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October 13, 2005

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» Thatcher's legacy revisited from New Economist
Former Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher celebrates her 80th birthday tonight at a lavish party, with the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh among 650 guests. Friends and ex-foes alike have paid tribute - but Stumbling and Mumbling is clearly not one of t... [Read More]

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EU Serf

......She has given a generation of non-economists the impression that support for free markets is equivalent to support for the vested interests of the rich.....

Thats not totally fair. She demonstrated that many things which had previously been thought impossible were actually doable. In doing so she had a major impact on the role of the state throughout the world.

It is true that she could have done much more, but the vested interests weighed in against her were huge. It took a long time to break them down.

The current government is far more guilty of screwing the poor in favour of the metropolitan middle class.

Guido Fawkes

Unreal.

Compare before and after - she wrought a revolution.

Chris Brooke

Good post. I think you're right about Thatcher as class warrior rather than economic libertarian. Do look out for my fried Ewen Green's new book, Thatcher, which should be published in the new year, by the way, and which I think you'd enjoy.

But is the "word privatisation not in 1979 manifesto" a terribly strong argument? The big privatisations came in the second and third terms, not in the first, and the 1979 manifesto did say this:

""We will offer to sell back to private ownership the recently nationalised aerospace and shipbuilding concerns, giving their employees the opportunity to purchase shares. We aim to sell shares in the National Freight Corporation to the general public in order to achieve substantial private investment in it..."

Which, though limited, does set that particular ball rolling.

Anyway, as I say, good post.

Andrew Duffin

Given the growth in public spending that had come before, and the assumption that it would go on like that for ever, I think holding it almost steady for ten years was a huge achievement.

Of course more could and should have been done, but you're asking for superhuman determination there. Maggie was as tough as they come and even she had to fight every inch.

Credit where it's due - she was the best, and we'll never see her like again.

Blimpish

If Thatch's influence on the economy was disastrous, we can only guess what adjective we'd have to apply for a continuation of what had gone before.

I wouldn't disagree that she wasn't a libertarian (and have argued so myself), and I do think there's a class warrior edge to her actions - she did, after all, need a coalition - you are rather scrabbling around on some of these. For example, the collapse of school vouchers owes much more to civil service inertia and a worry over political expediency than any lack of interest for them. After all, the 1988 education reforms (GM schools especially) were geared heavily towards creating a non-top-up voucher, with per capita funding rather than LEA formulas.

Also, re the class warrior aspect - the biggest mistake is to cast this in traditional rich versus poor terms. Rather, her class war was for, and behalf of, the professional working and lower middle classes and the nouveau riche. That was what made it a powerful brew (and of course, the concerns of that coalition dominate policy discussion to this day).

Dr. angry economist

Hmm yes economic mismanagement, but in the wake of a miserable decade (1970s) for the UK economy.

Of course manufacturing etc was restructured and ended up with massive job losses. Punitive interest rates and poor exchange rates sunk so much manufacturing. Could some of it have still survived and prospered with a bit more or a gentle handling of monetary policy I wonder?

I think that the Thatcher government had some of the right ideas, executed very very badly. But then, that's government, eh?

But I can't really agree that she wrought a revolution. She oversaw huge change, and forced a bit too much of it. She had to be extremely bloody minded and that was her downfall. Personally growing up in the North East at that time I have an inbred and in retrospect, irrational hating of Thatcher. However, Growing up as a teenager when 1 out of four fellow pupils at school were in unemployed households was not good.

Still without Thatcher's Britain would we have had The Smiths?!

Rob Read

Well we wouldn't have had the Smythes if Labour had "won" another term of UK destruction.

AJE

http://thefilter.blogs.com/thefilter/2005/10/margaret_thatch.html

Thatcher was a Tory using central power to get her own way. The left shouldn't be angry with her though. They should see the harm that she did, and conclude not that "the wrong person was in charge", but that the system that creates such power should be changed.

dearieme

Disagree: you're setting absurdly high standards for politicians if you reckon Thatch a dud. But there are ironies, such as her saving the NHS, and, of course, the fact that so many criticise her for Cuts that never were.

Paul Davies

Meh. Much more important, surely, is the 161st birthday (tomorrow) of mad ol' Freddy Nietzsche. More impact than Thatch, and more horribly misunderstood too...

dsquared

JK Galbraith's comment on the first two years of Thatcher was that "it seems that Britain is to be used as a laboratory rat for Friedman's monetarism. This is all for the best; the English and Scots, and even the Welsh, do not take readily to the streets. Anywhere else, carnage would be likely".

Snafu

An inability to introduce to introduce market reforms into the NHS and education simply shows how strong union vested interests are, even Mrs. T couldn't defeat them!

How does the sale of council houses to their tenants sit with her "class war"? I accept your good point about reducing worker mobility, however, did the sale of council houses improve social mobility by increasing the wealth of the certain tenants?

Owen Barder

For some reason, my trackbacks don't seem to work. I have made some comments at http://www.owen.org/blog/2005/10/14/mrs-thatchers-economic-legacy/

Phil Jackson

"...She was not, naturally, committed to privatization. The word wasn’t mentioned in the 1979 manifesto..."

