“Thatcher is dead, long live Thatcherism” is the toast in a thousand London clubs as hard faced bankers get all dewy-eyed and sentimental about the late Tory leader and the most divisive Prime Minister of the second half of the twentieth century.
In common with her acolytes, Cameron and Osborne, Thatcher was quick to give with one hand and take with the other. She reduced the top rate of tax from 83% to 60%, but at the same time got rid of the bottom rate of 25%, making 30% the base rate for everyone. Sound familiar?
The same tune was played out with VAT, a tax that disproportionately penalises the poor, she nearly doubled it from 8% to 15% (it later went to 17.5%). Labour temporarily reduced it to 15% again, but true to form the Tories increased it to 20%, despite vehement denials prior to the 2010 election, something which also had echoes in Thatcher’s first election campaign in which she flatly denied that she would double it as Labour accused.
The Tories have somehow acquired a reputation for being a tax cutting party, but history shows us this is not the case and they have nearly always been the ones to increase taxes, mostly on the less well off. As George Gilder (American Republican, techno-utopian) puts it in the 1982 edition of his American best-seller, “Wealth and Poverty,”
“The net effect of the Thatcher program has been a substantial increase in taxation on virtually all taxpayers.”
“The net effect of the Thatcher program has been a substantial increase in taxation on virtually all taxpayers.” George Gilder – American Republican author.
The exception, of course, being the very highest earners who got massive tax cuts.
Another strand of Tory mythology is their so-called economic competence. Let me give you one sentence. Under Thatcher, manufacturing output dropped 30% from its 1978 level by 1983 and unemployment reached 3.6 million.
Again this will ring bells with those of experiencing the depredations of the current regime.
There are four areas for which Margaret Thatcher will forever live in the consciousness of the working class of Britain: mass privatisation, the Poll Tax and its associated riots, the destruction of whole swathes of British society in her conflict with the miners and the sell-off of council homes.
Council house sales have ultimately resulted in homelessness, shantytowns, repossessions and negative equity becoming the norm for millions and house building is now at its lowest ebb since 1924. Social Housing, an idea that gave homes to millions of people who could not afford them otherwise, was destroyed by Thatcher by appealing to the lowest and basest of emotions: greed.
Now, most of the sold council houses are owned by private landlords and the tenants, who make up the most vulnerable members of society, are being squeezed by yet another Tory government with the execrable Bedroom Tax. The people who bought their council houses have long since sold them, and saddled themselves with debts. To quote the song, “they started out with nothing and they’ve still got most of it left”.
The Poll tax caused massive social unrest and ended in complete and utter defeat for the government, but not before whole sections of British town centres had been laid to waste by rioters protesting the unfair tax. Ultimately, it resulted in Thatcher’s ejection from office, but it revealed just how far she was prepared to go to shift wealth away from the ordinary people of Britain and into the hands of the wealthy. Even today, we have the ridiculous situation where mansions in the West End of London pay only £1200 council tax: if Thatcher could have had her way, that would have been reduced by a factor of ten.
There are echoes of this today with the Bedroom Tax. The idea that everyone should pay tax irrespective of their means is having its day again, and once again it is a Tory Government that is doing it. The Bedroom Tax is much more of a stealth tax though, the Tories have learned since Thatcher’s day and they no longer try to bludgeon everyone with their plans. Instead they have introduced it so that the most vulnerable and those least able to fight back are afflicted with this most wicked of taxes.
Thatcher laid waste to industrial Britain. As I pointed out earlier, she cut manufacturing output by 30% by 1983 and even today you can visit towns in the Welsh Valleys, the North of England and Scotland that are wastelands where dead-eyed residents eke out a brutal existence. She, more than anyone, gave birth to the desperate situations that the population of these empty towns find themselves in. The destruction of the mining villages, the wasting of manufacturing towns and the devastation of what were vibrant, confident and happy communities can all be laid fairly and squarely at the door of Thatcher. She replaced them with yuppies and deregulated financial services that had their inevitable boom and bust at the tail end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. The trillions of pounds that have been poured down these financial drains would have funded the NHS for twenty years, the entire education budget for forty years and the total job seekers allowance budget for five hundred years.
Margaret Thatcher conducted class warfare. That is the only way to describe it. It was brutal, primitive and depraved. She destroyed the lives of millions, while enhancing those at the very top of the tree. We are still suffering the massive increases of inequality under Thatcher: in the 1980s the gulf between the top and bottom 20% widened by a full 60%. It is to Labour’s eternal shame that they embraced this and failed to reverse it. It is true to say that there were only minor fluctuations in this gap under Major, Brown and Blair, but they did very little to reduce it significantly. BUT it was Thatcher who created it.
This is Thatcher’s true legacy: inequality, devastated communities, mass unemployment, higher taxation for the poor, the destruction of manufacturing and mass social unrest. If we allow Cameron and Osborne to emulate her, then more fool us, and welcome to serfdom.
P.S. I’m already fed up to the back teeth with the sycophancy. Give it a rest BBC.
PPS: Never forget: She was responsible for introducing section 28