of ordinary people the chance to own their own home, a stake in society. This unleashed the aspirations of many, urging them to get a better life for themselves. Home ownership grew by 2.5 million under Thatcher and continued to rise. This was fundamentally a "property owning democracy". This is the case for many aspirational working people.
Given the transformation and modernisation of the British economy under Thatcher, with inflation tamed and aspiration ignited, perhaps Nissan or other manufacturers who operate in the North today would not have invested had we continued with the strike ravaged, union-run Britain which Thatcher inherited in 1979.
In 1984, Energy Minister Peter Walker put forward a package of voluntary redundancies and an £800 million investment in mining, and said “I think this meets every emotional issue the miners have. And it’s expensive, but not as expensive as a coal strike”. Thatcher replied: "You know, I agree with you." Scargill rejected this pragmatism and led his union towards categorical defeat. It is important to recognise that Arthur Scargill was totally unreasonable in the negotiations over this dispute and he is to blame for the bitterness and ill-feeling of this conflict. His attitude was dogmatic and ideological. When asked how much a pit could make in losses before it was closed, he commented “the loss is without limits”. This demonstrates the unreasonable and uneconomic nature of his position. The culpability for the social impact of the Miner's Strike does not rest with Mrs Thatcher or her Ministers, but a militant Marxist union leader.
Famously declaring at an EU summit in Dublin, "I want our money back", Margaret Thatcher fought tirelessly for Britain within Europe. To this date, Margaret Thatcher's EU rebate has saved this country's taxpayers some £75 billion.
|Time Cover Credit: Michael Leonard|
In forging a close relationship with President Reagan, Britain's place in the world rose sharply. Her bold and unwavering 'peace through strength' stance against the oppressive communism of the Soviet Union was regularly tested, yet she was unflinching. There was a real worry at the time that a nuclear war was imminent, that the two grand players of the US and the USSR would ultimately clash. In recognising Gorbachev as a man she could "do business", along with Reagan, she successfully brought to an end one of Europe's most worrying conflicts. Thatcher is highly regarded in the Eastern European states of which she helped to free from tyranny. Yet another example of the freedom and democracy she came to represent. The Berlin wall came down on her watch. The Soviets were driven from my homeland on her watch. The world over, Margaret Thatcher is held in higher regard most Britons will ever know.
Margaret Thatcher resuscitated the sick man of Europe.
At the end of this, I do have a question for the Left and the myriad of Labour MPs who would deride her legacy, criticise her policies and her vision. If the direction she took was so fundamentally flawed and inherently evil, why did Labour simply continue with them? Why did Tony Blair, interviewed recently, say his job was to "build upon not reverse" Margaret Thatcher's achievements? Actually, don't bother answering that. I already know the answer.
The truth is, Margaret Thatcher won three elections and was never voted out by the British people. Despite not playing the popularity sweepstakes and sticking to what she believed to be right, Margaret Thatcher remains the most popular Prime Minister ever. She transformed a sclerotic and declining nation into a powerful, competitive global player built upon aspiration, freedom and democracy. Margaret Thatcher did not cause decline, nor did she limit it, she reversed it. Margaret Thatcher did not just help Britain, she saved Britain.
Update (15/04/2013): On Saturday, the 13th of April, Channel 4 aired a brilliant documentary titled, 'Margaret: Death of a Revolutionary' by Martin Durkin. Watch it here.
On Wednesday, the 17th of April 2013, we will bury the Iron Lady. I hope you will have read this by then.
I owe most of the content of this blog post to Tom Chapman, whose original, extremely well-researched article appears here. In some parts I have simply quoted him verbatim. For a much better informed opinion, you can follow Tom on Twitter. Tom is one of the good guys.