Mrs Thatcher’s demise: two classes, two attitudes
On Monday, 8 April 2013, Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of Britain for more than eleven years (4 May 1979 to 27 November 1990), died of a stroke at the Ritz Hotel, which had been her home for a few months prior to her demise. She was eighty seven.
Why the ruling class honours Thatcher
Writing in the Financial Times of 9 April, 2013, Jonathan Guthrie, summed up Mrs Thatcher’s services to British finance capital in the following words: “… there is no individual to whom British business and the City of London owes a greater debt of gratitude” than to her, adding that she “… privatised 40 businesses employing 600,000 people, readied the City for European dominance in financial services and emasculated the trade union …. the ‘Big Bang’ city reforms of 1986 ” resulted in “… an influx of capital and talent from North America and Japan“, ensuring London’s pre-eminence as a financial sector, which accounts for over ten per cent of the British economy. Mr Guthrie goes on to say that in the 1980s, the “high summer of sell-offs“, businesses worth £16bn were “spun off by be-mulleted City boys” (‘Mrs T’s vim proved by the irreversibility of her reforms’)
As during her lifetime, so after her death, the British ruling class has returned the complement by recalling parliament on 10 April at a cost of £2million and giving her a state funeral on the sly at a cost of £10million to the taxpayer. Members of Parliament were offered the bribe of £3,750 each to fly back from their holiday to be in time for the special session of Parliament convened for paying tribute to Mrs Thatcher, when it could have been done free of any expenditure the following Monday (15 April); and this at a time of austerity and plummeting living standards for the working people, many of whom are told to subsist on £53 a week.
Repulsive though are our MPs, 150 of them, be it said to their credit, spurned the bribe and stayed away from what was sure, and actually did turn out, to be a session of nauseating politeness and competitive fawning.
During this seven-and-a-half marathon, the leaders of the three main bourgeois parties – Tories, Lib-Dems and Labour – as well as dozens of MPs tripped over each other in showering praises on Mrs T. “She made our country great again“, and ” I believe she will go down as the greatest peace-time prime minister“, said Prime Minister David Cameron. His deputy and Coalition partner, Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg, stated that Mrs Thatcher “drew lines on a political map that we are still navigating today“.
Labour leader Ed Miliband, not wishing to lag behind other leaders in this contest in sycophancy, characterising Mrs Thatcher as a ” towering figure“, went on to say that she was a prime minister “who defined her age“. She was a “unique figure“, he said, who reshaped the politics of a generation. In a manner typical of all two-faced social democrats, he went on to utter the following two sentences, the second of which completely contradicts and annihilates the first: ” The Labour Party disagreed with much of what she did and she will always remain a controversial figure. But we can disagree and also greatly respect her political achievements and her personal strength “.
One thing or the other! Either the Labour Party did not disagree with much of what the Thatcher government did, or it really did disagree with, and opposed, what her government did, in that case what is there to respect, let along “greatly respect“, in her “political achievements“?
Many Tory MPs expressed the view that they were marking the passing of a “political giant“.
Who could look the grimmest competition on the Tory benches was easily won by George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, “… with a face so bleary-eyed it looked like he’d spent the night kipping in the back of a hearse (parked, and papped, in a disabled bay)” (Brian Reade, Daily Mirror, 11 April 2013, ‘The politeness was as bad as their fawning’)
Glenda Jackson brought a note of realism and sobriety to the proceedings when, to the fury of the Tory benches, and the embarrassment of her own side, she stated: ” Everything I had been taught to regard as a vice – and still do -was in fact a virtue under Thatcherism – greed, selfishness, no care for the weaker, sharp elbows, sharp knees. They were the way forward. What concerns me is that I’m beginning to see possibly the re-mergence of that .”
The last sentence of the above-quoted remarks of Ms Jackson is patently wrong, for the vice of Thatcherism was embraced by her own party, Labour, as much as by her Tory successors. Since this vice never went away, it is illogical to talk of its re-emergence.
MP Ronnie Campbell, a former miner and who stayed away from Parliament on 10 April frankly admitted: ” I’d rather have been in a torture chamber than sit through that debate“.
Respect MP George Galloway observed: ” It is enough to make you sick. It is vast public expense for a bunch of fanatics on the Tory side and hypocrites on the Labour side who shed crocodile tears “. Galloway added: “May she burn in hell fires“.
