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I was the Head of Policy and Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland until my retirement in September 2018. I now work on several policy development projects, so all views are very definitely my own. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.
Wednesday, 17 April 2013
Thatcher's real legacy
I am at the STUC so have probably taken a drop or two more than my usual modest libation today. But none of it relates to the funeral of Margaret Hilda Thatcher. That would be a waste of good whisky.
Delegates at the STUC have been very restrained today. Many recognise that her last years were spent coping with dementia, a terrible illness, as those of us who also have family members suffering the same condition can testify. The old saying about wishing something on your worst enemy still applies in my book.
But that doesn't mean I don't feel sick at the canonisation of her in many parts of the right wing media. The Prime Minister cannot complain about those who attack the unnecessary cost of her funeral when he politicised her death from the outset in parliament. He should not be surprised at the backlash that has taken so many different forms. The fact that he appears to be, simply shows how out of touch he is.
What we legitimately can do today is challenge the legacy that some parts of the media are spinning.
For me inequality was a major part of Thatcher’s legacy. Poverty almost doubled under Thatcher and for pensioners it rose by a third. Child poverty doubled as did homelessness. Wilkinson and Pickett (Spirit Level) said the 1980s saw “much the most dramatic widening of income differences on record”, as “the gulf between the top and bottom 20% widened by a full 60%”.
This wasn't done to strengthen the economy. Far from saving the economy the average growth rate in the 1980s equaled that of the 1970s, fell short of the 1960s and since 1980 the long-term growth rate has declined from 3% to 2%. However, the big change under Thatcher was awarding the City unquestioned power. This included deregulation of the financial sector leading to the supremacy of finance at the expense of a balanced economy. This all led to the financial crash - Thatcher's real legacy.
Thatcher's much vaunted commitment to freedom and democracy didn't stop her supporting some of the world’s worst dictators. Suharto, the Saudi regime, Pinochet, Saddam Hussein and of course apartheid South Africa. As the Observer reported last Sunday, she was still supporting coup attempts against elected governments in her last years.
Far from being a champion of liberty she never hesitated to support the repressive and information gathering arms of government - as the miners and trade union members at GCHQ know only too well.
Then we have privatisation. Often profitable public utilities were sold off cheaply, shifting public responsibility to the private sector, for no advantage other than for the managerial elites that were the main beneficiaries. Not to mention the huge fees paid to the bloated finance sector. Far from spreading wealth, a small elite gained massively and her legacy can be seen in our energy bills today.
So on the day when Margaret Thatcher is buried at our expense, let's not gloat, but remember her legacy. Remember the people her government hurt and the people her apologists continue to forget. But lets also learn from the legacy and learn how to create our own popular alliance that stands for the decent collective human values that Thatcher so despised.