I was watching the BBC News on Monday at breakfast time (while fighting several problems at work). Aside: my breakfast (8:00 a.m.) coincides with the 13:00 (1:00 p.m.) BBC News (aka BBC News at One
The pips sounded, Sian Williams
, the presenter, came on the screen dressed in a very muted fashion. Before I knew it, she had said the words "it's just been announced that Baroness Thatcher has died this morning".
I cannot overstate how much Margaret Thatcher affected my life. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that England in the 1970s affected my life, and Margaret Thatcher's election victory in 1979 could well have changed that (aside, she took over from Jimmy Callaghan; I wrote about his death previously
Britain in the 1970s was a tough place to live. Rapid inflation, record unemployment, and the unions (seemingly) running the country. My Dad told stories of how the news at the time would give equal coverage to politicians and to Arthur Scargill
, a union rabble rouser.
(Aside: I'm not saying unions don't have their place, they certainly can, but they are often just as corrupt as management with their own agendas. Even the theoretically pure Scargill was later found to be living in accomodation paid for by the union, without the knowledge of their members. So much for socialism!)
Margaret Thatcher faced the unions down and forced Britain to reform. She drew the line in the sand with the European Union ("I want my money back", she said, and negotiated a rebate where a portion of the money Britain paid to Brussels came back, rather than going into the pockets of French farmers thanks to the Common Agricultural Policy
). She savvily steered Britain through the Falklands conflict (although claiming victory over a bunch of pint sized despots wasn't difficult, even though the despots knew the Brits were coming!).
At the same time she massively conducted a massive campaign of privatisation (note spelling), selling off the previously nationalised industries including British Aerospace, British Airways, British Gas, British Rail, and most sadly of all, British Coal.
Did the British energy have to change? Hell yes. It was well overdue (not to mention the men who died of coal related conditions, including my great grandfather). But the way she closed mines and destroyed communities was absolutely terrible. There are people today who live in towns and villages that have not recovered. Her government made little effort to regenerate those areas that formerly relied on coal for their livelihood.
I've had a few people say to me that they are so sorry to hear Thatcher died. These Americans
have absolutely no idea who she was. All they know is she was a friend of Reagan. The truth is much more complicated (but they don't have time for complicated).
I won't watch her funeral (unless it happens to conflict with my usual BBC viewing). I am sad she's died, but her economic legacy should be closely examined before judging her premiership.