Owen Jones: Thatcherism was a national catastrophe that still poisons us


We are in the midst of the third great economic collapse since the Second World War: all three have taken place since Thatcherism launched its great crusade

Thatcher B & W

By OWEN JONES The Independent Tuesday 9 April 2013

In the war led by Margaret Thatcher’s governments – against the left, the trade unions, the post-war consensus – her side was crushingly, devastatingly, humiliatingly victorious.

In the coming days, some on the right will attempt to snuff out criticism of her legacy, arguing that it is somehow disrespectful, spiteful or ghoulish. Absurd, of course: she was a politician – the most divisive in modern British history – and what she represented must of course be debated.

They will use the moment of her passing to batter Thatcherism into the national psyche: that she somehow saved Britain from ruin, put the “great” back into “Great Britain”, and so forth.

Those who grew up in the Britain that Thatcher built will be patronised: you were still learning how to walk at the height of her power. And that is why it is crucial to separate Thatcherism from the woman who spearheaded it.

Thatcherism was a national catastrophe, and we remain trapped by its consequences. As her former Chancellor Geoffrey Howe put it:

“Her real triumph was to have transformed not just one party but two, so that when Labour did eventually return, the great bulk of Thatcherism was accepted as irreversible.”

We are in the midst of the third great economic collapse since the Second World War: all three have taken place since Thatcherism launched its great crusade.

This current crisis has roots in the Thatcherite free market experiment, which wiped out much of the country’s industrial base in favour of a deregulated financial sector.

A poisoned “debate” about social security rages in Cameron’s Britain.

It focuses on the idea that there are large numbers of people stuck on benefits.

It is certainly true that there were more people languishing in long-term unemployment last year than there were in all forms of unemployment 40 years ago. In large part, this is a consequence of Thatcherism’s emptying communities of millions of secure, skilled industrial jobs. Large swathes of Britain – mining villages, steel towns and so on – were devastated, and never really recovered.

Even when Britain was supposedly booming, the old industrial heartlands had high levels of what is rather clinically described as “economic inactivity”.

Five million people now languish on social housing waiting lists, while billions of pounds of housing benefit line the pockets of private landlords charging rip-off rents. The scarcity of housing turns communities against each other, as immigrants or anyone deemed less deserving are scapegoated. But the guilt really lies with the Thatcherite policy of right-to-buy and failure to replace the stock that was sold off.

Champions of Thatcherism hail the crippling of the trade unions, which were battered by anti-union laws, mass unemployment, and crushing defeats of strikes, not least after the rout of the iconic miners. This has not only left workers at the mercy of their bosses, but has made them poorer, too.

Four years before the crisis began, the income of the bottom half was stagnating, while for the bottom third it actually began to decline – even as corporations were posting record profits. With no unions to stand their corner, workers’ living standards have long been squeezed – driving large numbers to cheap credit.

We could go on. Britain was one of the most equal Western European countries before the Thatcherite project began, and is now one of the most unequal. 

Thatcherism is not just alive and well: it courses through the veins of British political life. The current government goes where Thatcherism did not dare in its privatisation of the NHS and sledgehammering of the welfare state.

The challenge ahead is the same as it was yesterday: to tear down the whole edifice of Thatcherism, heal Britain of the damage done, and build a country run in the interests of working people. It’s a fight we must all fight. The champagne is on ice until we win it. 



5 thoughts on “Owen Jones: Thatcherism was a national catastrophe that still poisons us

  1. Serenity says:

    The Miners
    The Shipbuilders
    The Steelworkers
    The Old that Froze to Death
    The Old that Couldn’t Afford Food
    For the Thousands Made Homeless

    The North
    The Disenfranchised Black Youth
    The Lost Generation of Young
    The Hillsborough families
    The men dead in a conflict designed to win her an election
    The men traumatised from the Falklands War
    For Northern Ireland
    Shoot to kill
    Murder of the hunger strikers

    every LGBT kid who committed suicide due to Section 28 in schools
    The teachers
    The victims of gay-bashing which were never investigated due to pressure from her government
    For the gay men stitched up and banged up for being gay

    The women of Greenham Common who were beaten and had their kids forcibly taken into care for no reason
    For the men and women assaulted in the Battle of the Beanfield
    For the men and women consigned to the scrapheap
    For the services that used to belong to all of us and now are badly run in the hands of the rich
    For the country that used to stand for social justice and created the National Health Service
    The mentally ill thrown out on the streets
    The children abused in care homes and ignored or worse abused by some in her government

    It just shows what a weak state we are in when an 87 yr old former prime minister dies in her bed of natural causes it’s no victory. Thatcher was an evil woman but she got away with all her crimes and has had several successors since getting away with more – Major, Blair, and today David Cameron.
    All this just one day short of the 31st anniversary of Bobby Sands being elected an MP.

  2. Humanity2012 says:

    The Crimes of the Margaret Thatcher Regime Need to be Remembered For All Time

    Scrap the In Justices of the Capitalist Free Market Evilnomics Cowboy System
    Rebuild Public Services and Challenge Bone Headed Selfishness and Greed

  3. David Moynagh says:

    By snuffing it ,she has made the only positive contribution to society. The air we breathe will be less rancid and contaminated by the stench of tory.

  4. Stephen Bee says:

    I hope they bury her face down, then if she ressurects on the thrid day and escapes her box, she’ll have bloody long dig down to OZ….Evil prevails when good men fail to act…and now we got The Scameron Krew..To Arms Comrades!

  5. joseph mccaffery says:

    For singling out Scotland for abuses no-one else had to suffer but sat in relative silence until it came their turn, their biggest crime ‘The Polltax’ trialled in Scotland a full year before being introduced in the rest of Britain and subsequently removed as policy after rioting and other measures took place but no-one in Scotland got their money back, because it would have cost millions as they’d already shared it out between themselves and friends, so point being ‘That’s how fuk’n nasty they were’ and anyway the polltax was still brought in after all was happy for a while, simple fact is they would sell their Grandmothers for profit, every thing is for sale with them, morals, underhand maneuvers, smearing of reputation’s any dirty underhand and they’ve been seen to be capable of it,, never voted Tory in 20+ yrs and no doubt never will.!!??

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