Margaret Thatcher: obituary

Writing an obituary for Margaret Thatcher is extremely difficult. The human dimension is clear – an old, frail woman, separated from her loving husband for a decade, has succumbed to long-term ill health. That is a sad end by anyone’s estimation. But, in terms of the politics, it is perhaps best to stick to broad-brush strokes.

Baroness Thatcher, who has died aged 87 from a stroke, was Britain’s first woman prime minister.

Writing an obituary for Margaret Thatcher is extremely difficult. The human dimension is clear – an old, frail woman, separated from her loving husband for a decade, has succumbed to long-term ill health. That is a sad end by anyone’s estimation. But, in terms of the politics, it is perhaps best to stick to broad-brush strokes.

She was Britain’s most influential politician of the post-Churchill era. Her achievement in becoming the first female prime minister in an age where less than 5 per cent of MPs were women was considerable. Other women, including Barbara Castle, Jennie Lee, and Alice Bacon from Labour, achieved much, but Thatcher’s remains the most prominent legacy.

She moved the Conservative Party away from the relative bi-partisan consensus of the 1950s and 1960s and towards a more dogmatic agenda. Within her papers at Churchill College, pointedly, is an annotated (red underlining and all) copy of the 1944 White Paper on full employment. This, indeed, was a politician of the (post-) post-war consensus.

To supporters, she changed Britain from a nation in long-term industrial decline to an energetic, dynamic economy. To opponents, she entrenched inequalities between the regions and classes, and placed the free market above all other concerns. Our politics, and many of our politicians, have been forged in her legacy.

But this last point is perhaps the long term nub of the matter. Thatcher may be gone, but Thatcherism remains with us.

On the one hand, present Coalition policies such as Enterprise Zones, raising the personal allowance of low rate tax payers, and cutting corporation tax take much from the Thatcher play book. Personal allowance in particular – raised by 22 per cent between 1979 and 1987 – owes much to the 1980s, even if the Lib Dems are attempting to stake their flag on this terrain. Other policies such as Right to Buy have perhaps become less partisan as time has passed.

Her uniqueness may indeed have been overplayed. Ted Heath’s Selsdon gathering in 1970 begat a Tory Party claiming that “by drastically cutting taxation, we have liberated the economy and the nation from the stultifying imposts of Socialism”. Likewise, ‘One Nation’ Tories of the 1950s such as Rab Butler were reading and quoting Hayek, whilst engendering regional inequalities. Some people in the pre-Thatcher era ‘never had it so good,’ but not all.

Clearly, however, Thatcher changed much.

The fetishisation of the City of London seen in both Conservative and Labour policy in recent decades stems from the ‘Big Bang’ of 1986. Stamp duty rates on shares had been reduced in the early 1980s, but moves to electronic based trading, the lowering of commission charges and the opening up of brokers to foreign ownership created a consensus that allowing the markets to grow and skimming off the top (to varying degrees) was not challenged in any way until 2008, and barely since.

The Coalition has a point when arguing, more broadly, that Labour appeared ‘intensely relaxed’ about people growing ‘filthy rich.’ Lawson’s 40p top-rate of income tax remained untouched under successive Chancellors including Brown and Darling until 2010. The 45p rate that has just come into being remains the second highest seen for 25 years. Few would argue for a return to the 98 per cent top-rate seen in the mid-1970s, but we are clearly living in a relatively low income tax era for the wealthy.

There are many other areas – local government, the trade unions, and the balance between public and private provision – that were irrevocably changed by her influence. A controversial politician – she none the less was not without a progressive legacy in certain areas, as outlined on this site by James Bloodworth.

This was a huge political figure. Lloyd George. Attlee. Churchill. And Thatcher. These are the figures who had the opportunity to make or break British politics in the twentieth century. The last of these is now no longer with us.

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3 Responses to “Margaret Thatcher: obituary”

  1. Selohesra

    I’ve always been a bit unclear when people talk about classless society – but having seen some of the celebrations from assorted lefties over the last day I think I understand what it is to truely lack class

  2. LB

    Still ignoring what the state has done and is doing to screw people.

    Just wait until the population find out you’ve screwed them into destitution by spending their pension contributions.

    5,300 bn of debt on top of the PFI, the borrowing etc.

    7,000 bn in total.

    Given that there were reports yesterday that the total wealth of everyone in the UK is 7,000 bn, you’ve screwed people.

    You can’t take everyone’s wealth to pay your debts. Look at Cyprus. Screwed because the ECB decided it wouldn’t take a haircut on its loans to Greece, so it shafted Cyprus. Then to pay for it they decided lets steal people’s money. Just 10% and its game over for them.

    Same in the UK, You can’t take the money to pay your debts without it collapsing.

    How are the 30% with no savings going to cope when you can’t pay their pensions, and if you thieve the money, you screw everything?

  3. blarg1987

    How did LFF exactly do as you said? And when did this first start?

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