Wednesday, 10 April 2013


A few days ago David Cameron managed to sum up the Thatcher era in a few words; he said that something along the lines of Mrs T being ‘an inspiration to some of us’. ‘US’ is the key word, to have an ‘US’ you have to have a ‘THEM’ and that was the harsh reality of Thatcherism and its consequences. Speaking as one of the ‘THEM’ while offering condolences to her family and friends, I won’t as a fellow human being wish her any ill will at all.

I have no doubt that yard upon yard of column inches will be expended on flawless eulogies. Other bloggers have eloquently covered the main issues that impacted directly on those of us living west of the Severn Bridge including the wilful destruction of much of our manufacturing base and the shameful destruction of the mining industry.  I would focus on other issues where Mrs T had a significant and lasting impact.

No doubt much will be said about the Falklands War and how Mrs T put the ‘Great’ back in Britain. Like most things this is subjective. Yes, Mrs T was PM when a floundering brutal military Dictatorship invaded the Falklands and yes she was PM when a task force was sent to liberate the islands from military occupation. Ironically that defeat was to put the skids under the Argentine dictatorship which soon collapsed resulting in the restoration of democracy in Argentina.

I wonder how many column inches will be expended amongst the background to the Falklands war and how the Argentinean invasion came about. In 1979 the Conservatives were elected with an electoral pledge to maintain the Royal Navy with a surface strength of 90 vessels, by the time the Falklands had come around the RN was down to 46 surface vessels and the two large carrier units had just been sold to Australia and India (before any of the smaller replacement ski jump carriers were in-service).

Amongst the very public cuts was an announcement to withdraw HMS Endurance the patrol vessel that protected the Falkland Islands and the British Antarctic territories.  The Argentinean military dictatorship rightly or wrongly aware of the defence cuts saw the opportunity for a short and victorious war of conquest which would distract the long suffering Argentinean people from the economic woes of a collapsing economy. The rest as they say is history.

Much will also no doubt be made of MRs T’s role in bringing about the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.  This again is subjective, the West (MRs T) included got, to coin a phrase ‘Got Russia wrong”. In the run up to the failed Soviet coup the Western powers were backing Gorbachev to keep the Soviet Union intact – so much for democracy and self determination.

In the run up to the collapse of the Soviet Union it is worth remembering that a virtual parade of Western Leaders (including Mitterrand and George Bush Senior (as VP)) roundly condemned any secessionist tendencies on the part of the suppressed nations inside the USSR. Only after the fact did Western leaders (with the honourable exception of Canada) reposition themselves to recognise the defacto independence of Russia and the republics.

The West (MRs T included) failed to adequately support the young Russian democracy (let alone provide anything like reasonable amounts of support to the emerging states of Central Asia) merely lumbering them with a bloody series of privatisations. This disorganised asset stripping event did Russia and Russian democracy long lasting if not permanent damage and gave birth to the oligarchs and led us to Putin’s Russia.

While when it comes to Europe, Mrs T walked the walk and talked the talk about standing up for Britain in Europe, famously hand bagging various European leaders. All good PR no doubt but it is worth remembering that it was under her premiership the UK signed up to Maastricht, and unlike most of the rest of Europe UK voters were denied a say in the matter. This lack of trust or faith in the UK’s ordinary citizens indirectly gave birth to UKIP, something that is ironically currently causing David Cameron some sleepless nights.

The right, understandably, like to crow about the fact that Mrs T curbed the excesses of the old Trade Unions and brought in strike ballots, interestingly enough New Labour quietly retained all of the Conservative Trade Union related legislation.  There are some things that the old style left old style left still fails to accept. Firstly that the old style Trade Unions were pretty undemocratic and secondly they appear to have regularly seem to have traded in better working conditions for their male members and opportunities to bring in equal pay for female members with the employers to preserve their own differentials.

In Place of Strife: A missed opportunity
The old style Trade Unions from the 1960’s onwards failed or choose not to grasp technological change, something that could have actually retained their members jobs. The Labour Party bottled it when it came to reforming strike procedures and the way terms and conditions could be negotiated when Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle failed to push through ‘In Place of Strife’ White Paper (in 1968).

In the end what was then ‘Old’ Labour put Party interest before national interest (something that Labour ‘Old’, ‘New’ or ‘Post New’ continues to do so well in Westminster and the Senedd) and dropped this modest measure. This effectively setting the scene for what followed in 1970, 1973-4 and 1979 – 86 as fired up with their power and influence the Trade Unions locked horns with successive Conservative Governments and pretty much wrecked the economy and delivered Mr’s T to 10 Downing Street.

What followed amongst other things was a well organised looting of state assets and as the Americans would say a giant fire sale took place and badly run state industries were sold for a cheap price the only medium to long term beneficiaries being the City money men. While the Conservative governments made much of reducing regulation on the City the real ‘light (non-existent) touch’ was brought in by Gordon Brown,  who pretty much laid the groundwork for the financial crash that was to follow.

The 1980’s and the 1990’s in the UK were an incredibly destructive and divisive period, which saw the reckless pursuit of some seriously socially divisive policies. From where I was sat (mostly in Newport, Llanbedr PS and South London) save for the right to buy legislation (the profits of which should have been ring fenced and used to build and rebuild modern social housing) very little of lasting good was accomplished.

The old nationalised industries needed modernisation not an organised session of asset stripping, the wilful destruction of profitable pits (with significant coal reserves) was criminal as was the waste of the North Sea oil revenues on tax cuts for the rich. The privatisation of the energy utilities has result in hundreds of thousands of people living in an energy rich country living in fuel poverty.  Our Building Societies became banks and were rapidly absorbed by predatory financial intuitions laying the groundwork for what was to follow under New Labour.

The Conservative’s fantasy of rolling back the state was actually just that, pure fantasy. There was a growth of a largely unelectable and unaccountable tier of quango’s something that particularly affected us her in Wales. Getting rid of the quangocracy was yet another election promise that New Labour failed to deliver, as it proved too useful and too convenient and worked just as well stuffed with Labour cronies as it did with Conservative ones.

One price we have all paid for the 1980’s and the 1990’s in Wales is that we live in a fractured and partially broken society. We have to face that reality and to try and do something different, by creatively using the limited powers of the Senedd to do something different rather than following the old flawed development models. That said we can no longer live in the past and throwing heaps of blame at any one particular individual (who had many willing helpers) is wrong; we need to create a better future for all our communities rather than the one that many of our communities are currently still enduring.

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