By Peter Lockhart
Wednesday 11th April 2013
I have a lot of friends who were celebrating Thatchers death.
I didn’t for two reasons.
Firstly and simply, she was a human being and no human death is a cause for a celebration.
The main reason, though, is because of the question “why are we celebrating?”: Because, I think that Thatcher has won.
Her evil neocon philosophy of greed is good: of having a society where getting to the top is the greatest goal someone can aspire to – and to get there you use any means available.
If that means trampling on people, putting people in to poverty, using slaves in Third World countries, destroying whole communities in the process – then so be it.
At the end, you can tell people that you get their through hard work and if they aren’t happy then through hard work they could do the same.
Of course they’re right, they did get their through hard work, just not their hard work.
But thats the neoliberal philosophy dreamt up by people like Milton Friedman, Sir Keith Joseph (a name largely forgotten but instrumental in the early Thatcher experiment) and Walter Lippmann.
People suffer, communities are devastated so you have to wonder why people kept voting Tory.
In a neocon society people are devided.
Some people will become fabulously wealthy. This of course means the gap between rich and poor becomes a chasm, the gap between rich and poor in Britain is greater today than it was in Victorian times.
However people, or the majority of people, don’t notice this because you don’t really see the grinding poverty that existed in Victorian times.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t people whos lives are blighted by poverty, its just better hidden.
In between those extremes though you have a raft of people who live reasonably comfortably.
There are carrots dangled, the sale of council house was one, the privatisation of the 80’s where people thought they were buying into some share owning democracy. Of course, both those measure were carrots to keep people happy but both had other agendas. Back in the 70’s few had a bank account and even fewer had debt – and I class a mortgage as debt.
This meant that people were fairly free. They didn’t have to worry about servicing debt, when they got their wage packet they knew, once the rent and utilities were paid they could do pretty much what they liked with it.
They were in a position where they could also go on strike and while it would be tough they were fairly secure in their homes and didn’t have the worry of debt collectors.
That all changed with the selling of council housing.
First of all people now had a mortgage, they also had bank accounts. The germ of the banking problems that have crashed the economy started then. But once people got bank accounts, once they had their home, once they got a first taste of debt they were then encouraged to improve their homes, install windows, get nice looking cladding, new doors.
They were encouraged to personalise their homes so they stood out, it was a status symbol, look at me, I am no longer a council tenant, I’m better than you.
Up and down the UK you began to see neo-colonial doors, double glazed windows, driveways and inside fancy kitchens and bathrooms. Of course it was all driven by a relaxation in credit. Before Thatcher getting credit was hard, you had to have large deposits, you had to be able to prove you could actually afford the credit. Now people could get 100% loans and checks became cursory.
For the majority this worked out reasonably well.
It’s a fallacy to say that everyone in the 80’s was miserable and struggling. In fact, this is how Thatcher worked.
Many people’s lives got better, for a sizable minority life had never been better, they had their council house which they got dirt cheap under right-to-buy. They stayed there for a few years and then sold it on for 10 times what they paid and used the fund to buy a better house on a private estate.
In some areas industry did boom and wages went up. Then there was the burgeoning financial sector.
So those people saw Thatcher as a saviour and voted for her.
Just below that you had the people who still had their council house but were comfortable. They were getting foreign holidays, they could go to the pictures of a night, they were getting out to restaurants. They were split in the Thatcher vote but were a big enough grouping to make sure that the Tories got their huge victories throughout the 80’s.
Below this was the minority but a huge and significant minority who weren’t doing well under Thatcher.
There were the ones in work but in low paid jobs, people earning as little as £1.20 and hour.
They were very much still in council housing and now they were often getting the poorest of the homes as the better ones were being sold off in numbers .
They lived on the edge never knowing when they would be made redundant.
Some were better off than others but for a large section of the working class life was hard. For many there were no jobs at all.
Thatcher’s philosophy was the strongest survive, the weakest go to the wall. It was the law of the jungle, a childish philosophy used by playground bullies but here we were, the Thatcher experiment being tried out on real people and real communities.
Factories, closed by the dozen and government didn’t lift a finger to help.
Whole communities were devastated.
This had an effect the Thatcherites would never admit to. The people who had bought their homes, the ones that were comfortable could look at the devastated communities, the ruined lives of so many and with prompting form the Tabloids would scorn them.
“If only they had been like us, if they worked hard like us, if they’d bought their home and shares and invested! It’s their own fault!”
However, lurking beneath this bravado was always a fear, the fear that they were two lost wage packets away from being like that.
The fear that there place of work would fail.
Perversely, that drove them even further into Thatcher arms.
Poverty was part and parcel of the neocon philosophy, you had to have the poor, it gave meaning to peoples lives even if that meaning was a mean spirited one.
A meaning that said the poor only had themselves to blame.
