I can honestly say I’ve never before celebrated a death. But for Margaret Hilda Thatcher I will make an exception. The world is quite simply a better place without her in it.
Back in May 1979 I was a teenager in the midst of a Marxist phase I would soon grow out of. At a school outdoor centre for a week of canoeing and sailing we awoke to a teacher telling us, “Get up boys, you’ve got a woman prime minister.” I can remember thinking that the class struggle would become much fiercer with Thatcher in charge.
There is no doubting that Margaret Thatcher is the dominant figure in British politics from the time of her election through to the present day. She changed the face of the political landscape with a radical shift to the right that has led to all major parties rethinking their basic stances. The post war consensus that saw Tory and Labour as near-centrist parties agreeing on much was as dead as the idea of compassionate Conservatism.
The savage ideology behind the Iron Lady’s revolution, based on the monetarist economic philosophy, was clear. There was to be no such thing as society. The state should be rolled back. Direct taxes should be lowered and interest rates higher. Greed was good and helping others a sign of weakness. Deregulation and privatisation were the way forward. The market was king. Council houses were sold off at discounts and the powers of local authorities reduced.
Recession and mass unemployment were the results. The rich got richer while the poor paid the price. Many lost their jobs and their homes as unemployment of over three million people was a price she was more than willing to pay. Entire industries were destroyed, communities left devastated. The Poll Tax was unleashed in Scotland first, leading to mass non payment campaigns.
New laws to shackle trades unions were introduced. A confrontation with the National Union of Mineworkers was provoked and a year long strike resulted in defeat for the miners. The consequences for the coal industry were devastating, with the number of pits closed exceeding even the claims of NUM leaders, dismissed at the time as fantasy.
In foreign policy, Thatcher was always close to US President Ronal Reagan. In those cold war days, American Cruise Missiles were brought to the UK and Trident purchased. The UK became a massive USAF base. In Ireland, hunger strikers were allowed to die as Thatcher refused to negotiate and a shoot to kill policy was introduced. She also called Nelson Mandela a terrorist, resisting sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa. The Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Isles led to war, and Thatcher took the decision to sink a cruiser, the General Belgrano, that was sailing away from the islands at the time, resulting in hundreds of needless deaths.
Margaret Thatcher was always a divisive figure. No politician has ever stirred such strong emotions right across the political spectrum. But she won three general elections, one on the back of the Falklands victory that saved her, and was Prime Minister for more than ten years.
It is unfortunate that it was her own party rather than the electorate that defeated her in the end. Despite attracting more votes that Michael Heseltine in 1990 she did not have a sufficient majority to win the Tory leadership contest outright. Initially she vowed to fight on to another vote, but was eventually persuaded to resign. Thatcher always saw the way her cabinet ministers lined up to tell her it was to go as a massive betrayal.
So Margaret Thatcher is finally gone. There will be many newspaper editorials and television programmes devoted to her legacy over the coming days. But for the millions who suffered because of her destructive policies there is only a quiet satisfaction that she has finally departed this world.