Liverpool Labour MP, Steve Rotheram, who also stayed away, remarked: ” She was celebrated by big business and the rich and powerful, but reviled by huge sections of a society she didn’t actually believe in. For many she leaves a legacy of misery “.
The parliamentary extravaganza in fawning and servility was followed on Wednesday 17 April by Mrs Thatcher’s funeral. Dubbed ceremonial, it was a state funeral on the sly at a cost of £10m at public expense, with full military honours, a horse-drawn gun carriage, escort of the King’s Troop Royal Artillery, ranks of saluting troops and Chelsea pensioners posted on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Beginning at the Westminster Crypt, her coffin was carried by a hearse to the RAF Chapel in the Strand, from where it was transferred to a gun carriage drawn by the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery. From there it proceeded down the Strand, through Aldwych, and along the entire length of Fleet Street before going up Ludgate Hill to the grand St Paul’s Cathedral. Here the coffin was carried by members of the armed forces into the Cathedral for a last tribute. The Queen was in attendance.
Operation True Blue was, in reality, a militaristic operation shrouded in a jargon to give it the appearance of a policing exercise.
Most people in Britain were furious that Thatcher was being given a £10m funeral, while the government was busy axing benefits for the poor, sick and disabled, with 57 per cent of the people being of the view that her family should pay for it, particularly as she leaves behind an estate valued at £10m and her son Mark is considered to be worth £60m – money he made solely because of his mothers’ connections. Some suggested that the bankers, yuppies and suchlike spivs, who made fortunes during her time in office, should pick up the £10m tab rather than the taxpayers. Others opined that the funeral service, instead of being held in St Paul’s, should be held in the offices of a Mayfair hedge fund, with G4 security guards, instead of troops, lining the route of the cortege. Still others thought that her funeral should be privatised and put out to tender.
Public anger at Thatcher’s lavish funeral was expressed in innumerable tweets, with one tweeter writing: “If Thatcher can be given a state funeral, it is only fair that we dig up Hitler and give him a go.” Another one said: ” The boos will be loud and clear – Ding Don The Witch is Dead“.
As opposed to the ruling class, and a cluster of well-heeled sections of society, large sections of the population greeted her death with delight and glee. Within hours of her death, celebrations were being organised in
A joke doing the round in the mining villages was that “Thatcher has been in hell for only 20 minutes, and she has already shut down 20 furnaces“.
The song “Ding Dong! The Witch is dead!” hit No1 on the weekend of 13-14 April in the iTune charts.
A special needs teacher, Craig Parr, organise a Lady Thatcher “death party“. Teacher at Haverstock School in Camden, attended by Labour leader Ed Miliband and his older brother David, Mr Parr led chants “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, dead, dead, dead” and handed out posters saying ” Rejoice“.
Amazingly, a serving Met officer, Jeremy Scott, tweeted, hoping Thatcher’s death was “painful and degrading“, that the world would be a “better place” if Cameron too, were dead, asking whether a flypast would bomb Thatcher’s coffin and that her passing was ” 87 years too late“.
Knowing her attitude towards the Irish nationalist community in Ulster, and the fact that she presided over the deaths of ten most wonderful young Irish prisoners in the Maze, with heroic and commendable restraint, Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuiness, deputy prime minister of Northern Ireland, tweeted ” Resist celebrating the death of Margaret Thatcher“.
To understand the chasm dividing the opinion of the British ruling class and the majority of the working people regarding Margaret Thatcher, let us look at what the bourgeoisie regards as her achievements – achievements that made her the darling of British finance capital and the privileged sections of society, but a much-hated and sworn enemy of the working class.
The Tories under Thatcher won the election of 1979 with a determination to tip the economic and political balance further still in favour of British finance capital and the privileged layers of society, through a programme of wholesale privatisations, decimation of social housing, and a host of other measures.
But to implement this programme, she had to get rid of the fighting capacity of the working class – the ‘enemy within’, as she was to characterise the miners. She went about this task methodically, with extreme care and caution, for she did not want to face the unions before her government was fully ready to do so. The first legislation of her government in 1980 banned secondary picketing but not secondary strike action; there was no withdrawal yet of benefits from strikers’ families. It was a classic use of Salami tactics. The half-hearted call for a “Day of Action” given by the unions to oppose this measure was a dismal failure. Later, when the steel unions engaged in a bitter strike to stop British Steel Corporation’s plans to slim the industry by shedding jobs, her government announced plans to hit strikers’ benefits. From then on legislative attacks on trade unions cascaded, and were followed by anti-trade union laws in 1982, 1984, 1988 and 1990.
