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Ding dong! The Witch Is Dead?

Some international readers may wonder what all the fuss is about. They've probably heard of Maggie (or maybe "The Iron Lady") but would wonder why celebrations of her death devolved into riots (crass upon crass) and that song rising rapidly up the charts.

Following a disastrous Labour (moderate left) leadership in the mid '70s, following an equally disastrous Conservative (centre-right) leadership in the early '70s; the winter of 78-79 was the "Winter of Discontent", marked by frequent wildcat strikes, brownouts, and all sorts of shenanigans as the already power-crazed trades unions upped the ante to a whole new level. It had already been years since the song "You Don't Get Me (I'm Part Of The Union)" which gives you an idea of the level of malaise in the workforce.
Right now, in France, the notoriously militant C.G.T. union are trying to hold various actions to protest the MEDEF trying to tell the government how to legislate work conditions. MEDEF is an employer's union, so it stands to reason that some of their proposals are unfriendly to the employee. However there are thousands of people for every job, so the employer has a lot of power and the employee practically nothing.
Back in Britain in the '70s it was the other way around. Employees could hold the company ransom. And they did. The whole situation had been building for almost a decade across both governments (the Three Day Week, and Work-to-Rule for example) and the unduly harsh winter of '78-79 brought it to a head.

Somebody needed to reign in the trades unions from flying pickets, wildcat strikes, and such. Somebody needed to fix the embarrassment that was the economic failure of post-war Britain. Somebody needed to give the country direction and not pander to dalliances.

That somebody was Margaret Thatcher. As well as breaking the unions and squashing the Press, she sought to stamp out the "dependency culture" (I've messed up, the government can fix me) insisting that people need to help themselves first. Employees got to own shares, people could buy council housing at low rates, and one could say that if you were in the right place, the '80s will probably have been kind to you. Unfortunately there was high unemployment and the social policies didn't always please everybody - there are some places that apparently have not recovered from the Thatcher years, though I feel obliged to point out that it has been over twenty years since her departure, maybe it is about time the current incumbents own up to doing bugger all instead of "it was Maggie wot did it".

Another aspect of Thatcherism is the privatisation of... well, pretty much everything. This opened state-run monopolies (telecoms, rail, etc) to competition. Some might say this improved things. Some might say the exact opposite.

Thatcherism can be defined as nationalist (remember the British Airways "hangbagging" when she discovered that the planes would no longer be flying the Union flag on the tail?), moral absolutes, unwavering uncompromisability, and the individual themselves being the important person. Her single-minded lack of compromise is, to a part, what picked Britain up from a bad situation, the morality and "gotta look after number one" is the ethos of the eighties so this isn't necessarily Thatcher in itself.

It is clear that at the end of the '70s that things needed to change. What is less clear is how they needed to change. Maggie put herself in the position of fixing things, but while some stuff got fixed, other stuff broke. It's a balancing game really - was Thatcher good or bad for the country in the long run? Well, that probably depends upon who you ask, for as you might have noticed, some people love her and some people would get satisfaction from spitting on her grave. There's no middle ground.

Thatcher's policies directly affected me. I was to stay at my school to do A-levels. Post-16 education was cut back for a short time (about two years, until it was realised that this was a dumb move) and... well... I left school with my GCSEs and didn't do A-level Physics and Chemistry. Back then I was into that stuff and did the advanced level GCSEs so would have been good with the higher level course.
What could have been?
I'm not bitter about it, though. As the big Four Oh approaches, there are plenty of decisions I could look back at and say "what would have been if...". But this is like a Fighting Fantasy book. I've made these choices, I've taken this route. This is where I am. Just so long at the next instruction isn't "turn to page 98" which in turn says "You Die In Agony, Ha-Ha!" or something like that!

What I do find surprising is the sheer amount of stuff blamed on Thatcher. As possibly one of the most influential leaders the country has ever had (and to test this, if you're a Brit, name all the Prime Ministers in order since The Summer Of Love and which ones did you miss out, did you have to stop and think?) and yet it has been over twenty years since Thatcher and still stuff is blamed on her!

Well, yes, it is her fault that the government can't buy back British Telecom and replace the aging copper network befitting a third-world country with something better; however... is also her fault that you can go with different providers to get the best deal at the best price. Before Thatcher, the phone was a gadget physically wired to the wall and your choice was phone or no phone. It's very different today.

All in all, Maggie took a really crappy situation and tried to make it work. Perhaps rather than asking what she did that was right (no doubt a question of a feckless bastards content to live off handouts, for nobody with an iota of decency would stoop to celebrating the death of a long-since-gone politician!), it might be better to ask what would have become of Britain had The Iron Lady not stepped up.

Either way, this is made of Epic Win, and so very Maggie:

Disapproval of the British Airways redesign
[sourced from a blog posting (was better than the DailyMail version); credit in the photo]


Note - Thatcher is one of the topics that tends to push a Brit's Berserk Button. Keep comments civil, or they will be Kittened.


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joe, 12th April 2013, 12:50
Rust in peace Iron Lady

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