I’ve never considered myself a Thatcherite. In fact, every political survey I’ve completed except one has tended to place me hovering between the libertarian and authoritarian Left, but just to the left of centre. However, I am finding myself increasingly irritated by large numbers of the lazy Left – those who take their opinions wholesale from the ‘Book of Political Correctness’, without daring to deviate from the national consensus with even one controversial opinion. Furthermore, the contrarian in me is finding some of the vile misinformation and total bollocks being spouted about the recently departed Lady Thatcher both ahistorical and nauseating. Some basic fact-checking would be desirable before I hear things like ‘she was in favour of apartheid’ again for the umpteenth time* or the ‘there’s no such thing as society’ comment taken out of context ad bloody nauseum.
I really don’t mind criticism so long as it’s valid and accurate, but people can’t simultaneously deride the Daily Mail and then smugly quote from the Guardian without some of us pulling a wry smile. They’re both newspapers with political agendas. It would be nice if more people didn’t take opinions wholesale from papers of any political persuasion.
If you want to get to the truth, follow the news, but more importantly, read different perspectives on historic events and draw your own conclusions. Wherever possible, try to establish the raw data and then make your own mind up or find sources which appear at least to be critical of a range of political opinion, such as http://fullfact.org/. Journalists are just people and most of them are paid to represent a certain editorial opinion. Freedom of thought is the most precious gift the rest of us have.
Personally, I find the work of those who are critical of their own supposed allies quite interesting. They’re generally capable of better self-criticism and self-awareness than many other journalists. If they get flak from their own side, you can often tell they’ve touched a raw nerve. Christopher Hitchens was great in this respect, continuing to identify with the Left, but being extremely critical of its failures, and upsetting many of his former card-carrying comrades in the process (notably, George Galloway).
And so, on to the controversy…
The Coal Mines
In recent scouring of the news and political discourse, I’ve come across another writer in a similar position to Hitchens, Brendan O’Neill, whom the Guardian labelled a ‘Marxist proletarian firebrand’. He’s the editor of Spiked, the successor to Living Marxism (the former journal of the Revolutionary Communist Party no less).
O’Neill’s done a great blog entry in which he claims that more coalmines were closed under Harold Wilson’s Labour government than under Thatcher (406 mines and 315,000 job losses versus 146 mines and 173,000 job losses).
I’m not sure where O’Neill’s figures originate – it would be nice if we all quoted sources when making such statements, but I’ve managed to find government figures and, whilst they don’t match O’Neill’s, they do support his claim.
According to those figures…
In 1964, 502,000 were employed in 1534 mines.
In 1970, 290,000 were employed in 351 mines.
In 1979, 242,000 were employed in 219 mines.
In 1990, 49,000 were employed in 65 mines.
I make that 241 closures with 196,000 job losses under Wilson versus 148 closures and 188,000 job losses under Thatcher. So, Wilson’s Labour government closed more mines (93 more) and made more miners redundant (8,000 more) than Thatcher’s Conservative government did, but that’s not all. Look at the dates. Whilst the closures/redundancies under Thatcher happened over a period of 11 years, those under Wilson happened in just 6 – at almost twice the rate! So why weren’t mining communities up in arms about the closures under Wilson?
Just as an aside. It has been said of the ‘hero of the miners’, Arthur Scargill, that he started with a small house and a big union and he ended up with a big house and a small union. He has even fallen out of favour with his former comrades in the Communist Party of Great Britain over the fiasco of his Barbican Flat. The fact that he was (and remains) a politicised, firebrand, self-confessed Stalinist is often overlooked. He called out a strike without a democratic ballot of the NUM at a time when unions had become increasingly politicised over the preceding several years.
To get a feeling for how unions had become by the 1970s, you could do worse than view the output of British TV and movies of the time, which stand as an interesting historic comment on contemporary issues. The unions of the time were satirised in the kind of television and films which were made especially for working class audiences – witness On The Buses and Carry On At Your Convenience. As the saying goes, never a truer word said in jest. I am just old enough to remember the power cuts of the Winter of Discontent.
Compare the behaviour of the unions in the UK at that period with the ongoing industrial relations in Germany and it is fairly clear that Germany’s then and continued dominance in manufacturing is not down to some super-human abilities on the part of Germans (British workers were and remain highly skilled), but on good industrial relations under governments of all political hues.
Yes, mining communities suffered under Thatcher’s government, but it is difficult to see that a government of another stripe would have been able to achieve any other outcome, and as we have seen, based on the figures above, history shows us that they didn’t.
Another claim often made is that our manufacturing sector was destroyed under Thatcher, and yet the figures again show that manufacturing declined far more as a percentage of GDP under Blair/Brown than under Thatcher. Manufacturing contributed 22.5% of GDP in 1990, but it went from 20.3% in 1997 to 11.5% in 2010 (under Labour’s tenure). Just for comparison, over the same period (1990-2010), France went from 16.1% to 10.7% and Germany from 28.8% to 20.9% (source: http://databank.worldbank.org/data/views/reports/tableview.aspx). Unfortunately, figures pre 1990 are not available from that source and I haven’t been able to source them elsewhere, but in any case, the clear decline in the manufacturing sector as a percentage of GDP happened under Labour’s watch.