The chief obstacle to Thatcher’s plans was the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). [Note:1] She, and her government, were hell-bent on confronting and defeating the NUM. From the moment of taking office, she started preparing for this crucial fight.
Not being yet ready, she backed down from confrontation with the miners in 1981, making funds available to keep open pits, regarded as uneconomic by the Coal Board and the Government, while putting in place measures for the battle with the NUM.
In 1982, the NHS workers and railwaymen lost out after lengthy strikes.
In 1984, the gloves came off, after her government had secretly built vast stocks of coal at power stations, enough to last for eighteen months’ electricity, and recruited fleets of road-hauliers to move coal in case railwaymen came out on strike.
Ian MacGregor, who had run British Steel and was credited with defeating a two-year long miners’ strike in the US, was appointed to head British Coal. He proposed to close 70 pits in Yorkshire, Scotland and South Wales, entailing a job loss of 70,000.
Battle was inevitable. Yorkshire, Scotland and Kent came out solidly in favour of strike action to oppose pit closures. Fresh from a landslide victory in the General Election following the Falklands war, the Thatcher government was champing at the bit to take on the miners, for at that time only the miners stood in the way of the government and the entire employing class in achieving complete victory over the working class and depressing the living standards of the latter. British monopoly capitalism, in order to be successful in the world of cut throat global competition for markets, had to bring down the cost of production through job cuts, rationalisation of industry, and increased productivity of labour. In short, the cost of labour power had to be reduced. Thus the stakes were very high; this was fully realised by the ruling class and its government, as well as by the miners and their leadership.
All these events were unfolding against the background of economic depression, which, with its 3.25 million unemployed and the consequent emasculation of the economist TUC leadership, had produced a state of demoralisation in the working class. But the miners were made of different stuff, and the Government and the Coal Board knew it. That is why, in their class war against the NUM and, through it, the entire British proletariat, the bourgeoisie compared (as for instance the Sunday Times of 18 March 1984) the NUM leader Arthur Scargill with the erstwhile Argentinean military dictator General Galtieri.
Although the circumstances were not most favourable for the miners at the time, in view of the prevailing mass unemployment, warm weather in the offing, the build up of large coal stocks by the government, and the recruitment of large police forces, the miners, if they did not want to go down without a fight, had to pick up the gauntlet. And be it said to their honour, they rose to the challenge and acquitted themselves honourably. Beginning in the first week of March 1984, pit after coal pit went on strike, and within three weeks 140 out of the country’s 170 coal pits were closed.
The bourgeoisie had expected the strike to crumble within a matter of just a few weeks. It was, however, to last for a whole year, during which time striking miners picketing coal fields were mercilessly and brutally attacked by the police, with large areas of the country being turned into a para-military state of existence. Not only were miners on the picket lines attacked by the police with unbelievable ferocity, people were harassed hundreds of miles away from the scene of picketing just on the suspicion of being miners on their way to the picket lines – a situation characterised by the then Vice President of the NUM, Mick McGahey, as “the beginning of a totalitarian state in our country“.
Nearly three decades after that strike, writing on the occasion of Thatcher’s death, John Stalker, former Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, had this to say in this connection: “Britain has never been closer to becoming a police state than when Thatcher was in charge“.
He added that it was ” perfectly in order for miners in Kent to be prevented from travelling to Yorkshire if they were likely to cause disorder – a 300-mile exclusion zone.
“Some chief constables began to see themselves as generals and military strategists. I’d even heard rumours that soldiers were being dressed up in police uniforms to boost numbers.”
Alluding to the complete loss of faith in police on the part of working people – surely a welcome development – Mr Stalker bemoans thus: ” We became people to be feared, not respected. There were stories of officers boasting about their overtime money, and sticking notes in pickets’ buses saying: ‘Thanks, you’ve paid for my two weeks in Majorca. ‘” (Daily Mirror, 10 April 2013)
The worst scenes of fighting took place at Orgreave, near Sheffield, with 5,000 pickets attempting to block the delivery of coal to the Scunthorpe Steelworks, facing an even larger police force, including mounted police, for three weeks. During these weeks several hundred miners, including Scargill, had been arrested. By the end of 1984, consequent upon cavalry charges by baton-wielding police and indiscriminate violence, two people had died on the picket lines, five miners had been put on life-support machines, three had fractured skulls, ten broken ribs; more than 2,500 miners suffered cracked ribs, broken arms and torn shoulder muscles consequent upon being dragged handcuffed across the ground. In comparison, police injuries were minor and far fewer.
