The Blog

Margaret Thatcher Is Dead and I Will Shed no Tears

I refuse to accept for a second that her death should be mourned or that her impact on British society and the world was anything other than a baneful one. The countless lives ruined, shortened, and blighted by this woman in the war she unleashed on the working class in this country is unquantifiable.

Margaret Thatcher is dead and I will shed no tears.

I refuse to accept that her death should be mourned or that her impact on British society and the world was anything other than a baneful one. The countless lives ruined, shortened, and blighted by this woman in the war she unleashed on the working class in this country is unquantifiable. She decimated communities, deindustrialised the nation's economy, and set out to destroy the bonds of solidarity that had been the lynchpin of society since the Second World War. Individualism, untrammelled greed, and rapacious acquisition were the pillars of her political creed, responsible for turning Britain from a nation of citizens into a nation of consumers, along the way legitimising barbarism and cruelty as virtues to be lauded rather than evils to be vilified.

Back in 1979 the Iron Lady arrived in Downing Street determined to transform Britain. What followed was the structural adjustment of the British economy following the paradigm devised by Milton Friedman and his famed, now infamous, Chicago School. Simply put the market was accorded the status of a deity, omnipotent and omniscient, reducing human beings to economic units valuable only for their ability to produce or consume, with the emphasis in Western economies on consumption. Globally, the market was now arbiter of who ate and who starved, who lived and who died, and the record shows that millions did starve and have died.

The previous Labour government found itself presiding over an economy which global events - a hike in energy prices as a result of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war in the Middle East, runaway inflation and a sterling crisis - led to the ignominy of the first advanced industrialised economy since the end of the Second World War approaching the IMF for a bailout loan in 1976. A rise in industrial disputes, commonly attributed to the trade union movement wielding too much power and influence, was the natural response of workers being asked to pay for a crisis not of their making with wage freezes, cuts, and redundancies. When push came to shove, the Labour government sided with the banks and international financial institutions in bearing down on British workers by agreeing to the onerous conditions attached to the IMF loan, most notably cuts in public spending and cuts in real wages to control inflation. These combined factors created the conditions of economic slump responsible for a Conservative victory in the 1979 general election, called as a direct result of the parliament's vote of No Confidence in the Callaghan government in the aftermath of the 1978 Winter of Discontent.

Thatcher immediately set about destroying Britain's trade union movement on the way to exporting the nation's manufacturing base to lands where people were forced to work for near starvation wages. They did so without any vestige of the rights or dignity which British workers enjoyed as the fruits of epic industrial struggles, waged throughout the 20th century by previous generations of men and women, struggles that gave new meaning to the word heroic.

But within ten years the dignity attached to work and the ethos of cooperation and community in Britain had been destroyed. Working class communities were reduced to largely drug infested wastelands of unemployment, rising crime, and broken families. The Keynesian model of managed capitalism was a thing of the past. The future was the City of London, stock market speculation, inflated property prices, a service economy employing a casualised workforce, and the privatisation of public utilities and key public services. Tory propaganda spread the lie that they were turning Britain into a property owning society of entrepreneurs in which everybody wins. Those left behind were deemed surplus to requirements as the barbarity of Social Darwinism replaced social justice in Thatcher's Britain.

Her abiding and lasting accomplishment was in pitching the centre of gravity of politics in Britain to the right. The most profound manifestation of this was the transformation that took place in the political philosophy and principles of the Labour Party, a process which culminated in the birth of New Labour in 1994, when Tony Blair assumed the leadership of the party upon the death of John Smith. It should never be forgotten that Thatcher credited the creation of New Labour as her greatest political achievement. In 1997, the year New Labour came to power, the thousand richest people in Britain were worth £98 billion. Ten years later their wealth had climbed to just over £300 billion - a 204% increase. In 2007 3,200 bankers in the City of London shared £8.8 billion in bonuses, while 2.5 million children and 2.9 million pensioners were living in poverty. These were the fruits of Thatcher's legacy.

When it comes to her infamous statement that there is 'no such thing as society', this was never intended as a statement of fact. It was, on the contrary, a statement of intent. Standing in her way were hundreds of thousands of miners, steelworkers, shipyard workers - the nation's working class. The struggle they waged to prevent the eradication of their jobs, communities, and rights was epic in scale and grievous in consequences. Yet there is no plaque or memorial in the centre of London to the heroism of the people who resisted the juggernaut unleashed by Thatcher. There are no glowing tributes being carried in the mainstream media to their stand against a legacy of rampant inequality and social and economic injustice, thus illustrating the axiom that history is written by the victors.

For millions up and down the country, Margaret Thatcher's death will not be mourned. Instead many will remember the devastation, suffering, and despair which she wrought, packaged as progress.

Others outside mainland Britain have reason not to mourn her death. The ten men who gave their lives on hunger strike in the North of Ireland in 1981 in a struggle for political status were casualties of her time in office. Thatcher was a supporter of apartheid in South Africa, she was an early supporter of the murderous Khmer Rouge, and she was a close political ally of the Chilean dictator Pinochet, who tortured and murdered thousands during his reign.

No, I will shed no tears for Margaret Thatcher. My tears are reserved for her victims and my tribute to the men and women who waged a valiant struggle in resistance to the barbarity that she and everything she believed represents.