Break with Thatcher’s legacy! Socialist policies needed

Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary
Protests at Thatcher's Funeral, photo Paul Mattsson

Protests at Thatcher’s Funeral, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

“We are all Thatcherites now,” declared Tory leader David Cameron on the day of Thatcher’s funeral. “Oh no, we’re not!” roared back the working class in Goldthorpe, where over 1,000 protested, in Liverpool, Glasgow and London.

Liverpool football fans unfurled a defiant banner at Reading: “You didn’t care when you lied, we don’t care that you died.” Everton fans produced a banner at Arsenal which read, “Rot in hell, Thatcher.”

Cameron was speaking for the ruling class, not the overwhelming majority of the British people who have rejected Thatcherism.

His partner in crime in the coalition government, Nick Clegg, was quick to dissociate himself from the toxic legacy: “I am not a Thatcherite,” he said, even though he is participating in a government pursuing Cameron’s Thatcherite policies.

Protests at Thatcher's Funeral, photo Paul Mattsson

Protests at Thatcher’s Funeral, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Even his own side scorned Cameron’s claim: “He’s not a Thatcherite,” said one senior Tory MP, “Fundamentally he’s more like Harold Macmillan,” (who pursued a so-called ‘one nation’ policy now copied by Ed Miliband and New Labour).

The organisers of ‘Operation True Blue’ – with government fixer Francis Maude, the grey eminence of the Tory party to the fore (also involving New Labour ex-prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown) – hoped that they could ride higher in the polls through a patriotic ‘Thatcher funeral bounce’. They hoped that this would create a platform for winning the next general election.

But they completely miscalculated as all the festering discontent which had accumulated from the Thatcher years, added to by successive governments, rose to the surface.

The older generation, many still crippled by the brutal policies she’d inflicted on them, were reminded of what they’d been through.

The younger generation began to understand that she and the system she defended were responsible for the terrible conditions which they face today.

Class hatred

Protests at Thatcher's Funeral, photo Paul Mattsson

Protests at Thatcher’s Funeral, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

No figure in recent British history has generated such deep-going class hatred. This was repayment for the almost personal, cold cruelty which Thatcher expressed to what she called the ‘enemy within’: working people and their organisations.

The Bishop of London, attempting to soften her image in the funeral sermon, tried in vain to explain away her callous remark “there is no such thing as society”.

She had denounced a humane, collective approach towards those who had suffered through her government.

She unapologetically defended the neoliberal, greedy, dog-eat-dog society of capitalism.

But she did not generate glittering economic fireworks, record growth, as her latter-day apologists claim.

The growth rate of the British economy in the period before she came to power was higher than when she was prime minster.

Nor was she an electoral wizard who seamlessly increased support from one election to another. Indeed, her highest share of the vote (44%) was achieved in her first election victory in 1979.

She managed to win in 1983 through the split in the Labour vote following the formation of the Social Democratic Party, and by exploiting the patriotic mood after the Falklands War.

Thatcher was also helped by the shameful expulsion of the leaders of Militant (now the Socialist Party) from the Labour Party, presided over by then Labour leaders Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock. Thatcher and her henchman, Norman Tebbit, equally demanded the expulsion of Militant.


Protests at Thatcher's Funeral, photo Paul Mattsson

Protests at Thatcher’s Funeral, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

She claimed later that her greatest achievement was “Tony Blair and New Labour”! In the 1987 election she was assisted back to power by the lopsided boom, but mostly by the inept lack of leadership of Neil Kinnock, as well as the trade union leaders who deserted the miners, print workers, among others.

Thatcher was not even the originator of neoliberal methods: privatisation, part-time and insecure jobs, driving down wages, etc.

The ‘honour’ of first initiating these policies lies with Thatcher’s friend, the Chilean dictator General Pinochet, who butchered the working class and then pursued vicious neoliberalism.

Moreover, it should not be forgotten that the single biggest cut in public expenditure, as well as the partial privatisation of BP, was initiated by Denis Healey in the right-wing Labour government of 1974-79.

The results of Thatcherism were devastating for the working class and their communities, who suffered record mass unemployment of 3.6 million.

It appeared as though a hostile invading army, akin to Genghis Khan, had passed through.

But she also compounded the problems of the class she represented – the capitalists – which has been left in its most exposed position in history.

She encouraged the concentration on finance capital through the City of London’s ‘Big Bang’ deregulation, while allowing manufacturing industry to go to the wall.

