I could open this piece by quoting one of the many words uttered by the iron lady over her many years. I could state my own ardent admiration for a divisive woman – indeed if you wish for a piece of vitriol, I recommend turning away now. This is not the piece you are looking for, though I will attempt some degree of balance. Instead, I will begin with a personal anecdote from a year or so ago whilst walking with a former friend. She had grown up in a council house and been consistently poor most of her life, and informed me that I could not reasonably say what Thatcher did was fair, how could I know what it was like to be affected so directly by her policy, having always come from relative wealth?
A fair comment, so rather than argue the obvious case that money does not make one blind, I asked her what should would recommend needs to be ‘done’ about the state of the poor? Having been raised to loathe Thatcher, her answer surprised me. She told me they needed a ‘kick up the rear’ and to be made more ‘self-reliant’ rather than ‘state-reliant’. I should not need to state my amusement upon informing her she had just almost quoted the loathed wicked witch of Grantham.
This is, for me perhaps, one of the most enduring parts of the Thatcherite legacy. A change in attitude, she shifted the debate and in doing so changed the country. The question becomes for better or worse, and in the words I have, I doubt I can answer this. But I shall attempt this herculean task.
Students perhaps have most to say with regard to unions, specifically coal. Having been born in 1991, and like most readers of this publication certainly post-Thatcher, I cannot say I recall the winter of discontent nor the strikes. But history teaches, and though it is through revisionism I say this, I must admit that I find the unions’ actions in the 70s reprehensible, and the acts such as the illegal (unconstitutional within the mandate given by the union) strike called by Scargill lead me to question how much of a choice the politicians of the day had. Collective bargaining is a wonderful idea, collective ransoming is not. Nottingham miners who wished to continue working had not even been consulted were made not to work by those ‘protecting’ the pits. This is not the act of a force standing up for the worker. Neither is the policy of only allowing workers in industry to join one union. The closed-shop was no less harmful than the pit closures, if for differing reasons. No, I must find that I admire Thatcher’s steadfast action in dark times.
I admit her actions broke communities, and find this problematic. Her faith in the market stretched too far – it is not enough to simply remove industry that fails and assume markets will fill the gap. This was part of the naiveté on her part. Thatcher’s name, the iron lady, though not meant as such, is close to the mark – wrought in iron, a warrior, not a thinker. No politician is perfect, no policy perfect, but in Thatcher’s case the damage caused is difficult to justify. Sadly, it is harder still to justify the situation the postwar consensus created where reliance on failing industry was all that could keep communities together. I cannot say the results of Thatcher were perfect, and to those negatively effected, I am sorry, and sorry I will continue to be, meaningless as it may be.
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