Saturday, June 29, 2013

What was it with Maggie?

Ever since Maggie died in April I have been wondering why Britain’s first female Prime Minister polarised people so much. You either love her or you hate her!

Dressed up as Maggie at a the Street Party fancy dress comp  
I grew up in Thatcher’s Britain. I lived in her shadow not knowing anything else until her demise in the nineties and her recent death has inspired me to find out more of the leader that ruled the country of my childhood.

I must admit that my older sisters hated her with an absolute passion but as I grew up I couldn't really understand why they found her so abhorrent while she continued to win election after election.

Depending on who you talked to, Thatcher’s rampage though Britain’s manufacturing sector either destroyed the country for good for or gave it the clean out (read “modernisation”) that it had to have.

Thatcher’s closing of the collieries in the north of England, an act that that many people say that the area never really recovered from. Without a proper plan to transition from an area that dug things out of the ground to a region was a part of the innovation revolution, it has become a place left behind from the modern day knowledge economy. Rates of chronic employment remain high in the north east due to low economic growth in areas such as construction as well as the decline in apprenticeships and other modes of capacity building.

Another big criticism of Thatcher’s selling off of public housing.

While allowing people to own their own homes is a great policy, encouraging people to buy overvalued properties isn’t such a wise move and according to an investigation by The Daily Mirror 80% of these council flats have ended up being rented out by private landlords.

What also happened was that the properties that were sold in the North of the country were worth much less than the houses in the more prosperous south.  

It seems that the policy of making property ownership more accessible has not really benefited subsequent generations in Britain and we are seeing that the rich continue to be in control of the property market and cheaper social housing has become harder to find as they've been sold off.  But I guess this policy was developed to help the aspirational working class at the expense of those who don’t have the means to own their own home. 

But Thatcher’s changes weren’t just limited to the housing market.

Like any good Conservative, Thatcher believed in small government and this included reducing the number of rules and regulations that the financial sector had to follow. For example, this meant that building societies were given greater freedom for to provide mortgage services and banks were now also allowed more freedom to merge and acquire new businesses that provided financial services such as stockbroking and insurance. The market was also opened up to foreign investors and businesses.  

While it meant that the sector was allowed to grow and develop, it also meant that the financial industry saw phenomenal growth as the same time as being more susceptible downturns in the market as we saw with the Global Financial Crisis.    

She was also an amazing political tactician. In a conversation with Radio National Broadcaster and ex Liberal Senator Amanda Vanstone, David Burchell describes her as an essay in hatred in politics and how to present your opponents with a set of issues that they don’t know how to handle. She had the ability to not only bring great strength to her own cause but to also weaken the cause of her political opponents.

In 1979, Britain Labour was in a state of flux – wedged between the traditional values of the Union Movement and the need to move with the times. But when Thatcher came to power, it gave them someone to hate and having such a clear enemy to focus on seemed to lead them down a path of self destruction.  
Struggling with issues such as immigration, defence and what it meant to be British, the party imploded and proceeded to take 20 years to regroup.

Burchell argues that Thatcher didn’t set out to destroy the Labour Party but by developing a set of “modernising” policies that the Labour Party couldn’t create viable alternatives for, they were soon driven in to a corner to be perceived as the bastions of “anti – modernisation”.

Thatcher showed how easy it was to divide her opponents by pursing a set of clear set of ideas and how to use political hatred to her advantage. Labour was so hell bent on hating Thatcher that they became irrational and unable to develop policy alternatives. 

I could go on about her record divided Britain and making it country that focuses on the individual pursuit of wealth at all costs. In her death I hope she may rest in peace and that we may learn from her mistakes and continue to work for the common good so that no one may be left behind.    

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