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Thatcher's Legacy

Monday, December 02, 2013


In the year we lost Margaret Thatcher – is the greatest legacy left with her ‘enemies’?

For many on the left in Britain and internationally, Margaret Thatcher remains a ‘hate figure’ and her death something to ‘celebrate’. But in my inaugural blog I want look at her legacy and how the impact she had on her enemies’ shows that many, if not all of them, actually benefited from being defeated by her.

Her impact overseas…

Internationally, the Soviet Union and their communist allies in Eastern Europe were defeated politically by many factors but it would be churlish not to highlight the role played by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. They provided the leadership and resolve that was needed to bring about the collapse of the Soviet empire and an end to the cold war. The result? Millions of people trapped under authoritarian and communist control were freed; democracies were spawned and almost twenty-five years later, many former Eastern European states are now members of the EU and NATO. 

Argentina, a nation humiliated and defeated militarily by the resolve and leadership of Margaret Thatcher benefited from the ousting of their hated military junta in the aftermath of the Falklands War. Today’s Argentina is a democracy that has enjoyed strong economic growth over the last thirty years. But Britain also regained its national pride and was once more respected around the world due in part to that endeavour.

And at home…?

Well, at home, the Labour Party in Britain is perhaps the key benefactor of Margaret Thatcher’s leadership and policies. 

They were forced to expel their extremists and abandon socialist ideology in favour of more moderate policies. This ultimately led to the creation of ‘New Labour’ and the election of Tony Blair.

Trade unions in Britain were reformed and the National Union of Mineworkers the strongest and most militant trade union defeated. The entire trade union movement was the subject of tough new legislation and their industrial action processes were democratised. The trade unions were given back to their members, by Margaret Thatcher, and the trade union barons tamed.

On economic transformation…

The economic transformation of Britain that Margaret Thatcher implemented was an immense and unrivalled political peacetime achievement. 

The liberalisation of the tax regime in Britain, the privatisation of many of the old state owned industries and land and huge flows of North Sea Oil revenues provided the platform for the economic transformation of Britain.
It is argued that the economic policies of Margaret Thatcher resulted in the desolation of some communities and huge social consequences.  

It is fair to say that in many communities in the North, Industrial Midlands of England, Scotland and Wales saw the work available to them reduce by as much as 90% by the policies pursued by Thatcher. This obviously meant great hardship for many people.

In her defence, some would argue that Thatcher could not have avoided this simply because the industrial relations in those communities, the regressive tax regime in Britain, the bankrupt economy and the near non -existence of any inward investment in Britain during this period meant that until all of those issues had been addressed then new investment, economic growth and training opportunities could not be provided with any certainty.

But despite her many strengths, Margaret Thatcher was not the greatest politician at communicating compassion and the understanding that was needed to give hope and opportunity to those affected negatively by her policies. This same lack of compassion and understanding it is argued contributed significantly to her political downfall as she tried to introduce the community charge or Poll Tax.

On fighting terrorism….

From 1979 to 1990 Britain was affected by serious terrorism mainly by Irish Republican Terrorists but also serious incidents of international terrorism. 

Margaret Thatcher had a mixed record on dealing with terrorism. There is no doubt that her decision to use the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) to end the Iranian Embassy Siege in 1980 demonstrated her strength and conviction when dealing with terrorism, however, her record on dealing with Libyan terrorism was less robust. Libya were found to be responsible for the Rome and Vienna bombings in the early 1980s, the regular supply of arms and explosives to the IRA in Northern Ireland and the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher and the bombing of the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie in 1988 by Libyan terrorist all went unpunished with the exception of allowing American F1-11 Bombers to use British Airspace for American action against Libya for their role in the Rome and Vienna bombings.

On Northern Ireland, her record was one of skilled diplomacy mixed with the use of force against Irish Republican Terrorists. Margaret Thatcher’s refusal to give in to the political demands of IRA hunger strikers and her regular authorisation of the use of lethal force by Special Forces against the IRA again demonstrated the side of her resolve to defeat terrorism. 

The Anglo Irish Agreement, which she signed in 1985, with the Republic of Ireland paved the way for cross border co-operation and set the political agenda and framework for the Northern Ireland peace process in the early 1990s.

On Europe and South Africa…

These were two of the most controversial foreign policy issues during Margaret Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister. 

The issue of Europe remains perhaps the most toxic part of the Thatcher legacy. From the positive contribution to pioneering the Single European Act and the single market to the vehement defence of the British budget rebate and the rejection of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism and the Euro currency. Thatcher’s legacy on Europe still haunts the Conservative Party today. 

The issue of Apartheid in South Africa saw Margaret Thatcher by and large isolated on the issue of whether to impose sanctions against the white apartheid regime at the time. During the cold war period, Margaret Thatcher held the line that however unpleasant the apartheid regime were, they were a strong anti-communist bulwark in the Southern African continent and it was not worth the risk of toppling the regime to hand over such vital and strategic ally in the fight against communism to what she viewed as the Marxist ideologues of the African National Congress.

The passing of Margaret Thatcher earlier this year marked the loss of one of the great political giants of our time. It’s clear that Thatcher and her legacy continue to cast a shadow over not just political Britain, and in particular the modern Conservative Party today, but also communities and internationally. 

Whether you agree with Margaret Thatcher or not, she was a remarkable politician and leader and one who continues to generate debate and strong feelings on all sides of the political argument. Judging by the reaction to her death, I feel this will continue for many years to come.


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