Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Oh Maggie, What Have We Done?

Baroness Margaret Thatcher in Death Provokes
Differing Reactions as She Did in Life
Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the first female PM to lead a Western European nation (and the Anglosphere, including the US, Canada, and Australia) died earlier this week of a stroke at 87.  Her passing has provoked multifaceted responses - those on the political Left still apparently hate her with a venom that is hard to describe, whilst those on the right look at the mess in the Euro zone, and take a plainly more favourable view of her time in Downing St.

Pictured above in a signature blue suit (in the UK, the Conservative banner is blue, whereas the Labour party follow a red standard, the opposite of the US colouring scheme), Mrs Thatcher has been a polarising figure since she led the Conservatives to victory in the 1979 national elections, besting Labour and their leader, "Sunny" Jim Callaghan.

Reading the comments across the net, which represent a spectrum from the ridiculous (the buffoonish and generally un-funny Russell Brand) to the sublime (Glenn Greenwald, a leftish blogger), one sees that the Left still harbour an almost stomach-eroding biliousness.

I was a teenager in the 1980s, and am familiar with the pop culture of that era (Pink Floyd's album "The Final Cut" was a sort of concept album repudiating Thatcherism, and the pop singer Morrissey used Thatcher as his angry muse for much of the seminal songs of the band he fronted, The Smiths).

There are many reasons, some more valid than others.  

To me, it boils down to a simple concept, and this is why, all things considered, I have a tremendous admiration for Mrs Thatcher.  And that is, she saw the trajectory of Britain - recalcitrant public unions in denial of reality, a bloated welfare state made ever fatter by sloth and fraud (even Brand himself, in his whinging attacks on the former PM, actually discusses his time as a heroin addict gaming the public till as if that militates for his anti-reformist, collective view), and decline - and said "No."

Mr Callaghan, the Labour PM whom Baroness Thatcher replaced, is remembered for his comment that the late 1970s were a "winter of discontent," much akin to another failed leader, Jimmy Carter, who talked of a malaise.  

It's difficult, in the 21st century, to state clearly enough how bad the problems of the 1970s were.  England, like much of continental Europe, was plagued by strikes and discord and cronyism.  

Soon after the 1979 elections, Callaghan was out and was replaced by a much more doctrinaire and angry leader, Michael Foot, who advocated ever higher taxes and more intervention by government in the economy.  Foot led a Labour Party that lost the 1983 elections with the lowest vote total in its history.  Subsequent to his death, Foot has been implicated in the memoirs of former KGB agents as facilitating their efforts in the UK.

Without Margaret Thatcher, Michael Foot might have actually been the Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Personally, nothing illustrates to me this point more directly than the demise of the British auto industry.  As I've written here before, I'm the owner of a 60+ year old MG.  MG (Morris Garage) was a proud badge manufactured in Abingdon, England between 1924 and 1980.  As much as any other brand, MG helped to drive the open, two-seat roadster market in the US and abroad.  

It's hard to believe, but in the early 1950s, England was the largest exporter of cars in the world.  

Today, the factory in Abingdon is a police station.

The decline and fall of the auto manufacturing industry in Britain has many villains, of course, but ultimately, what was illustrated is that the basic laws of economics are not subject to vote.  In the end, MG (like its domestic competitors Triumph et al) were turning out vehicles that actually cost more to make than they were sold for, and no amount of government "help," restructuring, bailouts, and cajoling (some would say, mollycoddling) of the unions could put off the inevitable.

The Left hate Thatcher because she actually saw the inherently unsustainable nexus of government and public employee unions; and yes.  By 1975, MG workers were public employees - the auto industry having been nationalised, along with the railroads, energy, and a host of others.  

Simply put, the Labour party were formed as a voice for unions - not in and of itself dangerous or particularly bad.  But what to do when the putative spokesman for one group (unions) becomes simultaneously the advocate for the other - the government, and by extension, the taxpayers of England?  How does one represent the interests of both employer and employee?  Can a group with directly conflicting fiduciary responsibilities actually "negotiate" in good faith with itself?

The fact that MG no longer exists is empirical evidence that the answer is "no."

Mrs Thatcher is hated because she was right.


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