Saturday, October 15, 2005


Thatcher hits the 80s

On my 7th birthday in 1979, Margaret Thatcher came to power in the UK and managed to win three successive elections and stay in the top seat for over 11 and half years. By this time I was an 18 year old in art college watching her downfall. So you could say I am one of Thatcher’s kids as I grew up in that decade. This week was her 80th birthday and opportunity to look back at her legacy since she was kicked out of power 15 years ago.

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?

Sunday, October 09, 2005


The Tory Leadership hots up

Seems like the usually dreary Tory Party conference was enthused with an interesting sideshow in UK politics last week. The reduced faithful was entertained by five wannabe leaders showing their wares as to who is best to lead the party into another defeat at the next election. I almost expected Simon Cowell to be there with a B-list celebrity panel to help the viewers decide which numbers to text into to choose their favourite Tory. Judging by the results is seemed there is going to a swift exodus leaving David Davis’s camp over to new kid in town Cameron.

Despite his spin doctors trying to lower expectation and saying that Davis was not a natural speaker, he managed to succeed all expectation and delivered a particularly leaden speech. The only live wire is Ken Clarke but as discussed – the party will ensure that he doesn’t get elected. I would imagine that Rifkind’s supporters may go to Clarke and Fox’s supporters may split between Davis and Cameron. This will probably squeeze Ken out leaving a choice between the dull and the inexperienced.

Now that the Tories feel they have found their Tory version of Blair – fresh-faced modernizer saying nothing of any substance – it will be interesting to see how fast Davis’s campaign sinks. Davis seems to think that being a Tory from a council house with a single mother gives him an interesting angle. Does it really matter? What single mothers from council houses along with everyone else want to know is what his policies are. Problem is that it’s hard to concentrate when listening to him drone on. A tad unfair perhaps but can you imagine an election with Brown vs Davis? It would be like watching two walls with fresh paint – wondering which shade of grey will dry fastest. Come back John Major – all is forgiven!

If they do plump for Cameron it shows that the party hasn’t learnt from the debacle of William Hague. Just because you are young it doesn’t mean the voters won’t see through paper-thin policies varnished with an inch of gloss. Why try to out-Blair Blair? They seem to like Cameron and yet they do not know what he stands for. As for Fox and Rifkind – these two are essentially lightweights. Fox have a chance of getting down to the final two – and he seems the only one to have a definite policy. Unfortunately that policy is to leave the European Union which despite the UK being eurosceptic isn’t really going to attract many voters except from a few disgruntled UKip voters returning to the fold. Finally Rifkind, despite being an ex-Foreign Minister and a one nation tory is about as inspiring as a withered asparagus.

If the Tories were really brave it would allow their party to choose which leader out of the five contenders. Unfortunately these were the same people who elected IDS. Overall I believe the only person who could give Brown a run for his money at the next election would be Clarke. This wouldn’t be good news for the Liberal Democrats – but yet it would make the next election more of a fight between the three main parties. Yet it seems the Tory party is hell-bent on losing the next election before it even begins. Good for Brown and Kennedy maybe but after 8 years of Blair and his adventures in war – this is surely bad for democracy.

Strangely enough watching the Tories over the last decade and their ever-changing leaders reminds me of all those actors who have played Doctor Who during the 80s and beyond. The Tories have had their Tom Baker in Margaret Thatcher but now they are going through a myriad of dull and uninspired replacements like Peter Davidson, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann etc. Are they going to find their Christopher Eccleston to run for one season and get their audience interested in their out of date, wobbly set policies or are they just going to blow their budget on special effects and hope a talent less but pretty boy actor hoodwinks the audience to liking them? I used to like Doctor Who but l grew out of it. Let see if the British voter ever get 80s nostalgia for the Tories.

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