08/02/2008

A blast from the past - Maggie Thatcher's legacy

I've been sorting out some old files this afternoon. Like your average socialist, I keep just about everything …....somewhere. I found a copy of a letter I typed, before I had a pc, to the local Shields Gazette and which was never published and I copy it below. This was written before I came across the SPGB. It dates from December 28th 1990 (Christ, I never even took time out over Xmas back then). I find it an insightful re-read, as I sound like a bloody Trot!! I wrote this a year after joining the Labour Party, and from which I resigned after six-months, having just attended my first branch meeting. I must have learned a lot in that intervening year. I had a lot of similar, and lengthy, stuff published by the Gazette back then, before the buggers started heavily censoring my letters....before MI5 flagged me up :-) I wonder if Gordon Brown ever comes across old articles and speeches...like this stuff...and says: "Christ, I don't 'alf sound like a friggin' socialist"?

I digress. That letter...

Dear Sir,

Although I welcome the observations of Mr GC in his letter about the ‘Thatcher Legacy’ (27th December), I think there is space for one very important addition – the defeat of labourism.

One of the Tories’ greatest achievements in the past ten years has been the whittling away of union status. In ten years the unions have lost one-third of their membership and working days lost through strikes have been reduced from 29m to 4m. Although she left the economy in a shambles, Thatcher can at least boast of having brought the unions to heel on behalf of her capitalist cronies.

She owed her success not solely to defeating Labour in three consecutive elections, but also to forcing Neil Kinnock and co. into accepting her policies. In the past ten years, Labour has abandoned nationalisation, unilateral disarmament and opposition to Europe, and Neil Kinnock now accepts the necessity of unemployment, anti-union legislation and heavier law and order measures.

This said, we can hardly blame the present-day labourites for the Tory ascendancy. As Labour promoted the advantages of consensus politics in the 1960s, they unwittingly paved the way for Thatcher. For instance, it was Wilson who first attacked the unions, blaming them for Britain’s poor economic performance. By introducing cuts in public spending, Labour further created the political climate which nourished questions concerning the legitimacy of state intervention in welfare. 1974 saw the introduction of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, used, as we know, to torment the lives of thousands of Irish people, and in 1977 Labour drew up a green paper advocating stricter immigration controls (which Thatcher went on to implement as the 1981 Nationality Act). Also that year, Callaghan announced he would “strengthen the stability and quality of family life”, which presumably gave Thatcher the idea for her obsession with Victorian family values – a recent manifestation being the proposed witch hunt for errant fathers.

Years into her autocracy, the working class having been already mollified before she took office, Thatcher began exploiting the fears and anxieties caused by her recession. Now she could rally support around her favourite issues – trade union power, left-wing extremism, law and order, chauvinism (or rather jingoism) and family values. Consequently she succeeded in fostering reaction around her favourite issues.

Although Thatcher faced widespread condemnation, she rested on her laurels because she feared no coherent alternative. Labour failed to make unemployment and welfare cuts a political issue and any criticisms of Thatcher were lacking in clout because Wilson and Callaghan had gone to similar lengths as Thatcher and with the same results. And in the absence of a political alternative to Thatcherism. her policies became like the common cold – plain facts of life.

Labour knew they could not fight, only compromise. It has been said that British politics of consensus changed to an overt style of domination overnight. I’d argue that consensus politics never left us. Although the consensus politics of the Wilson/Heath era may be long gone, there is now a recognisable new consensus – that in which all parties bow with suppliant knee as market forces take the throne from state intervention, acknowledging that unemployment is unavoidable and that there is a growing dichotomy between rich and poor, that trade union militancy needs to be crushed, that Britain must show a brave militaristic and chauvinistic face, intervening anywhere from the South Atlantic to the Middle East….the list goes on.

Speaking in 1985, Thatcher announced that she always regarded her job as “killing socialism in Britain”. She might not have destroyed socialism, but she can at least take the credit for having educated labourism, endowing it with a bourgeois mentality.

1 comment:

baroness said...

Thatcher's death anthem at www.maggiethatcher.com