FORMER British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has been called a ‘divisive figure’ in the media.
This ‘divisiveness’ is merely a front to legitimise her policies in a post-Thatcher world where the swing to the right was mimicked by a number of countries, Australia included, and saw a politics created to benefit a rich minority while punishing the vulnerable.
This kind of politics was in no way ‘‘successful’’ except to benefit a minority and allow that minority to maintain their wealth and political power.
Lauding Baroness Thatcher’s policies is a mistake that we should not make today.
Lady Thatcher came to power promising to unite the country and to govern for everyone.
In reality her policies favoured those already well-off and hurt the already vulnerable. The gap between the haves and have-nots widened as a direct result of Lady Thatcher’s policy, leaving a distinctly un-United Kingdom.
The facts on the ground remain: unwilling to push for an overtly feminist agenda and unwilling to present a social agenda that was progressive in any way, Lady Thatcher pushed politics quite far to the right.
Economically, Lady Thatcher and the British Tory policies doubled unemployment, then pushed unemployed coal miners to register for long-term disability pensions to hide the unemployment figures.
The country’s gross national product fell, and there was never a recovery on the horizon, with top tax rates on the rich cropped from 83per cent down to 60per cent, while the value-added tax nearly doubled from 8per cent to 15per cent, largely hurting the poorer classes in the process, to recoup the revenue loss.
If not for the boom in North Sea oil, Lady Thatcher’s government would probably have been bankrupt in its first years.
Her refusal to co-operate in a greater Europe, her willingness to go to war, and her increased militarisation of the UK pushed international politics closer to crisis rather than further away.
At the same time this militarisation was coupled with a resurgent appeal to nationalism.
Her hostility towards Nelson Mandela, whom she derided as a terrorist, while having a long-lasting friendship with the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, remains a source of embarrassment and marks a shocking lack of personal judgment.
Lady Thatcher’s legacy is a world in which radical individualism is privileged at the expense of any sort of social solidarity or sense of responsibility to anyone outside of one’s self.
If we are to laud Lady Thatcher’s legacy then let us laud our own selfishness and greed as the products of this legacy.
We have seen how tolerating governments supporting dictatorships for the sake of convenience was dangerous in Lady Thatcher’s day and this continues.
Her neglect of the people hit hard by her economic policies, increased drug addiction, destroyed families, and caused enormous social problems in the UK.
If all governments, including ours here in Australia, were to act in such a manner, we would need to ask ourselves what it is that we need government for.
Helping to organise our lives for the better is part of the mandate of all governments, and pressing for positive change on the world stage is part of that. Lady Thatcher’s legacy is a cruel one, and not to be lauded.
Dr Robert Imre is a senior lecturer in politics and international relations, the University of Newcastle. Stephen Owen is a PhD student at the University of Newcastle.