Saturday, October 15, 2005
Thatcher hits the 80s
The first thing that surprises me is how politicians can be ruthless and yet still expect loyalty. Thatcher wasn’t voted out of office but resigned under pressure form her own MPs as they felt she had gone too long and was so unpopular that she would lose them the next election. Thatcher understandably felt betrayed when her own ministers, like Ken Clarke, were telling her it was best to go. Apparently she later regretted speaking to them individually as that gave them opportunity to say how they genuinely felt. Maybe if she spoke to them as a group, none of the frightened tribe would dare confront their fearsome leader who was under attack from Michael Heseltine’s challenge.
Yet Thatcher herself managed to become leader by dethroning Edward Heath. It was he who promoted her into his cabinet and when he later lost the election in 1974 – she believed he was no longer fit to be the Tory leader and successfully managed to depose him. Not much loyalty there. Heath was so upset that he went into a famous permanent sulk and decided to stay in the commons probably just to irritate Mrs. T. This invokes parallels with Iain Duncan Smith when he later became leader and demanded loyalty and yet it was he who was a Maastricht rebel who caused so much trouble under John Major. Short memories these politicians seem to have. Thatcher’s fall is often attributed to two things – her increasing hostility to the European Union and her insistence on introducing the infamous poll tax.
It is interesting to see how the Tories have so much in-fighting over Europe, are so Eurosceptic and yet have done the most to bring us closer to Europe. Whilst Thatcher famously won the UK an EU rebate (as we didn’t get so much agriculture subsidies) and she did forge a closer relationship with the US – it was her who signed the Single European Act in 1987. This helped bring about closer political European integration. In 1990 Thatcher also, albeit reluctantly, joined the ERM – the exchange rat mechanism. Later she would say she was ‘duped’ into signing the treaty and joining the ERM. It doesn’t fill you with confidence when a leader has to claim this. Shouldn’t she take responsibility for her own actions?
Therefore it’s typical to hear a politician claim one thing and yet do another. The British people were never consulted over this treaty nor any others which signed by Thatcher and later Major.
The hated Poll tax was generally bitterly resented especially in Scotland where it was introduced a year before. This effectively taxed the poor more and the rich less than the previous tax. It didn’t work when John Gaunt under Richard II introduced a Poll Tax in 1380 and it didn’t work in 1990. When Thatcher was disposed, the Poll Tax was quickly scrapped and replaced.
Thatcher’s key legacy, in her favour, would be taking on the trade unions, privatizing many public industries and winning the Falklands war. It does seem, in my opinion, that the trade unions in the 70s did have too much power and were able to grind the country to a halt over any issue they choose. It seemed that they didn’t want the right workforce to match the work needed. If there were too many people doing one person’s job – then so what? If Britain was no longer competitive then this wasn’t their problem. The balance between management and trade unionism had tipped too far in favour of the trade unions. Thatcher tipped it in the opposite direction by bringing new trade union laws.
Ironically though, Thatcher’s reign, was to be the ruin of the Tory Party. Although Major managed to squeak through on a narrow victory in 1992 – mainly for not being Mrs.Thatcher or a red-haired Welsh wind-bag – the Tories would lose in 1997. During it’s 18 years in the wilderness the Labour Party slowly and painfully modernized which reached it’s zenith under Blair who ditched the party’s Clause IV – ditching it’s commitment to nationalizing industry. Yet Thatcher never groomed a successor. Maybe she thought she would go on forever. When the axe fell – Major happened to be the right person in the right place. If Thatcher’s fall had been a year earlier or a year later it could well have been someone else.
However it makes me wonder if Thatcher hadn’t succeeded in winning in 1979 – what would Britain be like today?
Hope you don't mind but I couldn't resist the one of Margaret Thatcher which I have used on my blog.