Sunday, 28 November 2010

It was twenty years ago today

    Twenty years ago today, John Major succeeded Margaret Thatcher as UK Prime Minister. I can remember where I was when it happened, in a small office in the students union of a Northern university watching her speech from the steps of Number 10. Around me were cheers of delight, it would be an understatement to say that students were not known for their support for the Conservative party in the Thatcher years, and these were largely Northerners from mining and industrial towns hit hard by the policies of her government. To them it was a foregone conclusion that Major's government would be swept out of the way by a Labour landslide, it came as a shock two years later when Neil Kinnock threw it all away in an excited bit of election-eve crowd-pleasing in Sheffield.
    I don't think British political life has created anyone in my lifetime so divisive among opinions of their legacy as Margaret Thatcher. Conservatives love her for breaking the power of the trade unions, privatising state-owned industries and selling council housing while Labour supporters revile her for the catastrophic decline in traditional manufacturing industries under her premiership, the ever-widening social gap and of course the Poll Tax. I had to think very carefully to only pick three examples for each. In the couple of decades since her departure we've had a Labour government that doubled the successor to the Poll Tax and did nothing to help the unions or narrow the social gap, the privatised industries have not all been a success, the sale of council housing arguably sowed the seeds for our current housing crisis and despite it all we still have a manufacturing sector. Make up your own mind who is right about her legacy.
    Of slightly more interest in this sphere is her legacy for women. I've seen more than one examination recently of what a Sarah Palin White House might mean for women were she to be elected, and it's possible a parallel1 might be found in Margaret Thatcher. The BBC examined what the Thatcher government did for women back in 2005, and concluded that though by not promoting women in her Cabinet she hadn't done as much for women as she could have, by reaching the position in the first place and holding on to it for so long she made the previously unthinkable into the entirely possible. Previously women such as Maggie or Labour's Shirley Williams had to make do with token positions such as education secretary, as I write this the British Home Secretary is a woman, Teresa May.
    Twenty years ago my student friends would have all been incensed at the then recently introduced student loans. back then they were just a top-up, no tuition fees for another decade. I seem to remember there were protests, sit-ins even. Nothing changes, does it.

1Only a loose parallel mind, I'm sure even the most ardent Labour supporter might see Maggie as a Safer Pair Of Hands than Palin. Quick test: imagine the Big Shiny Red Nuclear Button under the finger of the former Member for Finchley or under that of the former Alaskan Governor. Enough said.


  1. The thought of Sarah Palin with her finger on the nuclear trigger, is pretty frightening, and I think the reason you will never see her in the Oval Office. I didn't care much for Maggie's politics either, but at least she wasn't a twit.

    Melissa XX

  2. Whenever I think of Margaret Thatcher, I hear Elvis Costello's brilliant "Tramp the Dirt Down" in my head and his line "When England was the whore of the world, Margret was her madame."

    The difference between Thatcher and Palin is that for all her aults, you never had the sense that Thatcher was disinterested in intellectual thought or the world outside her borders. Palin is the figurehead of a disturbing trend in American politics towards anti-intellectualism and the embrace of willful ignorance. It's scary stuff.


  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Emily, last time you spammed my blog with a link to yours in a comment that contained very little else I asked you not to do it again. This time you didn't even add a comment along with the blurb pushing your blog, so I have deleted your comment. This is probably the second time I've ever deleted a comment, and the other comment I deleted was pharmaceutical spam.

    Please do not continue doing this. It's rather obvious spam, trust me on this one, I work with search engines for a living. If you want people to read your blog, just make intelligent and relevant comments on other people's blogs and people will find you.

  5. Always get a little defensive about mrs T. Most of that time I put out sort of homemade newspapers, reading and cutting nationals and internationals overnight to reasonably complex briefs.
    Via the cabinet office, I knew that each morning she'd get up to my compilation.
    Could I have done anything different ? Tried to include stuff from 'railway times' to help stall that ghastly privatisation ? Is history the sum of such small decisions and do I have to shoulder some of the responsibility ????????

  6. I suppose that, in a way, Thatcher inspired the Greenham Common women to action. Which is a Good Thing in my book :-)

  7. Mrs Who? Forgotten already by me. To be honest I don't do politics, I want no involvement whatsoever, my alliegence lies elsewhere. Anyhow it all happened when Sgt Pepper taught the band to play didn't it?