When she came to power 30% of the economy was in the manufacturing sector but only 10% today. Her policies laid the basis for the 2008 financial collapse, which has ushered in a devastating depression in Britain as part of the world crisis of capitalism.

Before coming to power, the present Tory party tried to cultivate an image of ‘caring Conservatism’, attempting to put distance between themselves and Thatcher and the perception of them as the ‘nasty party’.

However, prior to the formation of the Coalition, we pointed out that so intractable was the economic crisis, they would be forced to carry through policies much worse than those of Thatcher.

This would lead to a huge collision between the working class and the government, which would pose starkly before the labour movement the need for decisive action, in the form of a one-day general strike.


Protests at Thatcher's Funeral, photo Paul Mattsson

Protests at Thatcher’s Funeral, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

When George Osborne wept at Thatcher’s funeral, the tears could have been not just for her but the dire consequences arising from the collapse of his economic forecasts.

Stagnation is gripping the economy and serious social consequences flow from this. Just weeks ago, he was claiming that unemployment was falling.

Yet on the very day of the funeral, unemployment climbed once more by 70,000. A good day to bury embarrassing facts, as well as Thatcher! Criminally, 20% of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 are unable to get a job.

Moreover, the claim of Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith that employment was actually increasing and real jobs were being created in the private sector as a consequence of the cutbacks in the public sector was completely debunked through the ‘discovery’ of massive hidden unemployment.

Part-timers and the self-employed working for a few hours a week, an artificial boost to employment figures, disguise the real situation.

It has been estimated that if part-time workers’ desire for a full-time job was met, it would mean 20 million extra hours worked.

Party in Trafalgar Square, London, celebrating the death of former UK premier Margaret Thatcher , photo Paul Mattsson

Party in Trafalgar Square, London, celebrating the death of former UK premier Margaret Thatcher , photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Meanwhile the TUC shows that 1.8 billion hours of unpaid overtime were worked in 2012.

At the same time, Osborne’s wish to rebalance the economy towards manufacturing industry was shattered by the announcement of a £9.4 billion deficit in the trade of goods in February.

On top of this, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has issued a stark warning that he is “playing with fire”. This is unprecedented language for this body.

This is meant in a double sense: they are worried about the catastrophic effects of Osborne’s measures in depressing ‘demand’ in the economy and thereby deepening the slump.

But they are also terrified of the social consequences of the continuation and extension of his policy, which will result in mass defiance, either in a conscious movement against the government through the trade unions or the outbreak of protest through riots.

Already, the IMF’s chief economist has warned: “In the face of very weak demand, it may be time to consider adjustments to the original fiscal plans.” In other words, abandon Plan A and replace it with some kind of Plan B.

The IMF has already shaved 0.3% off its 2013 growth forecast for the UK, expecting it to grow by only 0.7% this year.

This is the biggest growth downgrade of any developed country by the IMF for this and next year. This was followed by the Fitch ratings agency becoming the second to downgrade the British economy.

Party in Trafalgar Square, London, celebrating the death of former UK premier Margaret Thatcher , photo Paul Mattsson

Party in Trafalgar Square, London, celebrating the death of former UK premier Margaret Thatcher , photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

If Osborne and his counterparts in other countries persist with the present policies, it could “drag down living standards for decades to come,” warned YouGov-Cambridge.

The same polling organisation also wrote: “Clear majorities across the Western world claim to have been personally affected by the economic slump.”

The clash in recent days has assumed a very sharp form between those who advocate further austerity and those who prefer semi-Keynesian measures ‘reflating’ the economy.

This reflects a split at the summits of society over how best to ‘steer the economy’, while at the same time avoiding a surge of opposition from below by the working class and the poor.

And it is not just in Britain but internationally too where the dispute is taking place. An argument over statistics and how they are used in measuring the real state of the economy masks a division between different wings of the capitalists on how to approach the present crisis.

At the recent IMF meeting, its head, Christine Lagarde, criticised the US and other countries such as Spain for “unnecessary fiscal tightening”, ie cuts in government spending.

She is clearly alarmed by the slowdown in the Chinese economy and the recent increase in unemployment in the US, which will reinforce the stagnation in the world economy.

No solution

Neither wing of the capitalists can solve the deep-rooted organic crisis of capitalism. Osborne’s austerity will only deepen the crisis.

On the other hand, semi-Keynesian measures like ‘quantitative easing’, the increase in liquidity through the banks, has already been tried in Britain and failed despite the injection of a total of £375 billion, one fifth of gross domestic product.

