Tuesday, 9 April 2013

RUST IN PEACE: THE DEATH OF THE IRON LADY



Scotland now has more pandas (two) than Conservative MPs (one). This is just one of the many legacies of Baroness Thatcher, the ex-Conservative PM, who passed away yesterday staying free-of-charge as the guest of millionaires at the extremely ritzy Ritz Hotel in London, a city, by the way, that is now majority non-British – something that is also partly her legacy.

The predominance of pandas to Scottish Tory MPs probably has something to do with the deal Thatcher’s government came to with the Chinese to hand back Hong Kong, as pandas are always a sign of Beijing’s divine favour. This reminds us that the Iron Lady, despite her reputation for never compromising, was not adverse to the odd sleazy arrangement. In fact, weighing up uncompromising stands against sleazy deals by the good lady, the sleazy deals come out well ahead.

Yes, she regained the Falklands from the corned-beef packers of Argentina, and packed 323 of them to the bottom of the South Atlantic in their own tin can, but it was also Thatcher’s government that presided over the death of Rhodesia and handed the lives of hundreds of thousands of White Rhodesians into the hate-filled embrace of the “Black Hitler” Robert Mugabe. A bit of quid pro quo no doubt to keep the world from coming down too hard on South Africa so that her friends in the City could disinvest or diversify their holdings down there, in preparation for the exciting times ahead when her government liberalized Britain’s financial sector and privatized nationally owned industries. The City boys loom large in any review of Thatcher’s reign. In fact, she was “their bitch,” as the rappers say.

Speaking of rappers, that was actually the ascendant soundtrack of her era. Bling was the thing, and, just like mining, shipbuilding, and steel production, rock n’ roll died under her tender ministrations, and sampling – in more ways than one – became all the rage. The Thatcher years saw a certain crassness creeping into British culture.

Her very Whiteness and starched-pinafore-nannyness seemed to turn the rest of the country Blacker, as Blackness, Black tropes, and acting Black became, after the usual embarrassing riots, a way for sections of the country to step beyond the Pale of Thatcherism.

Loadsamoney - the epitome of Thatcherism.
Drug abuse and anti-social behaviour soared during her time as the country went into its own kind of Apartheid – North vs. South, respectable vs. chavs n’ welfare cheats, Black vs. White, etc. But just as Apartheid-era South Africa had its Sun City, where all could come and mix n’ rub shoulders, so did Britain – Boomtown London, the centre of privatization, money-laundering, asset-stripping (the jewels of industrial decline), and the property boom, with houses tarted up to take advantage of spiralling prices by cowboy tradesmen, typified by Harry Enfield’s comedy cockney character Loadsamoney, a caricature that hardly exaggerated in a town where every phone box was plastered with ads for prostitutes, with nationalities and ‘specialities’ testifying to London’s coming diversity.

The further North from London you went, however, it was more a case of Buggerallmoney and drunken violence as the main diversion. It’s not for nothing that vast swathes of the country – the North of England, Wales, and Scotland – remain Tory-free zones.

While many commentators will bang on about Thatcher’s strong personality, her imperious gaze, and the triumph of her will, the fact is that she was incredibly lucky in her political career; and where she did have power she was often extremely timid.

All previous Tory leaders had to contend with a potent and virile Labour Party, still close to its roots and the interests of the average working man (i.e. the majority), and basking still in the populist post-war achievements of the Attlee government. Thatcher, by contrast, only had to contend with a dysfunctional Labour Party, taken over by sub-Trotskyites and other leftist riff raff and deeply split, as moderates fled to create the new Social Democrat Party, that later merged with the Liberals.

Thatcher's erudite but unelectable opponent.
In other words, she faced the Labour Party at its lowest ebb and with two of its most unelectable leaders – Michael Foot who was too old and Neil Kinnock who was too Welsh – and still she back-pedalled on her core principles, which were to cut spending and tax, and unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of small business. Tax remained high, except for the very rich, and public spending climbed, helped by her government enjoying the one-time only windfall of privatization and the proceeds of Scottish North Sea oil. While Westminster and the City were awash with wealth, the places where the wealth actually came from were scraping by.

The problem with criticizing Thatcher, however, is that you start to sound like you approve of her predecessors or the opposition. In the 1970s Britain was in the shit. With low investment and powerful and antagonistic trade unions, industry was in steep decline. Other problems included rising crime, alienated ethnic minorities, and the threat posed by the Soviet Bloc, whose forces easily outnumbered NATO’s. These were all problems that a Labour Party, funded by trade unions and intellectually dominated by middle-class leftists and pacifists, was incapable of tackling.

Again Thatcher was lucky. She ended up opposing the Soviet Union at the very moment it was throwing in the towel. Reining in trade union power was an important victory, but, given what then happened to Britain’s skilled and heavy industries, one has to wonder whether there was any point: why crush the unions when most of the members are going to be unemployed anyway? She did little to support British industry and was content to see the economy move as quickly as possible to the service sector.

