* This post originally appeared on QuietMike.org, republished with permission from the author
The Iron Lady passed away at the age of 87 on Monday. If you watched any North American media coverage of her passing you would think Margaret Thatcher was a divisive Prime Minister that saved Britain from collapse and obscurity.
For progressives like myself, Margaret Thatcher along with Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan were part of an unholy trinity of English speaking conservative leaders I had the misfortune of growing up with.
Thatcher, who led Britain for a dozen years, had humble beginnings as the daughter of a grocer. While climbing the ladder of the snobbish hierarchy in England, she imagined a classless society that rewarded hard work and determination.
What Britain got instead was the starting point in the rise of wealth inequality. Thatcher, not unlike Reagan, is the prime reason the 80s saw the wealth gap start to increase after decades of progress toward a more balanced society. Today, the UK and the US lead the developed world in the inequality of wealth.
Thatcher’s tax polices heavily favoured the rich, especially the “poll tax” that led to protests, riots and her eventual downfall in the early nineties. However, Thatcher will be remembered domestically as the Prime Minister who waged war on labour unions, privatized government state utilities and deregulated the financial industry.
She privatized gas, water and electricity which were effectively turned into corporate monopolies with very little increase in competition. When she tried to lay off 20,000 coal miners, two thirds of them decided to put down their pick axes. Her stand against the coal miner’s strike devastated entire communities. By the time Thatcher left office, close to a hundred coal mines had been closed.
The number of trade union employees fell by 3.5 million during Thatcher’s reign. It was said that Thatcher “managed to destroy the power of the trade unions for almost a generation.” In a speech she addressed striking coalmen saying “we always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty.”
IRA prisoners in Northern Ireland started a hunger strike to regain the status of political prisoners and to receive better living conditions in the prison. Thatcher refused to budge an inch and told them “crime is crime is crime; it is not political.” After Bobby Sands, who was elected as a Member of Parliament during the strike, died of starvation along with nine others, she gave in a little.
On the foreign policy side, Thatcher was just as iron fisted and cold hearted as she was at home. She is best known for her command and re-conquer of the Falkland Islands that were invaded by Argentina in 1982. Argentina has claimed ownership of the islands since the creation of the United Nations.
I’m still amazed that some conservatives consider this war that took the lives of 255 British and 649 Argentine soldiers a revival of the British Empire. The population of the Falkland Islands is less than 3000 people.
Maggie opposed sanctions against the Apartheid Regime in South Africa. Britain was the only Commonwealth country to do so, but she took it a bit further when she called Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress “a typical terrorist organisation.” She went further still when she invited President Botha to the UK despite demonstrations against his regime. Thatcher also supported the Khmer Rouge keeping their seat in the UN after they were ousted from power in Cambodia and was tea buddies with Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet.
I understand that not everything Thatcher did was vehemently evil. I applaud the fact that she was the first female leader in not just Britain, but most of the western world. The thing is, a woman who ascends to great power by adopting the worst traits of men does not impress me much.
She might have been called the Iron Lady, but she had balls of steal and she seemed to think with them constantly. She was as uncaring and unapologetic as any male politician I’ve seen.
The truth is, most of the problems that now plague the British Isle can be attributed to Thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister. The banking crisis, the huge increase in wealth inequality, even unemployment has never returned to pre-Thatcher levels 34 years later.
So whether you’re a liberal or conservative, man or woman, no one can deny the impact Margaret Thatcher had on Great Britain and conservative politics in general. But before you go and tout her as the saviour of the British Empire, you might want to check out what her legacy has left behind.
“She created today’s housing crisis. She created the banking crisis. And she created the benefit crisis. It was her government that started putting people on incapacity benefit rather than register them as unemployed because the Britain she inherited was broadly full employment. She decided when she wrote off our manufacturing industry that she could live with two or three million unemployed, and the benefits bill, the legacy of that, we are struggling with today. In actual fact, every real problem we face today is the legacy of the fact that she was fundamentally wrong”
– former mayor of London Ken Livingstone