At last, after a year’s heroic struggle, the NUM, deserted by other unions, scabbed on by the Nottinghamshire miners, stabbed in the back by the Labour Party leadership, attacked by the police and the judiciary, with mining communities subjected to conditions of siege and starvation, called off the strike on 3 March 1985. Within a very short time after the end of the strike, the coal industry was totally decimated. The bourgeoisie heaved a sigh of relief and, having got the miners out of the way, felt free to attack other sections of the working class with gay abandon. The ruling class sought revenge by prosecuting 7,785 miners, 149 of whom were given custodial sentences.
During this long struggle, the miners displayed enormous forbearance in the face of hardship, tremendous ingenuity in the face of adversary, unbelievable calm in the face of provocation, great valour and heroism in the face of danger, and dogged persistence and perseverance in the face of every obstacle. Such people can never be regarded as beaten. They shall for ever be covered in glory, while their mean and miserable opponents, the likes of Thatcher, shall always be held in disgrace for their shameless acts and heinous crimes in the service of the Kings of Finance.
Be that as it may, once the miners were out of the way, the Thatcher government had a relatively easy run defeating other workers. A year after the end of the miners’ strike, Rupert Murdoch sacked 6,000 print workers and moved his titles – The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun and The News of the World – to Wapping, having already installed new plants, thus provoking a bitter dispute, which also lasted a year, and was, just like the NUM strike, accompanied by unrestrained police violence. Before the print dispute began, Thatcher had assured Murdoch that he would get all the police power needed to ensure him victory. The print workers, too, faced cavalry charges, baton attacks, unidentified police in riot gear and the notorious Special Patrol Group (SPG). The print workers’ union, SOGAT, conspired with the TUC and Labour leadership to betray the striking printers and led them to capitulation and defeat.
Apart from the sale of large state-run utilities and other enterprises, the Thatcher government introduced the “Big Bang” City reforms which removed all obstacles in the way of British finance capital. Untold fortunes were made by financial manipulations and City spivs under the Thatcher government as British Gas, British Telecom, electricity, airlines and many other state businesses were sold, backed by government-supported slick advertisement campaigns like “Tell Sid“, which exhorted ordinary people to buy shares and risk their savings on the stock market roller coaster.
“Loadsamoney” was the ethos promoted by the Thatcher government. With greed and intolerance at home, and military aggressiveness abroad, it spared not a thought for the weaker sections of society – the poor, the disadvantaged, the destitute, the unemployed and the homeless, all of whom it helped to multiply. “There is no such thing as society“, said Thatcher in an interview in September 1987, carrying individualism, greed and total disregard and contempt for the poor to extreme absurd lengths.
Her government initiated the sale of council houses at bargain basement prices – a policy continued since by successive governments, both Tory and Labour – and left us with a legacy whereby one-third of the former council houses are owned by private landlords raking in enormous rents. The decimation of social housing, hand-in-hand with a shortage of accommodation for poor families has been the result of the ‘right to buy’ scheme, which at the same time forbade local authorities from using the sale proceeds for building replacement houses. If from the 1950s through to the 1970s, local authorities constructed 130,000 houses a year, since the mid-1980s they have built an average of 30,000 a year. In the fiscal year 1999-2000, councils in England built only 60 houses, and just 5,000 altogether during the past 10 years.
In this the biggest British privatisation, since 1980 council houses to the tune of £86bn have been sold. Whereas in 1979, about 42% of the British population were housed in council housing, today this figure has dwindled to a derisory 12%, with a lengthening queue of 1.8m on the council housing waiting lists. The result is that places like London have become too unaffordable to live in for young working-class people.
On top of the sale of council houses, the Thatcher government brought in the notorious poll tax, under which a poor family of four living in a modest little house paid more in domestic rates than a rich couple in a large mansion. That proved to be the undoing of Thatcher, for it roused such anger, indignation and brought in its trail violent anti-poll tax demonstrations. This, combined with her attitude towards the EU, contributed to her exist from Downing Street at the hands of her colleagues in her Cabinet.