Her one major achievement was vastly increasing the proportion of homeowners and shareholders. A society with a wider property-owning base is likely to be more conservative (with a small ‘c’) and behave in a more sensible and economically literate way – at least that’s the theory – but even this policy can be characterized as merely the popular front of the expansion of the financial sector and the creation of credit-fuelled consumerism.

In complex societies government is always a trade off. This may even be true in the case of dictatorships. For everything you get you have to give up something else. Usually this process is obscured behind vague phrases and grey public figures. The advantage of Thatcher is that her strident and over-obvious way of speaking and acting shone a glaring light on this sordid process. The way that she worked this process also provides the standard by which to judge her. To come to a clear decision on her legacy we simply have to ask: What did she want to do and what did she choose to do?

Dividing policy into three main areas, we can compile the following list of objectives that she seemed to be in favour of prior to becoming Prime Minister in 1979:

Foreign Policy
  • Standing up to the Soviet Union
  • Standing up to other tyrants
  • Standing up to Europe and protecting British Sovereignty
Economic Policy
  • Privatizing nationalized industries
  • Liberalizing the financial sector
  • Significantly cutting tax for the rich
  • Significantly cutting tax for everybody
  • Significantly cutting tax for big businesses
  • Significantly cutting tax for small businesses
  • Significantly cutting public spending
  • Reducing red tape and regulations
  • Restricting the power of the trade unions
  • Tackling council overspending
Social Policy
  • Allowing council tenants to buy their own homes
  • Restricting immigration
  • Tackling crime and drugs
  • Tackling welfarism
  • Fighting political correctness
  • Fighting the decline in moral values
  • Improving education
This can then be divided into Goals Achieved and Goals Not Achieved:

GOALS ACHIEVED


Foreign Policy
  • Standing up to the Soviet Union
Economic Policy
  • Privatizing nationalized industries
  • Liberalizing the financial sector
  • Significantly cutting tax for the rich
  • Significantly cutting tax for big businesses
  • Restricting the power of the trade unions
Social Policy
  • Allowing council tenants to buy their own homes

GOALS NOT ACHIEVED


Foreign Policy
  • Standing up to other tyrants Standing up to Europe and protecting British Sovereignty
Economic Policy
  • Significantly cutting tax for everybody
  • Significantly cutting tax for small businesses
  • Significantly cutting public spending
  • Reducing red tape and regulations
  • Tackling council overspending
Social Policy
  • Restricting immigration
  • Tackling crime and drugs
  • Tackling welfarism
  • Fighting political correctness
  • Fighting the decline in moral values
  • Improving education

Seen in this way, her failures clearly outweigh her achievements. Also this reveals very clearly the trade-offs that she made, and whom she made them in favour of.

Starting with foreign policy: she stood up against the Soviet Union, but she had little interest in opposing other tyrannical regimes, except for the one-off case of the Falklands, which was reactive; and although she protected Britain’s sovereignty there she was less circumspect about protecting Britain’s sovereignty from the much greater threat from Europe. Her behaviour here is completely consistent with serving the moneyed interests of the City, who have always been pro-Europe so as to extend the area in which their particular occult arts can be exercised.

Maggie in the Falklands.
Her economic policies make this subservience to City interests even clearer. Small businesses may have seen some temporary advantages, but, overall, taxes remained high and regulations tended to rise, powered by health and safety, “equal opportunity,” and European legislation.

Focusing on her economic failures also draws attention to the trade-offs she made. In particular, she failed to significantly cut public spending and council overspending. This shows that she was in fact making a tacit agreement with the Left, allowing them to retain their local economic control of Labour councils and the education sector, among other things, in return for giving her a softer ride on privatization and tax cuts for her City friends.

This trade-off pattern can be seen even more clearly in her social policy. Her only real achievement here was selling off council houses to tenants, although, as mentioned above, this was in part motivated by City considerations.

Her social policy failures reflect a trade-off with two groups – the urban poor and the professional Left. In return for accepting Thatcherite deindustrialization, the urban poor were bribed with welfare, drugs, and leniency. In the case of the ethnic urban poor this also involved a growing quotient of political correctness, which also included a relaxing of immigration restrictions, something that City interests also favoured. The idea of fighting the moral decline of Britain, a policy she had picked up from another housewife superstar, became a joke in a country where crime and welfarism were tolerated among the unemployed masses, and cocaine and prostitute use rife among the economic stormtroopers of the City – not to mention the perversions popular among the Tory rank and file and the the pornographic interests of Tory press barons. But this was yet one more trade-off she was prepared to make.

In the light of all this, it is hard to look upon the death of "The Iron Lady" with any emotion more sympathetic than cold disinterest. Maggie Thatcher: 1925-2013 – Rust in Peace (just like British industry).


No comments:

Post a Comment