Margaret Thatcher rose to power in the context of a broken down Bretton Woods System, a system that formed after the Second World War in attempts to control the speculative financial flows and an unstable economic order that saw protectionist policies and the Great Depression occur in the inter-war period. With the US unable to withhold the convertibility of Gold and the dollar, however, the ‘Nixon shock’ (1971) saw the end of such guaranteed convertibility, alongside the fixed exchange rate coming to an end by 1973 with the rise of many floating currencies. With this renewed flexibility for the US that remained the reserve currency, able to run up ever-increasing unsustainable debts and deficits, this was accompanied by the rise of new social forces alongside an increasing attack on organised labour and welfare rights that had been won and granted after the Second World War. The rise of the right especially occurred in the UK, represented by Margaret Thatcher, and in the US with Ronald Reagan.
The 1986 Big Bang in London, one of Thatcher’s notable ‘achievements’, alongside the intensification and depth of Wall Street after the 1970s with the development of unstable dollar supply and the US’s special status as the reserve currency saw an expanding, inherently destructive finance sector. There was more and more financial shocks and increasingly bigger state bailouts of institutions that went wrong due to the risk and instability. In 1997, there was the Asian Crisis that the IMF and developed countries tried to blame upon the developing countries’ domestic policies, with the IMF imposing measures that made the crisis even worse in the long-term. However, with the recent financial crisis the developed countries have had to question their own economic ideologies more, with developing countries amassing a great amount of reserves to protect themselves against needing the IMF whilst supporting the US currency with the developing countries’ heavily reliant export model economy. How sustainable such an arrangement is, is up for debate.
It is important to stress this context and how the rise of right-wing Thatcherism and Reaganomics ideology and economic practices utilised such a context to intensify financial dominance, with profits being the thing people wanted, bonuses exploding and an individualistic logic Ayn Rand would have been proud of encouraged from the top down. People were told they were on their own. There was no such thing as a society. As unemployment ballooned, working class communities were shattered and called the ‘enemy within’, hospitals and schools were closed, VAT increased, social houses were sold through ‘right to buy’ so there was a massive shortage of council housing, alongside the Poll Tax, whilst Thatcher extended great support and friendship with a fascist dictator – Pinochet – alongside terming Mandela as a ‘grubby little terrorist’ and supporting the apartheid regime. These were some of Thatcher’s notable ‘achievements’.
I use achievements sparingly, as people have been referring to what Thatcher did as ‘achievements’. I don’t like the word, as it makes out these were positive things. I see what Thatcher did as a series of atrocities. The same thing happened with Reagan after he died. For instance, Thatcher and Reagan hated gay people. Thatcher introduced Section 28, to stop the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools – it only recently was repealed. Reagan, despite AIDS being first reported in the medical and popular press in 1981, only spoke voluntarily publicly about the epidemic in 1987 by which time tens of thousands of people had died from AIDS. In 1987, the US prohibited AIDS education that ‘encouraged’ or ‘promoted’ homosexuality – similar to Thatcher’s Section 28 introduced around the same time. But like the media within the UK since Thatcher has died, there was no real mention of this in Reagan’s obituaries.
This brings me on to this false pathetic claim that if you didn’t live through something you can’t comment on it. Essentially, this means having an individualistic logic where only anything you directly experience can be commented on. It’s an ahistorical argument where there is total ignorance towards how what Thatcher – and Reagan – did has such a profound influence on who we are economically, politically and socially today. Rather, we have to understand the context to their reforms – so this refers back to the inherent destabilising mechanisms within the Bretton Woods System that relate to the US dominance and ignorance towards Keynes’ warnings regarding the US as reserve currency and also unsustainable trade deficits.
Whilst Labour tried and succeeded in addressing many of the inequalities Thatcher brought in and Major continued, her legacy still has a dramatic impact on who we are today – and even the Labour party with New Labour. We are a selfish, individualistic and apolitical culture that often cares about only themselves and doesn’t have a respect for the legacy of the great struggles that got us the rights we so often take for granted: such as voting. This relates to this individualistic notion that we can’t comment on things we didn’t live in. After all, why would the right want you to see that they have always been on the wrong side of debate throughout history? The current government are also doing things Thatcher only dreamed of and are picking up where she left off, with full-scale privatisation, slashing of state support, social services, and benefits alongside rapid cuts to departments.
It is a selective use of the right wing economic discourse, however, as shown by William Hague’s comment regarding the funeral and how we can “afford” it:
When it comes to money, the rebate she negotiated for this country from the EU has brought us so far £75bn, which is twice the size of our annual defence budget. I think that puts money in perspective … so I think we can afford to contribute to a funeral.
