The passing of Margaret Thatcher has inevitably led to an exploration of her years as Prime Minister; how her leadership affected the country and how her policies impacted on the people she governed.
As a politician she was formidable, forthright and an election winner. Three consecutive election victories is an impressive record in anyone’s book. However, the fact that during her eleven years of power she was aided and abetted by a Labour opposition that split, leading to the formation of the SDP, and lurched too far to the left to be taken seriously should be accounted for. And then of course there was the Falklands War. Pre the war, despite Labour’s lack of direction under the leadership of the intellectually bright, but personality light Michael Foot, the Tories were badly trailing in the polls.
Her war victory – and she made sure that it was very much perceived as her victory - gave her not only an electoral bounce, but an unwavering, some would argue unhealthy, confidence in her ability and beliefs. The Left’s continued flirtation with insanity throughout the eighties did little to restrain her.
She took on and crushed the Trades Unions. She persuaded enough of the electorate to buy into her vision of free enterprise, buy council houses, and buy shares from Sid. She significantly reduced the power and influence of local government, even abolishing the Greater London Council and Metropolitan County Council’s. She outmanoeuvred and out fought her internal opponents, including giants such as Heseltine, Clarke and Howe. And she became a major player on the international stage.
For many in business, she was a breath of fresh air, introducing the possibility of entrepreneurship to a new generation that included leading Manchester success stories Tom Bloxham and Lawrence Jones, both of whom benefitted from her ‘Enterprise Allowance’ initiative. Even Labour supporter Sir Alan Sugar has been celebrating the Iron Lady’s premiership this week, and praising the cultural shift in Britain that she and her policies were undoubtedly responsible for.
Following the winter of discontent, a three day week and power cuts, it is difficult to argue that change was needed.
Nonetheless, my abiding memory of the late PM is that of someone who was destructive; a divide and rule kind of gal. Not to mention, a bully.
‘The ends don’t always justify the means’ was clearly not a phrase in her vocabulary. Communities were, quite literally, abandoned and closed down. Individuals who were unable to ‘get on their bike’ and find what little work there was for those outside of the ‘Yuppie’ panacea were written off. Miners were battered into submission in a brutal manner not befitting a civilised country. Our state services, most notably the NHS and education, was underfunded and undermined as billions of North Sea oil revenues were thrown away on a growing welfare budget that we are still grappling with today. Then there was the Poll Tax.
Of course her supporters will claim that on her way to ‘victory’ she was unaware of the consequences. However, they then have to account for some crass comments that she made including ‘Unemployment is a price worth paying’ and ‘There is no such thing as society’.
Whatever her successes and her personal attributes, a leader who so divides a nation and who cares so little for the impact of her polices on the most vulnerable of her citizens is not one that I can have any lasting admiration for. Thatcherism did a job, but then again, so did Norman Hunter!