In death as in life Margaret Thatcher fiercely polarised opinion. History will inevitably record that she governed for her kind, for finance capital and for the elite who believe they have a right to power and privilege. And it is their spokesmen above all who are today proclaiming her many alleged political, economic and social achievements. But in the long run history must distinguish myth from reality.
Whilst it is true that some in the City of London made billions out of Thatcher’s decisions, millions more were pauperised by her. The boardrooms of Britain revered her its true as she helped them maximise their profits, but those profits came from the increased exploitation of the unorganised and the weak. The neo-liberal political establishment today celebrates her legacy and yearns for her return, but billions more are glad to see the back of her.
And the wall-to-wall media coverage her death has attracted reminds us what it is we loathed about her. In the former pit villages and steel towns, including the one I grew up in, no tears will be shed for her passing. She was despised in a way no other British Prime Minister ever was, not even the warmonger and liar Tony Blair. And she was despised above all because she destroyed communities of people and brought premature death to millions. Indeed her wanton acts of brutality, greed and exploitation render redundant the verse of St Francis of Assisi she famously cited on the steps of Downing Street on assuming office in May 1979 - ‘Where their was hope she brought despair, where there was harmony she brought discord, where there was security she brought exploitation and fear’.
Margaret Thatcher’s legacy was mass unemployment and the Poll tax. That’s what she will be remembered above all in working class Britain. She was responsible for appalling levels of poverty, indebtedness and insecurity and the fear that accompanies it. ‘Expert witnesses’ in studios across the land tell us today she was right about the unions and the decrepit state of British industry and made the necessary changes but they are wrong.
They refuse to see her real legacy. She was wrong about the Poll tax, she was wrong about Scotland, she was wrong about privatisation, she was wrong to sell off Britain to City spivs in London in a way and to an extent never seen before. She is also responsible for Britain becoming one of the most unequal societies in the Industrialised world.
And Internationally she disgraced Britain and our values repeatedly with her use of the UN veto and her association with vicious regimes like General Pinochet’s in Chile and the Apartheid Government in South Africa. And history demands we record she goes to her grave having called Nelson Mandela and the ANC ‘terrorists’ for insisting on black majority rule.
And yet it was her flagship policy, the Poll tax, which was most typical of her and her kind. This transparent attempt to shift the burden of tax from the rich to the poor not only came to symbolise her, it finally claimed her. More than 14 million people refused to pay it in the biggest act of mass defiance Britain has ever seen. Her legendary stubbornness meant she was toppled by that rebellion and removed from office by her fellow Tory MP’s, fearing they’d lose their own seats, hung her out to dry before they all ‘hung together’ in the 1992 General Election.
And yet there is one important lesson above all the British labour movement still has to learn from the Thatcher era, and Tony Benn put it best, ‘ the working class in Britain need a leader to stand up for us in the way Thatcher stood up for her class’.