This is because the word did not then exist - I have before me a 1975 edition of Chambers 20th Century Dictionary which does not include it. In fact the 'superstructure’s' belated need to generate the word is an indicator of just how radical and unexpected was Thatcher’s attack upon the conventions of the economic base. For almost the entire zeitgeist of that century had smugly assumed that history was marching ineluctably towards the planned economy, and had seen no use for a word that would mark that march’s reversal.

And it is more than a bit odd that Britain’s mainstream leftists, who spend the first 95 years of the C20th century urging a planned economy, should now claim they believed in the market all along and that Thatcher fell short of their exacting standards of its form (the claim, ludicrous though it is, is probably not cynical but a kind of spontaneous and collective self-delusion – a good example of what Marxists call ‘false consciousness’). Had they truly done so, they would of course have initiated the language of the market revolution themselves and not depended upon their ideological foes to do so.

"... And there remains the suspicion that the 1980-81 recession was welcomed as a means of destroying…"

You will need to sugar your suspicions a little further, for the early 80s recession extended to the USA, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Australia. In fact Thatcher’s ability to project class warfare over vast distances was truly astonishing and there was scarcely an Old Etonian anywhere in the world who did not fear her.

Chris Brooke

Oh, the word existed all right. It just wasn't used as much as it was from the 1980s onwards, could be used to mean a bunch of different things, and (of course) didn't appear in the 1979 Manifesto.

The OED, for example, gives the following examples, all from 1979 or earlier (and apologies, Chris, for taking up so much space):

1959 News Chron. 28 July 2/6 Erhard selected the rich Preussag mining concern for his first experiment in privatisation.

1960 Ibid. 22 Apr. 11/5 Complete privatisation was opposed by the Socialists..because they feared..the little man selling out his shares to the big capitalists.

1970 Observer 25 Jan. 1/6 He foresaw ‘privatisation’ of many sectors of industry now in public ownership.

1970 J. COTLER in I. L. Horowitz Masses in Lat. Amer. xii. 440 If rural marginality allows for the..privatization of State power, the political sphere demands..a new line of social integration.

1976 National Observer (U.S.) 1 May B6/3 The contrast between then and now measures the tendency toward privatization and withdrawal of our commitments from the open, public arena that has occurred during the course of the Twentieth Century.

1976 Globe & Mail (Toronto) 12 Dec. 5/7 Privatization in the handing over of elements of the public service to the private sector is threatening the livelihoods of thousands of public servants.

1977 Ibid. 20 Jan. 6/1 The Government published a working paper..which set out some possibilities..including this: ‘The possibility of the private sector providing goods or services that are now provided through government enterprise and programs.’ The government, it seemed was toying with the idea of ‘privatization’.

1979 New Statesman 6 July 14/3 This political formula of controlled privatisation depends on not too many people finding the stringent limits on expression spiritually intolerable.

Chris Brooke

Oh, the word existed all right. It just wasn't used as much as it was from the 1980s onwards, could be used to mean a bunch of different things, and (of course) didn't appear in the 1979 Manifesto.

The OED, for example, gives the following examples, all from 1979 or earlier (and apologies, Chris, for taking up so much space):

1959 News Chron. 28 July 2/6 Erhard selected the rich Preussag mining concern for his first experiment in privatisation.

1960 Ibid. 22 Apr. 11/5 Complete privatisation was opposed by the Socialists..because they feared..the little man selling out his shares to the big capitalists.

1970 Observer 25 Jan. 1/6 He foresaw ‘privatisation’ of many sectors of industry now in public ownership.

1970 J. COTLER in I. L. Horowitz Masses in Lat. Amer. xii. 440 If rural marginality allows for the..privatization of State power, the political sphere demands..a new line of social integration.

1976 National Observer (U.S.) 1 May B6/3 The contrast between then and now measures the tendency toward privatization and withdrawal of our commitments from the open, public arena that has occurred during the course of the Twentieth Century.

1976 Globe & Mail (Toronto) 12 Dec. 5/7 Privatization in the handing over of elements of the public service to the private sector is threatening the livelihoods of thousands of public servants.

1977 Ibid. 20 Jan. 6/1 The Government published a working paper..which set out some possibilities..including this: ‘The possibility of the private sector providing goods or services that are now provided through government enterprise and programs.’ The government, it seemed was toying with the idea of ‘privatization’.

1979 New Statesman 6 July 14/3 This political formula of controlled privatisation depends on not too many people finding the stringent limits on expression spiritually intolerable.

Phil Jackson

Chris Brooke

Thank you for your correction. I note that, according to your list, the word had indeed been used in Britain as recently as 1970 (and that the journalist had armoured himself against editorial pedantry by putting it in single quotes).

My opening sentence should now read “This is because the word was so rare as to be unknown even to political commentators (apart from some guy who used to work at the Observer)”.

As you were.

keith wicks

Please add names to my thatcher one and share, www.gopetition.com/petition/41746.html

Neil Harding

Chris, do you still think Thatcher's deregulation of financial markets a good thing?

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