By Nathan Lee, Politics and Finance writer
Was Margaret Thatcher demonised for the right reasons, why did people hate her, and to what extent did the unions warp our perception of the long-standing politician?
Margaret Thatcher was born of a working class family, but died the most victimised member of its society in living memory.
It is difficult to assess whether the recently deceased Baroness Thatcher was unfairly demonised throughout her time in Westminster. A Durham University research paper has revealed that Thatcher’s policies caused people to die early in what was termed “unjust premature death”.
But to what extent can one lady be responsible for industrial evolutionary pressures? In order to make a fair assessment of the Iron Lady’s impact on British society, one must account for the trade union movement, and how it shaped the political perceptions of the time.
Why is Thatcher disliked?
Coal mining had been carried out in my home area of Rothwell, near Leeds, for more than 600 years before production stopped on 9 December 1983. Needless to say that songs such as ‘Margaret Thatcher, throw her up and catch her’ were still being chimed as I grew up, and it was clear from an early age that there was a deep-seated hatred for the woman that would become known as the Iron Lady.
Baroness Thatcher was disliked for the way she unapologetically destroyed mining and went to war on industry. She made no concessions to people who had built livelihoods based on these working communities and permanently altered the way Britain functioned as a nation, the ramifications of which are still being felt today.
The reason Britain is struggling to recover in the aftermath of the financial crisis is because there is little stimulus coming from the underbelly of the economy. The service sector has taken a dangerously large share of our economy but does little to stir economic growth, contrary to countries such as the US and Germany, where industry has proved to be a lifeline.
Her foreign policy, fiscal control and welfare state moves are also frequent grumblings among the Thatcher bashers, and the ex prime minister was very much to blame for exacerbating such feelings of resentment. Unlike politicians of today, publicity didn’t concern here – not among her ranks or in the wider public view. Meryl Streep claimed that she was disliked simply because she was a woman, but she was a woman of resolute values, which is a force indeed when sitting at the helm of the government.
What role did the unions have to play?
There is a good case to be made that the trade unions created a pseudo perception of what was good for the country. They were –almost as a mandate – protectionist rather than progressive, in a time when other parts of the world were evolving. Major mining communities in parts of Europe, such as Belgium and Holland, had seen their pits closed some ten years before Thatcher closed ours, largely because the trade unions weren’t such a force to contend with.
The hype of Thatcherism almost clouded other parts of the political sphere, and there isn’t always enough consideration given over whether trade unions were a force for the good. They had become very powerful, some argue too powerful, and that often warped their perception of reality.
As much as I will eternally sympathise with those whose livelihoods were impacted by Thatcher’s incescent fight against unionised Britain, on the day of her passing I find myself asking whether the Iron Lady was unfairly demonised by the organised workforce. She fought fire with fire, and it should be no surprise that the resultant mess was a hotbed of hatred – whether justified or not.