The about-to-be-released movie Iron Lady, directed by Phyllida Lloyd and starring Meryl Streep, about former British Prime Minister and Ronald Reagan buddy Margaret Thatcher is prompting a lot of discussion. Here is the trailer:
It drew me into discussion, and I posted and now somewhat amend, my own perspective on her period in office:
The only countries that seriously followed the UK-Thatcher path were Russia, where it was a catastrophe, that has created a mafia state with a life expectancy 10 years less than under the awful previous regime; and the USA where it was something of a catastrophe, but not, so far, on the Russian scale. Places like China followed the Singapore model, which would have been a much better path for the UK, and for that matter the US: building hi- tech manufacturing, and the education and research systems to support it, as Germany has done too. The so called Washington Consensus that was built on Reagan-Thatcherism is a laughing stock around the world because it simply does not work, though the European Union seems to be involved in its final swan song.
As for the lack of commercial knowledge of the left wing commenting on Thatcher: actually the generalization applies to UK politicians of the right as well as the left. I have met a fair number of Conservative MPs and one or two Cabinet Ministers, and they don’t have much business savvy, which is why they are so open to crony capitalism and cozy deals. Almost none of them has ever worked in value add for profit business and Margaret Thatcher was no exception.
The labels left and right mean very little for the post-1980 history of the UK, in that the mendacious Tony Blair merely continued the Thatcher legacy, with some dysfunctional re-distribution as icing on the unequal cake. The country continued to lose manufacturing and education standards on an almost straight line basis during his time in office. That said, Thatcher did achieve some needed reform. But for all the eggs she broke, she didn’t create that many omelettes. 10 new nuclear power stations would have been a good start to reduce UK dependence when North Sea Oil ran out as it is now doing.
The tragedy was that she was strategically clueless on some important areas that would be visible from the conservative viewpoint, not just a left wing point of view. I worked in turning round a major manufacturing business in the UK in the 1980s, thanks to her union reforms, but the opportunity to build on that was lost because she and her party knew nothing about manufacturing, and had no real approach, other than rely on North Sea oil and the City. Her exchange rate policy and Blair’s following it, destroyed much of what we built. Instead of dismissing it all as left wing piffle, why don’t Thatcher admirers actually listen? And think outside easy labels and their preconceptions.
Margaret Thatcher was a tragedy. She was an immensely strong personality with clear convictions and the courage to see them through. She faced a very weak opposition and therefore had immense opportunity to re-shape the British economic and political scene strategically. Instead, influenced by her husband Dennis she pursued narrow minded class warfare and profoundly divided the country, creating both inequality and immensely strengthened the likelihood of the break up of the United Kingdom and Scottish independence. She also shifted the UK into a consumerist, dependency culture, with a huge under-class and an economy heavily dependent on North Sea oil and the casino style City of London financial sector. Similar mistakes were made in the US under Reagan.
That the UK should finally get a strong leader, yet find that she was strategically massively in error is its tragedy. She indeed rule for the 1% and made them immensely richer in the UK at the expense not only of the 99% but of the whole country’s long term viability. A tragedy indeed.
Meryl as Thatcher: