Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

The Thatcher Legacy (and local election results)

In A.Graham, J. Bratton on July 3, 2013 at 12:34 pm

John Bratton looks back to the miners’ strike of 1984-85 and the Thatcherite policies that led to it.

Shouts of “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie: dead, dead, dead” and blasts of Ding Dong the Witch is dead symbolized the deep loathing for Thatcher the politician amongst many communities. In Glasgow’s George Square, at miners’ welfare clubs in Scotland, and in Goldthorpe South Yorkshire, for example, political adversaries of Thatcher and former miners gathered to celebrate and to condemn her economic and social legacy.

Back in 1936, the economist John Maynard Keynes had written: “The outstanding faults of the economic society in which we live are its failure to provide for full employment and its arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes”. As it was 77 years ago, so it is today. Now, as in the 1930s, our society is blighted by mass unemployment, under-employment and inequality in income, education and health. Starting with Thatcher in 1979, successive governments – both Tory and “New” Labour – have been responsible for the economic revolution that has created the mess we are in today.

The essence of Thatcherism was to roll back the gains of the working class introduced by Attlee’s 1945 Labour Government. To replace a “mixed” public and private economy and Keynesian demand management with Friedman’s monetarism: “free” markets, privatisation, the emasculation of unions and abolition of much state regulation. Thatcher’s political legacy shows that ideas and class matter. The eulogies and “canonization” of Baroness Thatcher following her death is, in part, explained by her attack on the post-war collective reforms, on behalf of society’s social elite. “New” Labour in the 1990s, under Blair’s stewardship, won three elections, offering the core ideas underpinning Thatcherism – albeit without the callousness.

The Economist called Thatcher the “freedom fighter”. Of course it’s not the freedom fighter the left associates with human emancipation. For the Economist, it was her willingness to buttress “the right of individuals to run their own lives, free as possible from micromanagement by the state”. A doctrine that has created reckless and nefarious individual behaviour that eventually caused the near collapse of the UK banking industry and the current crisis.

REFLECTIONS ON THE MINERS’ STRIKE:

The week of debate before the ceremonial funeral caused me to reflect upon the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, and how vivid memories of that struggle have re-occurred at each prominent anniversary and at more unexpected times during my adult life.

At the time, I was vice-president of the Halifax & District Trades Council. Soon after the start of the strike, the Council set up its Miners’ Support Group, which adopted two West Yorkshire collieries, Emley Moor and Park Mill. Each Saturday, a roster of volunteers collected food and money outside a local supermarket. The Group organised demonstrations and supported miners on the picket line. We also commissioned a local potter to make a ceramic mug and plate commemorating the strike. The plate proudly adorned our kitchen wall in Canada, as it does now in our flat in Scotland. The plate has the following inscription which summed up the struggle and why it was so important to the labour movement:

“To commemorate the miners’ strike March 1984 to March 1985: a year of struggle for jobs, families and communities against the Coal Board and Tory Government. We supported two local pits throughout the strike with food and money. Our thanks to all who helped.”

Some of us joined the miners when they marched back to work. A brass band played, miners’ wives, families and supporters clapped and cheered. It still ranks as one of the saddest days of my life. After the rally I walked back to the car with Alice Mahon, a part-time trade union tutor, later to be elected MP for Halifax. Neither of us spoke, each trying to control our emotions.

That memory of the walk from the rally has re-occurred many times, most notably when I watched the film Billy Elliot in Canada. Readers may recall a scene where Billy’s father decides to cross the line in order to support Billy’s dancing aspirations. Billy’s brother stops his father going into work. The scene is intense and I experienced deep emotion. Tears ran down my cheeks as I relived the “silent walk”. Even after the film, as my wife and I drove from the cinema, I felt so much emotion that I had to pull over, stop the car, to gather my composure.

