So here are first thoughts on Margaret Thatcher, put together in response to a friends adulation.
a young adult my first vote was in the 1979 election when Margaret
Thatcher came to power. I was on an early journey of exploring the
political scene, and had rejected the blind conservatism of my
prosperous home town (an archetypical Tory powerbase) , and the
socialist reaction brought about by being the product of rural poverty.
My student years at Oxford coming to an end I had seen the worst of old
school Tory elitism and the worst of a left wing socialism promoted
there among its many varieties. I was horified at the potential of
Thatcher and the alternative offered by the labour party, and stood
paralysed in the voting booth. (I won't say which way I voted but my vote
really did make a difference in a marginal seat.)
Watching the endless coverage here in the UK today of the conflicts between Unions and a Government led by Thatcher of the early 1980's, years I knew well as an adult, and hearing the description of it as a fulfilment of the class warfare long anticipated, was deeply shocking. More shocking was seeing the impact in the industrial and mining heartlands of closures that had been driven following an ideological agenda as much as economic necessity. A resident interviewed stated: "There may have been need for action, but not at the expense of the decimation of communities. "
Claire Berlinski in her biography noted that Thatcher made an unsparing and comprehensive case against socialism. She notes how Thatcher thundered, ‘In the end the real case against socialism is not its economic inefficiency, though on all sides there is evidence of that. Much more fundamental is its basic immorality.’
have no question of that. But was the free market she championed any
more moral? Absolutely not. The impact in those communities bears
witness to the fundamental a-morality of the market, and the
exploitation of it by greed driven (unquestionably immoral) men.
Moreover Thatcher's later deregulation of the City of London finacial
sector in 1987 bore its ultimate fruit in the banking crises, collapses
and scandals of 2008-9. The impact on the world economy in the past few
years, and the consequent suffering is its bitter legacy.
There may be some here who honour all that, and more who out of decency will not hit out at a recently deceased woman, but the cynicism that is being voiced at her impact in our nation is deeply worrying. It is a cynicism not driven by socialism in most cases, it is a product of the care-free attitude to the bottom of society that is a product of her years of office.
She is being lauded as the most outspoken Christian leader in recent years. A Christian maybe, but how deep was the impact of that faith in how she pursued her ideology and its impact. A Christian solution is certainly not essentially a free market one. Nor is it a centrally managed one. It is far deeper, and those who evaluate her legacy in terms of twenty years of economic growth have a very short term view.
I am afraid I cringe every time I hear her words as she took office:
"Where there is discord, may we bring harmony.
Where there is error, may we bring truth.
Where there is doubt, may we bring faith.
And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”
I love that song, and the words of the prayer of St Francis that inspired it. and I was tempted to hope when she uttered them on May 4th 1979.
But remembering that moment today I have a very different response. Her years were not marked by harmony, faith or hope among many. Her legacy is of deep discord, doubt and despair.