So should the shouties redirect their anger at Labour? Not necessarily.
Beyond the raw figures, the story has a positive slant under both Conservative and Labour administrations. Whilst manufacturing has declined as a percentage of GDP, manufacturing output has increased consistently over decades. In short, we aren’t making less stuff; we’re actually making more. Rather, the other sectors have increased their share of GDP. Manufacturing productivity has also increased with better processes and automation. Naturally, this has the undesirable consequence that fewer people are required to work directly in manufacturing and so it would be easy (and valid) to say there have been large job losses in manufacturing over time. But, there is no longer a correlation between employment figures and industrial output – there hasn’t been for some time.
The clear trend over time has been an ever decreasing number of people producing a larger number of widgets, but it was always so. To make a political point out of it by blaming governments of any hue is lazy. Ultimately, businesses will operate to their best efficiency, producing the largest number of widgets from the fewest employees. The reality is that businesses do not operate as charities – otherwise, their prices become uncompetitive, their customers go elsewhere, the business declines and ultimately everyone loses their job. By the same token, a business which tries to exploit its workforce will suffer low staff morale, high staff turnover, poor productivity, and ultimately the business will suffer or fail as a result.
Thatcher’s Funeral / Better to Spend the Money on X, Y, and Z
Regarding the row over the cost of Thatcher’s funeral, of course it could have cost less.
Yes, we could have spent the £3.6 million (not the initial £10 million reported) on hospitals, teachers, or any other ‘good cause’. That’s not how it works though. We, the public, don’t have control over public funds and following the vote on AV, it’s clear, regrettably as far as I’m concerned, that the overwhelming majority of the public either doesn’t wish to exert more political influence over politicians, has a political bias towards large parties and would rather retain the status quo, doesn’t understand politics, or is completely uninterested in politics.
In essence, you can apply the same logic to any spending of money on a ‘non-social’ target. If it were down to many people, we would have the finest hospitals and schools in the world and no military.
Whilst we’re on the subject of our armed forces, and to go off on rather a tangent in further support of Lady T, just a gentle reminder to would-be pacifists…
The reality of post WW2 is that we have had the longest period of wide-scale peace in Europe in centuries. Ironically, during the Cold War, this was down to the (on the face of it quite literally mad) reality of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) between East and West. This has meant that people of subsequent generations in the West have grown complacent about peace. It is beyond our comprehension to think of the realities of warfare. Subsequently, because we have enjoyed peace for so long, many voice the opinion that we shouldn’t spend money on the military. I remember people saying the same thing during the Cold War. The assumption at the time was that the Soviet Union was a benign power and that ‘they can’t be all that nasty’. This is despite clear evidence of the ideological battles, the spies, and the proxy conflicts, which did indeed see Western governments support dodgy regimes in the name of fighting communism.
But communism was a threat. The people of East Germany in 1953, Hungary in 1956, and Prague in 1968 in particular experienced the brutality of its grip first hand.
To put this complaint about the £3.6 million spent on Thatcher’s funeral in context, since 1985 Britain’s rebate from the EU, negotiated by Her Ironness, has totalled £79 billion. It would have been higher had Blair not agreed to a 20% cut in the rebate between 2007 and 2013. The cost of her funeral represents 0.004% (that’s four one-thousandths of a percent) of that amount – money we wouldn’t have had coming into the country, had it not been for her negotiations.
We generally do mark the passing of important statesmen and stateswomen, and, it doesn’t matter how you feel about Thatcher in domestic terms, but an important stateswoman is what she was. There are some things about her which you have to accept; otherwise, you’re just being ahistorical:
- She was the first woman Prime Minister of the UK.
- She was instrumental in bringing down the Iron Curtain, recognising Gorbachev as a statesman with whom we in the West could work and informing Reagan of this fact. Gorbachev himself spoke highly of her.
- She forced reform of a union movement which had become politicised, confrontational, and tied to dogma, rather then working truly to the benefit of those it claimed to represent.
- She is regarded as a hero and beacon of free speech to many who grew up on the other side of the Iron Curtain.
- She won three general elections – two were landslide wins – and was the longest-serving Prime Minister of the 20th century.
The details of her funeral were approved under the previous Labour government, and the attitude of most Labour MPs has shown great dignity. It appears that the crowds who lined the funeral probably represented a microcosm of British society. There were those who applauded enthusiastically, some who stood in respect, some who quietly turned their backs as the cortège passed…
…And then there were those for whom I might have bit of sympathy if they would only stop making ridiculous assertions based on old political dogma and an almost uncontrollable urge to wallow in victim culture, blaming all their ills (and there were plenty who couldn’t have been born when Thatcher was in power) on her. If a mining community is still bitter 30 years after the events of the early 1980s, then this strongly suggests one thing – whilst the rest of the world has moved on, the only people holding back these communities are its own citizens.
*A simple search on FW de Klerk’s own words or better still, hearing the words from his own mouth about how she consistently and persistently castigated him over apartheid would put a swift stop to that, if only people didn’t keep spouting the same old tired lies. Still, Goebbels was always right about lies.