One enemy that was too formidable for her government was the nationalist population of the north of Ireland and its military arm – the IRA. Mrs Thatcher supervised over the deaths of ten wonderful Irish nationalist prisoners. Serving terms in the Maze prison, they had gone on hunger strike for the restoration of their political status, taken away from them by the previous Labour government. Led by Bobby Sands, who was elected MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone a few weeks before his end, they died one by one, with Thatcher stubbornly refusing them political status, saying ” murder is murder, is murder, so there is no question of political status“. In this stance, the Thatcher government received the full support of the opposition Labour Party.
The martyrdom of Bobby Sands and his nine comrades only served to intensify the armed struggle waged by the IRA, which now brought the struggle to mainland Britain, with bombings at Chelsea Barracks (1981), Hyde Park and Regent’s Park (20 July 1982), a bomb outside Harrods, bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton (12 October 1984), where Mrs Thatcher was staying during the Tory Party Conference – an attack which she was lucky enough to survive, but in which five died, including Tory MP Sir Anthony Berry.
As it increasingly dawned upon Thatcher that her government could not defeat the IRA, she signed the Anglo-Irish agreement in 1985, which laid the basis for negotiations and ended with the Good Friday Agreement, ending up in the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.
In the international field, apart from the British victory against Argentina, which was no match for the British armed forces, she, along with Ronald Reagan, is credited with the demise of the Soviet Union and other socialist East European countries, and thus bringing about imperialism’s victory in the Cold War. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Soviet Union and the East European socialist countries collapsed under the weight of Khrushchevite revisionism, which through its departures from Marxism-Leninism, in every field – from political economy to ideology and culture – prepared the ground over a period of more that three decades for the restoration of capitalism and the demise of the USSR and other socialist states. Yes, she was bellicose and anti-communist, as was Reagan. But none of them could have destroyed the Soviet Union unless its own leadership destroyed it. After Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union, the process of disintegration of the socialist Soviet Union, which had been under way for quite some time, accelerated at an ever-faster pace under the twin slogans of Glasnost and Perestroika. The British intelligence were obviously aware of the political physiognomy of Gorbachev, based on which Mrs Thatcher could remark, shortly before he became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union: “I like Mr Gorbachev. We can do business together” (BBC, Dec 1984).
She was as racist as she was anti-working class. On 27 January 1978 she told the World in Action programme, just a few months before May 1979 election, which propelled her into Downing Street as Britain’s first female prime minister, that ” people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture. We are not in politics to ignore people’s worries: we are in politics to deal with them .”
After this remark, it is not surprising that most of the supporters of the National Front (NF) deserted the latter and cast their votes for the Tories. Only the dopes of the Trotskyite SWP could attribute the resultant collapse in the electoral fortunes of the NF to the campaign of the Anti-Nazi League.
Australia’s Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, characterised Mrs Thatcher as “unabashedly racist“. He disclosed that she once spoke offensively about Asian immigrants in the presence of his Malaysian-born wife, Helena, saying: “I like Sydney but you can’t allow immigrants to take over“. Luckily Helena did not hear it.
In the light of the foregoing, we conclude by saying that Mrs Thatcher was a nasty piece of work, thoroughly anti-working class, viscerally anti-communist, and untiring in her service to British monopoly capitalism, whose representative spokesman she undoubtedly was. For this reason, the ruling class has every right, and indeed a duty, to honour her, heap praises on her, and mourn her passing away.
The ruling class and its three major parties have an additional reason to honour her, to wit, their determination to carry forward her anti-proletarian and pro-capitalist legacy. No successor of Thatcher, Tory or Labour, has dared to reverse her dispensation. In fact, when asked once to name her single most important achievement, she replied: “Tony Blair“.
John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were all convinced disciples of her, who went where even their mistress had feared to tread. Brown struggled to privatise more of the health service, Post Office and law and order and even job centres – all in the craven quest for ‘competition’ and ‘choice’ in the health and education service.
The working class, on the other hand, has no interest in honouring the memory and grieving over the death of a woman, whose government wrecked working-class communities, destroyed the lives of millions of people, who instilled greed and selfishness into every aspect of life, and who knew the price of everything but the value of nothing. Hence the celebrations in working-class areas following her demise.
NOTE 1: For a detailed commentary on the historic miners’ strike of 1984-85 see Social Democracy – the enemy within by Harpal Brar, published by Harpal Brar in 1995, ISBN 1-874613-04-4. This book also exposes the role of the imperialist Labour Party and those who spread illusions in it, including details of the Labour Party’s origins, its despicable role in various economic struggles as well as its aggressive imperialist international record.
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