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Chris Ford: Margaret Thatcher 1925 - 2013: The Left needs its own Thatcher to counter Thatcherism

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

 Margaret Thatcher passed away overnight in London. Her death will be a sad one for her family, friends and former colleagues. 

In stating this, though, some of them may be angry, some upset, others resigned and even expectant about the fact that her death has occassioned some celebration among elements of the left. Reports have emerged in the last few hours of celebratory parties being held in the areas her policies created havoc in, namely, Glasgow, Brixton, and Belfast to name a few. I'm aware through subscribing to numerous left-wing feeds on Facebook and Twitter that these celebrations have been planned in advance and only had to be activated by notice of her passing.

The general reaction on the Left, though, has been more restrained. While acknowledging her passing, much commentary has rightly reflected on the divisive policies she instigated. Those that caused mass unemployment. Those that caused mass social misery. Those that caused certain sections of the population to feel repressed and oppressed. It shouldn't come as no surprise to sections of the political right then that Thatcher's death would be noted but not overly mourned on the left.

What I do acknowledge at this time, however, is that Thatcher was a conviction politician. She stood for what she believed in. She fought for what she believed in. She aggressively implemented her neo-liberal beliefs without fear. She gave a damn about the rich and middle class but never the workers or the poor. Thatcher stood by their side but she also engaged in political outreach to the skilled workers -  the plumbers, the electricians, the techies, the engineers, the so-called Essex Man and Woman, the upwardly mobile C2s. She courted them. She feted them. She did this through selling them shares in the enterprises she privatised, she sold them the council homes they and their families tenanted, she gave them the tax cuts that lifted them up into the middle class. 

Essex Man and Essex Woman gave her the parliamentary majorities that enabled her to change Britain, in my view for the worse.

For the worse, indeed, as she sent another message to another section of the working class - the coalminers, steel workers, ship builders, and manufacturing workers of Britain - you have no future. We don't care for you. Onto the scrap heap you go!

She began piling the vestiges of a great British Welfare State onto its own scrapheap too. The National Health Service became gradually subjected to free market competition. The education system began less free of charge and more class stratified. She sold off (as noted earlier) huge chunks of the social housing estate to appease the skilled working class and fill the UK Treasury's tax cut-depleted coffers.

As for the security blanket that protected workers rights and conditions, she threw these onto the deregulatory bonfire as well. The right to strike became curtailed. The right of workers to organise collectively through unions similarly. She took on Arthur Scargill's National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and crushed them. If anyone wonders why the coal mining regions of Northern England, Wales, and Scotland are refusing to mourn her passing today, that's why!

Thatcher aggressively overturned a legacy. She served as the willing destroyer of the progressive, egalitarian legacy bequeathed by earlier Liberal, Labour and even some Conservative Governments.

Today, on the day of her passing, I issue a challenge to the Left. It has been made by some left-wing commentators both here in New Zealand and Britain.

We need a Thatcher of the Left!

We need a Thatcher-style policy aggressor to dismantle the legacy of Thatcherism, whether it's in Britain or New Zealand. Who will take on big corporate capital. Who will defend the poor and marginalised by providing them a real stake in society. Who will bring back free, progressive taxation funded health, education and affordable housing services. Who will back full employment policies designed for the 21st Century. Who will genuinely care for the environment and our ecological future. Who will promote the ideals of peace, fairness, tolerance and social justice in both domestic and international affairs. Who will genuinely give everyone (the wealthy, the middle class and especially the poor) real equal opportunity and remind everyone of the need to share and enjoy wealth fairly.

Put simply, what we need is a leader who will give a damn about the very groups that Thatcher didn't care about. Politics is an ideologically-charged business and I don't buy into this right-wing inspired, post-modernist nonsense that ideology doesn't matter. To me and others on both the left and even the right, it still does!

Currently, there is no one on the Left in either New Zealand or the UK who could be our ideological Thatcher, our policy aggressor. Some might go some of the way but not all the way in the same way that Thatcher did for the right. Ironically enough, on the wider international scene, there has been a Thatcher-figure on the left already in the form of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. He successfully overturned a neo-liberal consensus in that poor benighted Latin American country, and in doing so, liberated tens of thousands of people from poverty. In another great irony, both Chavez and Thatcher have passed away within a month of each other (and I can only imagine that when the two meet in the afterlife, there will be a real rhetorical firefight.)

I firmly believe that the Left's Thatcher, the actual anti-Thatcher, will emerge one day in Britain. The anti-Thatcher (or more accurately our anti-Rogernome) will emerge here in New Zealand too. To paraphrase British left-wing commentator Owen Jones, the left will be able to celebrate only when Thatcherism itself has been defeated. After all, the woman herself may be gone but her legacy lives on. Until, that is, the Left's Thatcher, the anti-Thatcher arises to overturn it once and for all!





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