    Shirley Anne xxx

  8. 20 glorious years! I'm afraid she remains divisive. I can accept Major, Blair, Cameron, Heath as well meaning even if they each had faults, but no one will ever convince me that the damage or divisiveness of that person was worthwhile- I am with Elvis Costello, and have a special "Farewell" party planned for the future involving a French sparkling drink. Tonight I'll make do with raising a small glass.
    This sounds dreadful, but she was vindictive and I make no apology.

    Oops forgot isn't that telling!

  9. I was at school in the UK when she was elected and it was a big deal.

    The school held a mock election that term and it was a tie between the Communist Party and the National Front...really.

    It is hard to recall the heady days when we had both Ronnie and Maggie and won the Cold War.

    To steal a line from the Castro, History will absolve her.

    OMG...outed as a right winger

    Thanks Jenny!

  10. Ladies (and in some cases, this may be my being kind), ; ):

    Margaret Thatcher saved England and the U.K. from becoming irrelevant as the late 70s and the 80s came and went. Your coal industry was plodded down with massive redundancy, the military was on par with that of Denmark (sans nukes) and in dealing with the Soviet Union (remember them?) Britain was not a player, but a fifth chair at a card table. Let alone, can you imagine any of the other "leaders" of the time having the foresight and fortitude to sail to the bottom of South America to re-take the Falkland Islands? Bless the soldiers, sailors and Royal Marines who did that and especially, those who were injured or lost their lives for crown and country.

    Maggie Thatcher did not make a woman P.M. a possibility, she made it ORDINARY. I am curious as to why a female hasn't been nominated by any of the major parties, particularly Labour ever since. There can be no doubt that she elevated the status of women in the U.K. and arguably the U.S. Women in politics (at least on the Republican side) are taken much more seriously now than in 1990. How many women ran local governments or large corporations before 1978 and then, after 1990?

    As for former Governor Palin... I have to laugh. If she is such a twit, how did she get this far? ?Maybe if we were all that stupid, we'd have book deals, tv shows, a political legacy and an entry in Encyclopedia Brittanica. You don't have to love her, but you should respect her.

    And one last thing for Melissa, you do know that Bill Clinton lost the nuclear codes (the football) for almost a year, 1998-99)? And he is an incredibly smart guy, just highly irresponsible I guess.

    Best to all and thanks to Jenny for writing a great blog as always.

    May God Bless America and May God Save The Queen!


  11. I knew I'd incite some lively comments with this one! :)

    I admire Maggie. There, I said it. I admire her for being the first woman Prime Minister and for having the balls to stand by her principles whatever the opposition. I reserve similar admiration for more than one political figure, whether I agree with their politics or not.

    I'm just old enough to have come to awareness of politics in the mess that was the UK in the late 1970s. So through the early 1980s as a spotty young oik I was a supporter of Maggie, I thought she was brilliant. Not surprising really, in the blinkered existence of a rural background and attending a school that was hardly representative of the country as a whole.

    By the end of the 1980s though I'd seen both the negative effects of the decade on social cohesion and I'd seen the Conservative Party at first hand on a local level.

    For those of you who don't live in the UK I'd better explain local British politics. Our electoral system is a first past the post system. A simple majority secures the seat. As a result, far more people can vote against than for the elected candidate and in most places once someone is elected in most cases they have the job for life. They're called safe seats, and they are bestowed by the aparatchiks of both parties like the earldoms of old. As a result it's a system that breeds self-serving corruption on a massive scale at a local level, and seeing at first hand the clique of greed-driven parasites that formed my local party turned me away from the Conservatives for life. Since then I've been a floating tactical voter whose aim is a representative with a majority of one, because that's the only representative who gives a toss about their electorate.

    I'm afraid I still find it very difficult to have confidence in Sarah Palin. From outside the USA she does not appear to have what it takes, it's not a right or left thing but a competence thing. Who knows, we may all be proved wrong, but she does have a habit of continuing to confirm our worst fears.

  12. Hmmmmm....Does anyne have a viable alternative to Sarah Palin?

    Is it that she stands for smaller gov't. and more personal responsibiity that you find her "such a twit". Perhaps a blantant liar like Nancy Pelosi or perhaps a real world class forked tongue transphobe like Barney Franks is more your style.

  13. From outside the USA we don't know about her internal appeal. We just see a stream of gaffes, and that's got us worried because the idea of a gaffe-prone finger hovering over the nuclear button has us worried.

    As I said, it's not a left/right thing but a confidence thing. I can't believe she's the best the American Right have to offer, if she is then you must be in one hell of a state!

  14. What an awful sentence structure that was in my last comment. I can do so much better than that!