This has just allowed the bank sharks to step up speculation and increase their profits. At the same time, it has added to inflation that has raised prices for workers, which together with the holding down of wages has resulted in a real-terms cut of 10%, in median average incomes since 2008.

In Britain, it is quite clear that Cameron and Osborne’s policies are failing. In April, the rich received a tax bonus, while a savage £19 billion cut in benefits for the working class and the poor is being implemented.

A damning Unicef report has revealed that already, out of 29 leading countries, the UK comes bottom for the number of children going into further education. Government cutbacks will mean 400,000 more children will be in poverty by 2015-16.

Osborne, together with the mad-dog right-wing media, tried to stigmatise the poor forced onto benefits in the wake of the Philpott tragedy.

This was a means of splitting the working class between ‘strivers’ and the so-called ‘undeserving’ poor.

It has already failed, according to polls. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has pointed out that 6.1 million people classified as living in poverty in working households exceed by one million those in workless homes.

Shamefully, New Labour, instead of using damning facts like this to counter the brutal propaganda of the government, advances its own ‘welfare’ programme in the form of public spending cuts: “Simply opposing the cuts without a constructive alternative is no good,” said John Cruddas, Ed Miliband’s ‘Policy Review Coordinator’.

No cuts

The real alternative to the government is ‘no cuts’ and a fighting socialist programme, including a tax on the rich, nationalisation of failing industries, and linking this to the public ownership of the major monopolies which control the economy.

A socialist plan, organised through democratic workers’ control and management, would eradicate unemployment and all the other evils of capitalism.

Miliband’s stance over Thatcher’s funeral has once more fuelled criticism and legitimate fears as to what a government led by him would mean for working people.

We should never forget that it wasn’t the Labour leadership who defeated Thatcher – it was the poll tax campaign organised and led by the All-Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation, which Militant led. This consigned Thatcher to the rubbish heap of history.

Not a peep of criticism over her disastrous policies emanated from Miliband but just praise for Thatcher as a “conviction politician”.

If this is meant to imply that Miliband is also cast in the same “conviction” mould from the left, then he should prove it by proposing a raft of policies that will mean the beginning of a transformation in the lives of working people.

A good start would be to completely repudiate all Thatcher’s anti-union laws, without exception, which would then allow unions with militant leaderships to use their power to improve the lives of working people through fighting for increases in wages.

Then there is housing. The Evening Standard reports that rents in London have increased by eight times the rise in the average wage in the last year, pricing out most young people. On top of this is the vicious bedroom tax.

Given the state of the British and the world economy, combined with the further attacks which this government is bound to make on the working class, resistance is bound to grow, which will besiege the government.

Even its own supporters were up in arms about the virtual abandonment of planning permission for the extension of homes, which would undoubtedly increase conflict between neighbours.

Eric Pickles, the local government minister, has been forced to do a U-turn and water down his original plan!


Massive opposition is growing to the withdrawal of facility time for shop stewards and reps as well as the abandonment of the check-off system, whose purpose is to hamstring and cripple the unions.

Boris Johnson is calling for ‘Thatcherite zeal’ from the government by introducing further anti-union legislation.

Remorseless pressure will be exerted by the ranks of the unions for more concerted decisive action of a general strike character against the government.

It is not inconceivable that if the labour movement mobilises its full power, this government could resign and a general election be called.

The problem is that right-wing trade union leaders are quite consciously applying an enormous brake on the movements of their own members to confront this hated government.

This ties in with their wait-and-see policy, banking on a Labour victory in the next election.

The polls indicate that the Tories have not gained from Thatcher’s death and New Labour remains ahead.

The capacity of the Labour leadership to throw away this lead can never be underestimated. However, as even the pollsters concede, the skids do appear to be under this government.

A Miliband government is the most likely outcome of a new general election. But there is also a high degree of scepticism even among those who will vote Labour that this will represent any fundamental change.

Therefore it is vital that steps are taken now to lay the basis for the creation of a mass force, which can offer a way forward for working people.

This is why the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition has been created as a step towards a new mass party of the working class.

No time must be lost in building this in preparation for what will be one of the stormiest periods in history.

Socialism Today

The Socialist Party’s magazine

May 2013 issue includes:

  • Thatcher’s death The legacy of a class fighter for capitalism
  • Cyprus crisis – Island engulfed by Troika’s vicious demands
  • Fighting abuse: Making the labour movement a safer place for women

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