It also encouraged those that did have some wealth to hold on to it even tighter. Of course, a lot of it was illusionary. A lot of it was built on debt. But it did it job, by the 1990’s the Thatcher revolution was complete.
The privatised utilities were making big profits which allowed Thatcher to say she’d been right to privatise them.
Of course the press never questioned this.
Really, who was benefitting from the huge profits? Certainly not the general public – by this time most people had sold their share to buy homes, kitchens etc.
The shares had been another disgraceful giveaway. But this was before the utilities started their insane price hikes and with the press cheerleading for Thatcher most people now bought into the line that privatisation had been a good thing.
For the record I disagreed with privatisation when it happened and I never changed my mind about that. But it allowed Thatcher in her final couple of years to start privatising other services, one where their was more public resistance, one she wouldn’t have got away with in the early days. Buses. The Thatcher philosophy now dominating was competition always made services better and so the state and council owned bus companies were to be sold off to create competition.
Of all the privatisations only rail privatisation was more bizarre in outcome and intent. In many cases she sold whole sections to companies like Stagecoach, changing a public monopoly into a private one.
She also took away regulation so that in areas where there were competition predator companies, such as Stagecoach, they killed that off the competition thus creating a private monopoly. Whereas state owned bus services would subside loss making but socially necessary routes so that councils, through the taxpayer, were having to subsidise those routes.
There has never been a proper analysis of bus privatisation but in my opinion it’s been a disaster for passengers and the public purse.
Rail privatisation was a similar disaster although Thatcher is not to blame here – in fact she opposed rail privatisation.
By the time Thatcher was kicked out, the propaganda from government and the press that drove forward these populist policies had made sure that her philosophy was now regarded as the model for all governments: New Labour was then born and, by the 1997 general election, both parties were putting forward neocon philosophies.
Labour’s just had a bit more of a “human face”.
I can’t leave Thatcher without mentioning the miners.
This was the most vindictive and shor-sighted of Thatcher’s policies.
Coal use had been on the decline since the 1960’s, factories now ran on electricity, trains which before the 1960’s consumed vast tonnage of coal now used none.
In home central heating gas, oil and electricity was made the coal fire obsolete.
By the 80’s coal use reduction had become a tide. So while I’d love to be able to say that no mines should have been closed that just wasn’t the reality. However, although coal was still needed Thatcher wanted to punish the miners; she knew the power of the mining union and blamed it for the defeat of Ted Heath’s government back in 1970.
So she laid the ground work, targeted more pit closures than was necessary and strategically made sure coal was stockpiled at all power stations.
She also had the army on standby to help the police.
She choose the time when the strike would begin and, sadly for the miners, they had a fool in charge of their union. Thatcher knew this, she knew Arthur Scargill would walk right into her trap and so it happened and there then followed one of the most bitter strikes in history.
The miners were always on a hiding to nothing.
The press had made sure large section of the population weren’t sympathetic.
With over a years worth of coal stockpiled the strike was doomed from the start.
However, the propaganda from the press the use of the armed forces and the behaviour of the police marked a turning point.
For many of us from mining communities we’ll never fully trust government or police again.
That’s not to say the miners were completely innocent but, in many cases, where trouble broke out the miners were very frequently provoked: deliberately provoked in to the violence we saw.
I know of an area where the local police and the pickets got along fine with no problems.
Then a whole army of police turned up many who had no numbers on the uniform. We know now they were army.
By the end of the day dozens of miners had been arrested.
Other gravely serious systematic violations of human rights took place.
My uncle stays in Corby and my Dad was driving down from Fife to visit him.
He was stopped by the police a few miles from Corby and asked numerous questions.
When he told them he was from Fife they wouldn’t let him go any further.
He told them he was just visiting his brother but was told Fife was a coalfield area and they had orders not to let anyone from certain areas through.
Thatcher left office with her job unfinished.
Major’s government was not competent or ruthless enough to finish it.
His legacy is a rail privatisation that even Thatcher baulked at. It’s one of the most incompetent, botched privatisations ever.
The New Labour government was just an interruption.
Yes, Tony Blair was a neocon but the Labour government didn’t really carry forward her plans, they just didn’t reverse them.
Now the Tories are back and they have learned.
They are taking the neocon agenda to the next level which is the wholesale destruction and privatisation of the welfare state.
The propaganda machine is even slicker than in Thatcher’s time. But that’s now; it’s only relevant to Thatcher because it’s her legacy being extended.
Her real legacy – and why I dind’t celebrate her death is that she won. Neocon philosophy became the accepted orthodox doctrine for government.
I try to argue against it but even people who profess to hate the Tories seem to have bought into the neoliberal private ownership and greed is good philosophy.
Black Triangle note:
Don’t despair Peter!
It seems that the majority of people the latest Guardian ICM poll believe that privatisation has been a failure although the other findings would regrettably seem to confirm much of your thesis.
Solidarity! Our struggle continues!