Margaret Thatcher’s funeral passed without much trouble. The Boston bombs had left the Police fearful of similar incidents and some protesters had managed a permission to turn their backs to the funeral procession as a sign of disrespect. Big Ben was kept quiet and attempts to block the motion that a Parliamentary session should be cancelled were defeated. Criticisms that 10 million pounds of public money to pay for the funeral at a time of draconian austerity measures would be obscene went unheard. So, what else came out of the Thatcher revolution that is still blighting the lives of people both in Britain and abroad?
Another little war about oil
‘The news that the seabed around the Falklands might contain rich oil deposits was first conveyed to a British government in 1969. Richard Crossman, then a member of the cabinet, recorded in his diary his surprise at the fact that “the Foreign Office said that the only thing to do was to conceal the suggestion and prevent any testing”…
Leaseback [to Argentina] eventually became the policy that the Thatcher government tried to sell to the islanders’ but the proposal was defeated in Parliament. The Guardian carried out an in-depth analysis in 2010 of the history of the Malvinas/Falklands conflict worth reading.
It was suggested too that ‘the Argentines interpreted the failure of the British to react [to statements at the UN about taking back the islands] as a lack of interest in the Falklands due to the planned withdrawal (as part of a general reduction in size of the Royal Navy in 1981) of the last of the Antarctic Supply vessels, HMS Endurance, and by the British Nationality Act of 1981, which replaced the full British citizenship of Falkland Islanders with a more limited version
The military government in Argentina also believed they counted on US support given their involvement with the CIA in the general plan to eliminate left wing activism in Latin America, apart from the longstanding view that the US supported Argentina’s claim to sovereignty over the islands. It still does. Without denying the bad faith of the Argentinean military who attempted to recover the islands as a way to get some public support in the face of disastrous economic policies and human rights violations, sending in the process untrained and ill equipped 19 year old conscripts to their death, Thatcher’s use of the war to get back public support in her own country by claiming that ‘the wishes of the islanders are paramount’ and leaving aside the little issue of the likely abundance of Oil in the area, has locked the two countries in a never ending conflict. The Iron Lady may be rusting but her political heirs are ££happy££ to give licences to drill in spite of UN and OAS calls to discuss sovereignty. A return to the before-1982 negotiating table could open much better prospects for all parties involved.
Speculation, Liberalisation and Privatisation
The new paradigm of the neoliberal revolution spearheaded in the UK by ‘the Bag Lady’ as she also became known in relation to her famous handbag and her onslaught on public services and benefits, also created one of the few words and concepts capable of sending shivers down the spine of the middle classes: Negative Equity, the moment when the market value of one’s house is lower than the mortgage taken to pay for it. The whole concept of speculation as the basis for the economy (`Sid’ being the name of the character created to encourage people to buy shares in everything) also reinforced the view of one’s house not as just a ‘home’ but mainly as a speculative product that must increase in value all the time to generate profit at the time of selling it in order to buy a bigger house or several for rental. The fear of a return to the Thatcher-era negative equity has served to discipline house owners into accepting the neoliberal dogma as insurance whilst encouraging the development of political parties, whether ‘Right’, ‘Left’ or ‘Centre’, indistinguishable from one another.
Liberalisation hit not only financial and labour markets, but also production. it was the fresh self-regulation of the meat industry that allowed a lowering of the temperature for treatment and mechanical recovery of meat that led to the BSE (aka “mad cow” disease) crisis with contamination of the human food chain by the agent of a terrible and lethal illness.
At the level of the banking system MT was the architect of the liberalisation of speculation that helped banks use up their commercial capital to make money out of money without producing anything. Investment in industry went down and casino-like high risk activity left the real economy bereft of funding. It is wholly ironical that apart from discussions about breaking up banks to re-separate their investment and commercial arms, her much hated State is now seen as the only possible saviour to inject some resources to reactivate cash starved companies. After all, why should bankers lend money at the present infinitesimal interest rates, if that will produce such low returns that paying themselves bonuses is a much better prospect!
Amongst the misery brought about by privatisation British train customers, who pay for some of the most expensive railway travel in Europe, have yet to realise that they are in fact subsidising lower fares in other countries through foreign state-owned railway companies running services in the UK. And the extent of the disaster looming in the horizon with the arrival of the private sector to the Health Service will take many by surprise. After all the Media is swamped with horror stories about public hospitals, so why should not for-profit companies be allowed to take over? Bad practice by one professional or an institution can be corrected, absence of services cannot.
But the worst may be more personal…
Perhaps it is a mistake to personalise so much a process that had so many actors and contributors. How did competition and individualism manage to replace solidarity and compassion as the most desirable forms of interpersonal relationship in the neoliberal dogma? When MT said “there is no such thing as society” her detractors were accused of taking her words out of context. And yet she was in fact advocating individualism, denying that society has any responsibility in looking after those who cannot look after themselves — although they are often victims of social policies. This close relative of Social Darwinism extolled by Nazi ideology and eugenics served to deepen the dehumanisation process of the unfolding neoliberal revolution.
The consequences are visible everywhere. In the era of communications, millions of people feel completely isolated. In the era of individual ‘freedom,’ people feel their choices increasingly restricted. In the era of ‘wealth creation,’ austerity measures are delivered as if those in power actually believe that we are in fact all in the same boat.