As an occasional Huffington Post blogger with an interest in both politics and economics perhaps I could say some thoughts that reflect the passing of Baroness Margaret Thatcher. Margaret Thatcher was reputed to have done much for the reform of the British labour market; she was also Britain's first female prime minister, but moreover it is perhaps important to stress that she was a very divisive character. Margaret Thatcher represented the division between private virtue and public collective cold callousness, hence amongst her supporters there is a degree of hagiography about what she did. The alternative view is represented by many people, not least the multi award winning actress Glenda Jackson MP, although not by any standards a radical, her speech in parliament this month reflected the tone of many of the non eulogizing population of the country.
Thatcher's time in government was very noted for its reform of Britain's trade unions. The ability to do this during her time was assisted by Britain reaching a stage where it became self sufficient in North Sea oil. This enabled her government to finance the growing unemployment that she was associated with. With high unemployment the unions were less able to resist the changes that she brought through. Britain was well aware that from the 1970's the trade unions enjoyed too much power. In the 1950's and 60's trade unions were important in reforming the British labour market. Many attempts were made to counter growing union power. Barbara Castles "in place of strife" and Edward Heaths "industrial relations act" were both attempts at reform, but trade unions had begun to have the power to resist these initiatives. From 1979 Margaret Thatcher's government felt able to let unemployment rise thus reducing the ability of trade unions to resist the reforms that she was introducing. During her time in government unemployment began to rise to what was allegedly nearly 4 million. Margaret Thatcher was gifted with a divided left represented by Michael Foot. The relatively "powerless" people at this stage she picked on included Nelson Mandela in jail in white South Africa and the Irish hunger strikers in jail in this country, both demonstrations were regarded as reflecting acts of terrorism. The next opponent which made her reputation was the Argentinean dictator general Galtieri. At the time of launching the task force to rescue the Falkland Islands she was very unpopular in the opinion polls at home. Following the Falkland's invasion her success and reputation thereafter was assured. In the election in 1983 she was re-elected with a massive majority. Following this her next opponent was Arthur Scargill. Arthur Scargill was the leader of the National Union of Miners. He fell foul of Margaret Thatcher's trade union laws and after a strike of over a year was humbled by Thatcher's considerable power. Her reputation was still growing and in her third and final general election of 1987 she secured a further victory in the country. Politics is a cruel game and her own cabinet were clearly keen to curtail her continued pre-eminence in the party and by 1990 her own party forced her to resign. She was never defeated in the polls. This adds to her hagiography.
With a female prime minister many people thought it might be good for the position of women in society. In her cabinet which usually involved about 20 people there was only one other woman. Many have said that Margaret Thatcher enjoyed having only one woman apart from herself in the cabinet. The point is often made that despite being prime minister and therefore an excellent influence she did little to advance the position of other women in society. She had demonstrated the ability to break through the so called glass ceiling to reach the top job in society. This has demonstrated to future generations the ability to succeed in society but during her time she did very little to promote other women. When told more recently that the conservative party were in coalition with the liberal democrats her reply was that "she" was not in coalition with the liberal democrats, but in her first term her party included a "coalition" of notable wets and drys. The coalition at the moment is an equivalent combination to achieve political power in the House of Commons. David Cameron's coalition with his wet liberal democrats achieves much the same thing.