It would be perverse to ignore what this morning is the big story here in Britain, but I am neither going to indulge in a round of universal praise nor a rant of unmitigated condemnation. If that’s the kind of thing you want, you’ll find whatever you want elsewhere in spades. In fact, the chances are you’ve already found it, and not doubt what you have read have confirmed your prejudices that Margaret Thatcher – ‘Maggie’, The Iron Lady’’ Mrs T’ – was – delete as applicable – a modern-day saint with miraculous powers the likes of whom we shall not see again for some time / a monumental bitch of a she-devil who murdered children for sport, Both sides are willing to produce ‘proof’ for their view. (Incidentally, it has long been apparent to me that when most folk ‘want proof’, they want nothing of the kind. They merely want someone more articulate than themselves and preferably better known to confirm their prejudices. In that spirit, you’ll find proof galore if you hunt the net just a little to find ‘proof’ that, for example, aliens DO exist, live up are arses and make a mean spag bol if that’s your personal delusion.)
So instead of a hallelujah chorus or a round of kill-the-bitch (rather difficult in Mrs T’s case as life has already got in there first) I should like to remind those of you who are ‘more mature’ i.e. an old fart like me (or inform those of you too young to remember) what was happening in Britain in the late Seventies and what state the country was in. On the radio this morning – which was unsurprisingly wall-to-wall Maggie except for the football and weather forecast – Max Hasting, hack of this parish and once editor of the Daily Telegraph, made the point that ‘Thatcher was of her time. Any given leader can probably only do what they do at a given moment of history’, and I think it is a good point. Take a look at the picture above and reflect on what someone else observed on the radio this morning, that ‘Britain was economically and politically a laughing stock’ in Europe. It was taken in London's Leicester Square at a time when our rubbish collectors went on strike. Why I can't remember - perhaps they wanted more sugar in their tea like the bosses. But what you see above could be seen all over the country. It was not a pretty sight.
The Seventies were for the more developed nations of Western Europe the endgame for an economic model. I specify ‘for the more developed nations’ because countries such as Spain, Portugal and Greece were still emerging from dictatorships, in the case of Spain and Portugal, several decades of it, and were still economically several decades behind Britain, France and German. The Japanese were beginning to produce better, more well-equipped cars than Europe and selling them more cheaply (it was the Japanese who began to sell cars with a radio as standard and European and US car makers had reluctantly to follow suit). Coal and steel were being produced and sold more cheaply and white goods were also cheaper to import. By the Seventies the quality of many British goods, almost always those at the bottom end of the market, were of piss-poor quality. The country was also in the grip of rampant inflation.
Faced with these problems, the various governments of the Seventies all opted for the easy way out: paying subsidies. It is the coward’s way out – pay off the blackmailer, which only encourages him to come back for more. It is, of course, far too easy for a blogger writing after the event to criticise: what would we have done given that the collapse of Britain’s heavy industries – coal, steel and car making – would, if not managed properly – have led to massive unemployment. And I really can’t blame the trades unions for some of the things they did: their role was, is and always will be to represent the interests of their members and their members wanted to keep working. Why should they pay the price while ‘the toffs’, who were everyone else but them as far as many were concerned, were able to carry on blithely? Where the unions came unstuck, I think, as that too many of there leaders were rooted in the old ‘let’s create a socialist state’ ideal ‘by taking over the means of production’, and striking and other forms of industrial unrest were their weapons. It was never going to end in sweetness and light and it didn’t, but that is no criticism of Thatcher.
So you might agree or disagree with what she did, but any honest man and woman would be hard put to deny that she was a one-off: she didn’t care whether or not she was popular – which makes her almost unique among politicians – and she was convinced she knew how best to pull the country out of the mess it was in. She went for it and transformed the country. There is much I dislike about the country into which she transformed Britain, not least the way almost everyone seemed to jump on the ‘greed is good’ mantra. But I sincerely believe she was far more nuanced than her public image would suggest. Nor do I believe she was the right-wing harridan of left-wing mythology. So as far I as I am concerned: RIP Margaret Thatcher.