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Margaret Thatcher The Death of a Shopkeeper

posted 8 Apr 2013, 13:34 by heiko khoo   [ updated 8 Apr 2013, 15:33 ]

Margaret Thatcher The Death of a Shopkeeper

Baroness Thatcher, Britain’s former Conservative Prime Minister died on 8 April 2013 at the age of 87. She was the UK Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990 and the most influential Conservative politician since Winston Churchill. Her single-minded self-assured determination earned her the label of the Iron Lady and inspired awe, reverence and revulsion from her supporters and detractors alike.

Thatcher grew up in a classical English petty-bourgeois family. Her father owned two grocery shops in Grantham. He preached the word of God, was staunchly patriotic, and became the town’s Mayor from 1945-6. His self-confidence derived from selecting of tins of food that command a good price and turn a good profit. His daughter, Margaret, also formed her intellectual outlook around the petty proprietor’s fetish for the magical qualities of prices.

The English aristocratic bourgeoisie suffered irreparable damage to their standing in society during the Second World War. They were tainted by the economic crisis before the war and by their common sympathies with Adolf Hitler, whose supporters had included the former King, Edward VIII. This led to a landslide electoral victory for the Labour Party in 1945, and socialist measures in healthcare, education, housing and welfare, were combined with a significant extension of public ownership.

Margaret studied chemistry at Oxford, but she lacked outstanding intellectual gifts or innovative entrepreneurial talent. The egalitarian spirit of the post war era provided the opportunity for this determined and forceful young woman to secure herself leadership over the University’s Conservative Association providing a plebian face within their circle. Margaret had to struggle within this ambient for recognition by hard work. This was greatly helped by her ability to go without sleep. She once said, Marxists get up early to further their cause. We must get up even earlier to defend our freedom.” Of course by freedom she meant the freedom of the bossy proprietor.

Her marriage to Dennis Thatcher in 1951 elevated her into ranks of the bourgeoisie. He had inherited his wealth and felt that business distracted him from dabbling in amateur military escapades. He was generally seen as a blithering incompetent buffoon to be shunted out of ears reach, in case some bigoted diatribe escaped his lips, but Margaret dearly loved him, and treasured the life opportunities his wealth had opened up for her. Dennis funded her career change from studying the chemical composition of ice cream, to studying to become a barrister; the traditional pathway to acquire the rhetorical skills and mindset, required for a career in Westminster politics. She won a parliamentary seat for the Conservative Party in 1958 and quickly made her mark by voting to reinstate beating people with sticks as a form of corporal punishment.

The increasing power of the workers within society was reflected in their ability to extract and win concessions through trade union activism. The workers were no longer willing to be pushed around, to bow down to ‘their betters’, or to work as servants and maids for the elite. The emasculation of the Conservative aristocracy made Margaret Thatcher appear to acquire the ideal characteristics of what a ‘real conservative man’ would be like - obstinate, determined, bigoted, and proud of it. Lessons to deepen her voice followed - all the better to gobble up her wimpish male colleagues in the future.

The 1960s were characterized by an entrenched social-democratic consensus whereby social and economic development was widely seen as the product of an alliance between the classes. Employment was easy to come by and wages rose, and public housing, health care and education expanded rapidly. This all smacked of communism to Margaret Thatcher, who was allowed to bark vitriol against socialism to the gleeful cheers of her bourgeois-aristocratic colleagues in parliament.

The victory of the mineworkers against the Conservative government in two strikes in 1972 and 1974 led to an election, which the then Prime Minister, Edward Heath, claimed would answer the question ‘who runs Britain?’ He lost the election to a minority Labour government and Margaret Thatcher became the Conservative Party leader in 1975.

A deep economic crisis in the 1970s led the new Labour Party government, under orders of the International Monetary Fund, to attack the wages and conditions of the working class. Once again class conflict dominated politics, as the dead were unburied and rubbish piled up on the streets during bitter strikes. The 1979 election saw the Conservatives, led by Margaret Thatcher, swept to power. The era of the shopkeeper had come! The government presided over a collapse in productive employment, and social unrest took the form of riots, protests and strikes. The economic collapse had both real and manufactured roots, and it produced bitter social divisions.

The shopkeeper insider her, meant she automatically gravitated toward economic theory based on price. Her ideology imagined a world of free and unrestricted competitive pressures where atomized individuals replace organized workers. The pathway to this free market utopia involved selling off state resources and public housing at prices that were absurdly low. This created a significant constituency within the working and middle classes who suddenly acquired money from nothing. In this way the shopkeeper’s delusion, that an economy is simply a nation of buyers and sellers, was materially anchored in the minds of those who suddenly had loads of money. In this way a significant minority acquired a material stake in Thatcher’s ‘property owning democracy’. Making goods and services was replaced by selling second hand bricks; producing coal, steel, ships, trains and cars was replaced by speculative instruments conjured up by a Thatcherite tribe of arrogant barrow boys who were encouraged to take over the trading floors of the City of London, elbowing aside the ‘toffs’ in bowler hats, and revolutionizing financial markets in a cocaine fueled speculative orgy.

So severe was the economic dislocation and the scars of social conflict that the Government was in deep crisis. However, luck was on the side of Mrs. Thatcher, as President General Galtieri of Argentina used their nation’s historical conflict over British occupation of the Malvinas Islands to launch a war to take them by force. Thatcher dispatched the British fleet and reconquered the Islands, whipping up a wave of jingoistic flag-waving. Riding a new tide of popularity, the real war was begun. Its objective was to smash the central core of trade union strength, the National Union of Mineworkers. Huge reserves of coal were stockpiled, the police were militarized, and war was declared on millions of British workers. Thatcher proclaimed the miners’ union to be agents of the Soviet Union. When she described them as ‘the enemy within’ she had the look of hysteria in her eyes. The strike lasted a year and was defeated. This was a result of Thatcher’s determination and an impotent response by the majority of Labour and Trade Union leaders. The defeat of the miners union led to greater control by capital over labour and a long period of passive industrial relations.

The greatest nonsense is spoken about Thatcher’s significance in the struggle against what she called ‘the Evil Empire’ of the USSR. The role of the US President Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher was insignificant and peripheral. Even though the Soviet press had given her the name, ‘the Iron Lady’, of which she was so proud. The collapse of the USSR was a result of internal disintegration not external pressure.

What finally brought about Thatcher’s demise was a policy to redistribute the local government tax burden onto the poor, via a Poll Tax based on household numbers, rather than property value or size. This backfired, producing ferocious riots and civil disobedience. After so many years of fighting the poor, and generating ever more wrenching social divisions, the Conservative inner circle decided to ditch the shopkeeper. Her own cabinet colleagues hatched a secret plot to oust her. She had become so divorced from reality that she was completely unaware of the scale of intrigue against her, within her closest entourage. On 22 November 1990 a tearful and resentful departure was announced from the steps of number 10 Downing Street. This is the last most people recall of her political life before she was driven off into political oblivion. Her inability to be able to distinguish between prices and real wealth is an appropriate analogy to the incapacity to distinguish between her legacy and reality. In recent years, she suffered from a mental decline into a hallucinatory state of mind. Unfortunately, the nation that she changed continues to suffer from ideological delusions that her policies helped to implant. Sadly, the present Conservative government is once again scapegoating the poor and the working class, and bitter social conflict is back on the agenda. As conservative England mourned her legacy, in some part of Britain, celebrations spontaneously broke out on news of her death. No doubt her legacy will continue to provoke a sharply contested debate. May the Iron Lady rust in peace!

 

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