My visceral dislike for Thatcher the politician and Thatcherism as an ideology is what consumed my thoughts as politicians and political pundits praised her. The celebrations in Glasgow’s George Square, and in many former mining communities, can only be understood by those who experienced or read the history of the destruction of jobs, families and communities through Thatcher’s policies. Thatcher and Thatcherism have left not only an economic and social legacy but also a psychological scar on tens of thousands of working people.

THATCHERISM LIVES:

As most on the political left understand, Thatcherism lives on. As the Economist warned the political elite, “Because of the crisis, the pendulum is swinging dangerously away from the principles Mrs Thatcher espoused … What the world needs now is more Thatcherism, not less.” Since 2010 much of the EU’s political elite who define economic wisdom have implemented unforced austerity measures, cuts in government spending, cuts in real wages and cuts in taxes for uber-salary earners. In this sense, the political pundits are right. Mainstream career-focussed politicians are now Thatcherite.

It’s depressing to note that while research data demonstrates the folly of austerity measures, here in Britain Ed Millband has to date, failed to break the conventional wisdom. Miliband et al can learn much from Thatcher. Having chosen Friedman’s free market strategy, she effectively framed an argument that the electorate understood, executed it, and let the voters judge her. For Miliband, the first two stages remain indefinable.

END (J. Bratton)

The County Elections: SO, WHO WERE THE WINNERS?

At the beginning of May, the County Council elections came and went. Judging by the number of people who turned out to vote, it could hardly be seen as an overwhelming endorsement of any political party, let alone an indication of how these respective parties would fare come a General Election. But it did provide a few straws in the wind.

Overall, Labour won a respectable tally of seats, the Tories lost out – and predictably the Liberal Democrats fared badly. The Green Party made modest gains in some parts of the country – though the headline news seemed to concentrate on the success of UKIP in its first major test at the polls. This party now has councillors in counties throughout England, where it never had representation before.

RESULTS IN GLOUCESTERSHIRE:

In our own neck of the woods, the Tories have now lost overall control of the Gloucestershire County Council. Labour managed to boost its total number of councillors to nine – whilst UKIP gained three seats, all of them in the Forest, and all of them in potentially Labour seats.

This, of course, ensures that as far as UKIP is concerned, the Forest becomes a target seat come the General Election. How far this should worry us all is very difficult to estimate. The way people vote in local elections is often different from the way they cast their vote when it comes to electing their MP. And, on a much higher turnout, the results could be very different. It’s just possible that all those UKIP votes could melt away like snowflakes in Spring.

However, for those who like to look at the figures involved, here is a breakdown of the votes given to the respective parties in the County elections. There was also one Independent elected (not included in the table) – and the Greens did not put up a full slate of candidates in the Forest (their single seat gained in the County was in Stroud).

Party / Seats  / (Total Vote)

Labour: 2 (5,292 votes)

Conservative: 2  (5,257 votes)

UKIP: 3 (6,247 votes)

Lib Dem.: none (1,127 (votes)

Green: none (924)

What conclusions we can draw from these totals is debatable. One factor is how the UKIP votes might have been re-distributed if they hadn’t been in the equation. Another is how they might fall in a future election.

Meanwhile, it remains interesting that UKIP’s three county councillors all came from the Forest of Dean. It clocked up no successes in the leafy lanes of the Cotswolds, the urban areas of Cheltenham and Gloucester, nor in the districts of Tewkesbury or Stroud. True, it benefited from some form of protest vote but hardly came close to winning seats.

What we in the Forest have done to deserve that result is difficult to estimate. The personal popularity of certain UKIP candidates could be a possible factor. Or maybe we had more voters here who just wanted to give the three main parties a “bloody nose” than in other parts of the County.

No doubt the record of the UKIP trio in County Hall will be closely watched. Meanwhile, the Tory cabal will no longer be able to dominate proceedings as it has in the past. How all this works out in practice, remains to be seen.

Report by A. Graham, Clarion Editor-in-Chief

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