The Dim-Post

April 9, 2013

The Lady dies

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 7:02 am

Thatcher was a huge figure in twentieth century politics, and we’ll hear a lot about her complicated legacy over the next few weeks. The only point I have to make is that there was an alternative. The UK economy in the late 1970s was in dire need of change. But so were many western economies, and nations like Australia and Germany are proof that you can achieve price stability, labour market reforms and introduce free market forces into your economy without crippling unemployment, widespread rioting and dooming entire regions of your country to permanent socio-economic depression.

Thatcher was important for a number of reasons, but in economic terms she’s significant for the radical, revolutionary nature of her reforms, and the fact that they were a lot less successful at achieving growth and creating wealth than those of more moderate, less celebrated leaders. Her reforms did make a small number of very wealthy people even wealthier – at the cost of making a huge number of working class people significantly poorer – which is the main reason her achievements are so celebrated by political, media and business elites.


  1. “nations like Australia and Germany are proof that you can achieve price stability, labour market reforms and introduce free market forces into your economy without crippling unemployment, widespread rioting and dooming entire regions of your country to permanent socio-economic depression”
    Are you sure about that? Australia lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs and real wages decreased (something apparently Thatcher didn’t achieve). You’re right there wasn’t rioting but you seem to continue to promote the idea there is a nicer version of neoliberalism.

    Comment by K2 — April 9, 2013 @ 7:31 am

  2. I was struck by the way the newsreader intoned that she will be “mourned by conservatives everywhere for her radical reforms” – the juxtaposition of “conservative” with “radical” shows how she was part of a hijacking of the meaning of the word conservative, changing it from meaning essentially a defender of the traditional status quo to that of being a Bolshevik vanguard. She was a disaster for every part of Great Britain except for the deep Tory English heartland of the home counties and the city financiers. Part of her legacy is going to be the United Kingdom perhaps losing the “United” bit as the Scots, done over by Thatcherism, ponder breaking away.

    Comment by Sanctuary — April 9, 2013 @ 7:40 am

  3. Well expressed Danyl. I lived through most of Thatcherism and was glad to escape the anti “anybody without serious money” feeling it engendered. Even now I cant help but think the Falklands war was all about reelection and oil.

    Comment by Northshoreguynz — April 9, 2013 @ 8:11 am

  4. I’d be curious as to what you think might be the difference between the economic policies of Australia and New Zealand. In their fundamentals they have been almost identical since the Mid 1980s.

    Comment by Roger — April 9, 2013 @ 8:15 am

  5. The distinction between ideological conservatism (which Thatcher embodied) and temperamental conservatism (which she emphatically did not) is a crucial one here.


    Comment by Lew (@LewStoddart) — April 9, 2013 @ 8:41 am

  6. No, Lew, Thatcher redefined what ‘ideological conservatism’ meant in a British context. In 1979, the Conservative Party had a long tradition of promoting paternalism and noblesse oblige extending back to Disraeli’s ideal of “one nation.” They had a tradition of close ties to the established church, independence in foreign policy, and moderate support for the Keynesian economic consensus and the welfare state. It was a tradition manifested by – among others – the great war-hero prime minister Harold Macmillan. Thatcher threw out all of this, destroying the conservative ideal of duty to the poor, alienating the churches, and forging a trans-Atlantic alliance that no PM since has had the courage to break out of. Whereas old ‘high’ conservatives had wanted to preserve the delicate balance of duties and deference that sustained the British class system, she wrecked this and consigned large swathes of the country to urban wasteland. Her tenure was disastrous for the poor, the working class, and the unions, but it was also disastrous for conservatism.

    Comment by Higgs Boatswain — April 9, 2013 @ 8:58 am

  7. It should be noted that widespread industrial disputes and social unrest preceded Thatcher
    “Industrial disputes and widespread strikes in the 1978 “Winter of Discontent” made Callaghan’s government unpopular, and the defeat of the referendum on devolution for Scotland led to the successful passage of a motion of no confidence on 28 March 1979. This was followed by a defeat in the ensuing general election.”

    Comment by TransportationDevice A7-98.1 — April 9, 2013 @ 8:58 am

  8. I’d be curious as to what you think might be the difference between the economic policies of Australia and New Zealand. In their fundamentals they have been almost identical since the Mid 1980s.

    Assuming that is a genuine question, and not a patsy question to show how stupid everyone else is…

    The general opinion is that the Hawke/Keating government worked with unions to reform the Australian economy, and made incremental changes, whereas in NZ the Lange/Douglas government threw the unions under the bus and used blitzkrieg tactics (this phrase is either attributed to Douglas, who used it with pride, or Brian Easton, who used it disparagingly) to transform the economy with no thought for the impact upon people (whether they be farmers or workers).

    In his memoir Lange dismisses the unions in NZ as too stuck in their ways and fearful of any change, so working with them was not an option.

