Margaret Thatcher is dead. In my previous post, I reflected on some of the things for which (imho) she deserves unquestioning credit.
As Prime Minister, she also deserves credit for taking on the union bully-boys, the presidents-for-life, the closed shop, the restrictive practices and the dinosaurs who wanted to keep the dirty, dangerous and increasingly uneconomic industrial relics of the Victoria era limping along in the second half of the 20th century.
Somebody would have done it; Barbara Castle (another strong-minded grammar school girl) had tried to tackle the anti-democratic power of the unions and failed. Failing industries would have still have failed in the face of competition from the Far East.
Was the confrontation inevitable? Could there have been a managed transition from the old to the new? Did the inexorable tide of history have to swell into a tsunami that not only washed away shipyards and flooded coal mines, but wreaked divisiveness and destruction in families, individuals and whole regions?
There were too many missed chances and too much commitment to following the ideological diktats of free market economics to the end of the line without any thought as to whether we might hit the buffers.
The windfall of North Sea oil could have been invested in education, training and infrastructure.
The sale of council houses was a misguided policy that reduced the stock of social housing and contributed to the well-heeled ghettoisation of many villages.
The privatisation of telecommunications (another dinosaur) was overdue; the privatisation of the natural monopolies (gas water and electricity), which lead to large chunks of essential infrastructure being owned by the state enterprises of, amongst others, France and China, was sheer insanity.
The Poll Tax … actually, I quite liked the Poll Tax – I never did understand why I had to pay the same rates as the (identically sized) flat next door which was occupied by three adults (all working) and a baby.
The list goes on, and that’s probably the problem – Margaret Thatcher did a lot, but, in the end, she tried to do too much and took too little account of the impact of changes on people who didn’t have her energy or ability. She was, without doubt, an extraordinary woman who has earned her place (for good or ill) in the history books, but there was something missing – in Dennis Healey’s memorable phrase, “she had no hinterland”.