Ok, if we are going to play the numbers game, it was Thatcher’s policies that sowed the seeds for the recent crash and the £1.5 trillion bank bailout. Why should the public, who were not responsible for this, then have to pay for such state support of a corrupt over-leveraged finance sector with benefit cuts, privatisation, housing shortages, financial aid cuts, education cuts, higher tuition fees, cuts in wages and so on? One minute we are told by Hague that cuts are “essential to the future of the country” and then we are told we aren’t actually nearly bankrupt and can afford to pay for the funeral of someone who hated and wanted to destroy the state and all it stands for. This illustrates their selective use of anti-state ideology, as does the state’s continual support for an unsustainable unstable finance sector and their ignorance to the 450% private sector debt as they decided to focus on public sector debt which is around 70% of GDP – when after the war, public sector debt was 250% and Atlee created the welfare state and helped turn Britain around!
There are long-term effects of Thatcher’s legacy all over the world. You look at places such as Russia even, which was ransacked by the Chicago Boys mentality – something Thatcher supported in Chile – after the fall of the Soviet Union. As mentioned, our culture is dominated by egos and individualistic rhetoric which relates to lack of workers’ rights and organisational labour power that only makes it easier for the finance cartel to employ race-to-the-bottom policies with their boys in Number 10 helping them given the Tories get 50% of their funding from the City.
Essentially, this relates to the right-wing media that Thatcher got on with so well, especially Murdoch, and how the media tells us what to care about. The media say that it is not in good taste to even discuss Thatcherism. We are told to ignore what she did, believed and promoted because she’s died, as though that makes someone so much nicer. The respect for all those people she screwed over doesn’t matter. For instance, the BBC are quite happy to play the pro-right-wing Thatcher song, I’m In Love with Margaret Thatcher, but will only play a 5 second clip of the Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead song, despite not being directly about Thatcher nor naming her directly, because of ‘respect’. What the hell. Firstly, not playing a clip when you usually would do is biased as you are changing what you normally would do to keep the right wing, especially those in government, happy. Then, secondly, what about the respect for all those people’s lives Thatcher destroyed? Who cares about them? Those people who died long ago, or who have had so much grief and hardship all over the world because of her policies, ideology and rhetoric. Why aren’t they the focus?
This relates to this idea that we need to respect how she was a strong-willed character. I don’t think her being strong-willed will make anyone feel better in South Yorkshire or in Chile who suffered the abuse and torture of her regime. Equally, I dislike this idea that just because she is a woman that we have to respect her determination and strong will and the fact she got to the top of a male dominated party as quite an ‘achievement’. And for what? Did she help women when she was attacking feminism and women’s rights? Did she care about women when she only ever had one woman cabinet minister? Just because she is a woman doesn’t mean she cares about women’s rights and was a good thing for women.
Relating to the objection to Glenda Jackson’s fantastic speech in parliament when the MPs were wrongly called back, which has only happened 14 times in the last 32 years, with over three thousand pounds travel expenses to use – you can’t complain that people refer to what Thatcher did and believed when they are giving demanded ‘tributes’. The whole point of a tribute is to reflect on what someone did in their life, what they believed and what they wanted in life. All what Glenda Jackson said reflected this, and was right but the Tories just don’t want to hear it. If when I die I have lots of right wingers outside my funeral protesting, I’d know I had done something right in my life!
People have every right to protest, celebrate and be glad that Thatcher is dead. When someone has such horrific, nasty damaging views and helps enact so much grief and travesty onto people around the world through such controversial and hateful determination I can’t see why anyone has any objection to people breathing a sigh of relief. Such relief, is nothing compared to everything she ‘achieved’. What should be happening in a decent society is a whole-hearted criticism of Thatcherism, what it meant and did and its effects upon society now and how we are going to move away from it. Rather, we live in a society where we have an even worse government than Thatcher’s, who hate anyone that aren’t rich upper class white non-disabled men. We have to question how we live in such a society, with so much resources, knowledge and wisdom. We need to use this time to help destroy Thatcherism and its legacy today, whilst giving respect to your ordinary person who is neglected, abused and misrepresented in the mainstream media and in political debates more and more.
I’m telling [my daughter] all about the Thatcher legacy through her mother’s experience, not the media’s; especially how the Thatcher government directly supported Pinochet’s murderous regime, financially, via military support, even military training (which we know now, took place in Dundee University). Thousands of my people (and members of my family) were tortured and murdered under Pinochet’s regime—the fascist beast who was one of Thatcher’s closest allies and friend. So all you apologists/those offended [by my celebration]—you can take your moral high ground & shove it. YOU are the ones who don’t understand. Those of us celebrating are the ones who suffered deeply under her dictatorship and WE are the ones who cared. We are the ones who protested. We are the humanitarians who bothered to lift a finger to help all those who suffered under her regime. I am lifting a glass of champagne to mourn, to remember and to honour all the victims of her brutal regime, here AND abroad. And to all those heroes who gave a shit enough to try to do something about it. – A Chilean who experienced the oppression of Pinochet.