    Comment by Paul Rowe — April 9, 2013 @ 8:59 am

  9. Germany and Australia never went as far into the abyss as the UK did pre Thatcher. We were only allowed to work 3 days a week while the miners and state power companies were constantly striking, weeks went by with British Rail on strike and in the end the IMF had to bail out Britain. Doubt many in Australia can remember having a candlelit cold bath in1979 while having a marginal tax rate of 98%. Sure her reforms were pretty tough but they needed to be made and no government of the left has reversed them.

    Comment by David — April 9, 2013 @ 9:07 am

  10. Higgs B, you’re right. My remark was more in respect of Sanctuary’s distinction between “conservative” and “radical” than the changing definition of conservatism, which Thatcher did indeed force.


    Comment by Lew (@LewStoddart) — April 9, 2013 @ 9:11 am

  11. That last comment tells you everything you need to know about why the left talk big but do bugger all

    Comment by rayinnz — April 9, 2013 @ 9:12 am

  12. Paul, the political means by which the policies were introduced differed but the policies did not. Labour here believed the unions could not deliver on any kind of reform agenda whereas in Australia Labour was led by the former head of ACTU. Our equivalent, Ken Douglas, was a member of the local franchise of a ruthless multi national monopoly (aka the Communist party) and for obvious reasons was never going to hold national electoral office. The currency crisis generated by Muldoon and our greater dependence on the rapidly declining meat and wool industry gave the NZ reforms a degree of urgency not present in Australia which had already floated its dollar in 1983. But fundamentally both countries have ended up – policy wise – in the same place.

    Comment by Roger — April 9, 2013 @ 9:36 am

  13. That last comment tells you everything you need to know about why the left talk big but do bugger all

    Take that successful European Social Democracies!

    Comment by Gregor W — April 9, 2013 @ 10:12 am

  14. Time generally makes a fool of us all.

    The British unions had done an enormous amount of good for regional communities eg in the coal mining areas. But but they ha slowly become conservative. But the remained those communities only organised voice – but could not change.

    Labour at the time was still controlled by out of touch union bosses and still had nationalisation if industry in its constitution.

    So there was no effective political alternative to Thatcher that was willing to make changes but with representation from working.

    Comment by NeilM — April 9, 2013 @ 10:18 am

  15. …representation from the working class.

    Comment by NeilM — April 9, 2013 @ 10:19 am

  16. Life for Russians under the Czars was very bad. Things had to change. And they did.

    Therefore, the change that happened was good. Because life before the change was not good.

    Therefore, Stalinism was inevitable, and good. Obvious, isn’t it?

    (this logic courtesy of all Thatcher/Douglas apologists for the past few decades)

    Comment by sammy 2.0 — April 9, 2013 @ 10:45 am

  17. Th

    Comment by NeilM — April 9, 2013 @ 10:53 am

  18. The Guardian editorial concludes:

    Her legacy is of public division, private selfishness and a cult of greed, which together shackle far more of the human spirit than they ever set free.

    I’m not averse to the sentiment but it accepts as objective fact what is actually one theory of whst human nature is or in this case “human spirit”. Part of an argument that’s been around for several thousand years.

    Comment by NeilM — April 9, 2013 @ 11:49 am

  19. I went to University in the late 90s, and many of my lecturers were still pretty snarled up about the ideological battles of the 80s (just as I imagine my students are probably sick of hearing about the ideological battles of the mid 00s), so I heard a lot about Thatcher.

    But to me she will always be the Twilight Struggle card that, while it belongs in the American deck, is surprisingly good for the Soviets in a tight late game. (+1 Soviet influence in Argentina? That’s a potential gamechanger!)

    Comment by Hugh — April 9, 2013 @ 6:04 pm

  20. I’m loving the way media around the world don’t feel the need to speak well of this dead fuckwit. What a shame the NZ media didn’t do the same for Paul Holmes. Even those who despised him felt the need to be polite and ‘polarising’ was as much as far as most went. Gavin Ellis even said ‘balanced analysis should wait’ but thank goodness the rest of the world are not so respectful/timid when it comes to Thatcher.

    Mind you, for all that balanced analysis, I’m still left with a bitter taste being reminded that she even existed and that her like continue to rule our world.

    Comment by nigelsagentinthefield — April 9, 2013 @ 9:44 pm

  21. I think the degree to which Thatcher departed from past conservative ideology is overstated — don’t see a great deal of difference between her and fellow Hayek fan Churchill. She did change the electoral appeal of the Tories from elitist to bourgie,

    Comment by bradluen — April 10, 2013 @ 3:52 am

  22. However, she did recognise the danger of human caused climate change so is arguably not as bad as some current unconservatives – ie Abbott.

    Comment by Tobias — April 12, 2013 @ 1:15 am

  23. Danyl, you do realise in the last 30 odd years since the start of Thatcher’s term the UK has had stronger growth than either Australia or Germany? Do you also realise that her reforms were emulated to a greater or less degree in both of those countries after she took the lead. It isn’t an exaggeration to suggest she halted the slide toward Socialism for much of the Western World.

    Comment by swan — April 12, 2013 @ 7:30 pm

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