Sunday, 14 April 2013

Maggie's revisionist meme

To the right is a Facebook meme (shared tens of thousands of times by cognitively illiterate Thatcher apologists) which is a wonderful demonstration of how delusional and revisionist Tory minded people have become about the Thatcher government.

In this article I'm going to stick to the task of rebutting the claims made in the Facebook meme. I have already written a much more comprehensive critique of Margaret Thatchers toxic social and economic legacies which can be seen here.

Point One: Thatcher didn't "abandon the Falklands to the Argies"

Declassified documents reveal that Thatcher and her defence secretary John Nott were warned several times that her cuts to the South Atlantic force would be interpreted by the Argentine military junta as an open invitation to reclaim the disputed islands. Thatcher ignored this advice, and in so doing, abandoned the Falklands to Argentina. Had she not made those cuts, no Argentine soldiers would ever have set foot on the Falklands. Essentially what Thatcher did by ignoring the expert advice was to provoke an entirely unnecessary war, cost a thousand young men their lives and cause injury and trauma to many thousands more. That Tories chose to celebrate this disastrous strategic error and unnecessary loss of life as one of Maggie's greatest successes demonstrates their abject disregard for both the facts and for human suffering.

Point Two: Thatcher didn't "cow down to the IRA"

I'll begin by noting that the expression is "Kowtow" (from the Mandarin Chinese for bow down or prostate oneself) not "Cow Down" (which for me creates the mental image of a hip-hop bovine grooving down to some funky beats).

More seriously; Thatcher's intransigent refusal to negotiate with the IRA ensured the continuation of the conflict and increasing numbers of attacks and deaths in England. One can only assume that these Maggie fanatics are glad that these people died, that they despise her successor John Major for softening the hardline stance and laying the groundwork for the peace process; that they must hate the contributions of people like Mo Mowlam who managed to get the various factions around the negotiating table; and that they must desperately wish that the peace process had never happened and that British soldiers, the police force in Northern Ireland and innocent civilians were still suffering dozens of casualties a year. There is nothing to this point but an appeal to tribalist hatred of the Irish independence cause which once again demonstrates the Thatcher apologist's indifference to death and suffering in favour of militant ideological posturing.

Point Three: Thatcher didn't "allow [a cherry-picked number] of immigrants into the UK"

This point demonstrates the Tory contempt for reality. They utterly dismiss The Tory party policy of closer integration with Europe and Thatcher's own role in opening up the UK to migrant workers and signing away sovereign powers.

Between 1964 and 1979 the UK actually had a long period of net emigration. This trend was reversed under the Thatcher government. The rise of net immigration, which began under Thatcher's rule, increased under John Major's rule and went into six digit figures when the European borders were thrown open to eastern block countries by the orthodox neoliberal fixated New Labour party.

The right-wing brigade love to claim that these kinds of open borders immigration policies are some kind of left-wing conspiracy, however the Tories have opened up EU immigration far more than "the left", which no longer even exists in terms of parliamentary representation. Thatcher's predecessor as Tory Prime Minister, Edward Heath opened up economic immigration from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Denmark in 1973. Thatcher herself opened the borders to Greek, Spanish and Portuguese workers in 1981 and 1986 and her successor John Major threw open the door to workers from Austria, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein in 1994. By the time Labour returned to power, Tony Blair had transformed the party leadership into adherents of Thatcherite neoliberalism (Thatcher cited this destruction of the left-wing Labour party as her greatest achievement in politics). The fact that Neo-Labour threw open the doors to eastern European migration is a direct consequence of Thatcher's rule. Given that Thatcher actually opened up the UK borders to further economic migration herself and the inexorable rise of mass immigration began in the 1980s, the idea that mass immigration is somehow a left-wing problem is fantastically revisionist stuff.

Point Four: Thatcher didn't "institute the Human Rights Act"

Firstly, the UK was subject to the European Convention on Human Rights long before the Human Rights Act came into effect. The 1998 Human Rights Act simply formalised these conventions into UK law. The ECHR was signed up to by Clement Attlee, with the support of Winston Churchill and passed into law in 1953 when Churchill was once again Prime Minister. The idea that human rights are a new thing introduced by Labour in 1998 is a pathetic fantasy.

Reactionary Tory fanatics seem to despise their own rights (the ones Attlee and Churchill both supported) and would love to see them abolished forthwith. Their favoured tactic for propagandising for the abolition of their own rights is to cherry-pick a tiny minority of cases where undesirable outcomes have resulted, their favourites being the inability of the government to expel Islamist extremists to countries where they are likely to be tortured and killed in contravention of the right to life (which has existed since 1953). They then use this tiny minority of cases to argue that the entire Human Rights Act should be abolished and that the UK should become the first country in history to repeal the European Convention on Human Rights.

These pitiful reactionaries honestly seem to think that it would be a great idea to allow Theresa May and the Tories to revoke our rights to stuff like a fair trial, freedom of expression, freedom from discrimination, freedom of association, protection from retroactive legislation, freedom of thought, the right to liberty, protection from torture, the right to effective remedy, the right to life, the right to privacy and protection from servitude. They really believe that all of these rights should be scrapped so that a bunch of millionaire Tories can decide which of these rights we are allowed to keep as they redraw a "more suitable" system of rights for ordinary British people. These people are so laughably naive that they'd openly call for the abolition of their own rights!

Point Five: Thatcher didn't "roll over and allow Europe to dictate what we can and can't do"

Again, this post shows breathtaking ignorance of Thatcher's relationship with Europe. Thatcher signed up to the Single European Act in 1985, which set about the creation of the European Single Market and codified European Political Cooperation and Common Foreign and Security Policy. Her chosen successor John Major then handed over even more powers to Europe when he signed up to the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. In effect Thatcher and her successor John Major did roll over, cede sovereign powers to Europe and allow the EU to begin dictating "what we can and can't do". This point simply reinforces the fact that Thatcher fanatics are brazen revisionists.

Point Six: Thatcher didn't "run up huge debts and end up getting our credit rating reduced"

This one is probably the most revisionist point of the whole lot. Despite North Sea oil production booming in the 1980s and the £billions raised through the fire-sale of state infrastructure (the national silver), the Thatcher government simply couldn't manage to run a balanced budget. During Thatcher's rule the national debt rose from £169 billion in 1978 to £570 billion in 1990! Despite all of the North Sea oil revenues and privatisation windfalls, the Thatcher government ran near constant budget deficits and massively expanded national borrowing.

What is more, the financial sector crisis that caused the runaway budget deficits of today can be traced back to Thatcher's neoliberalisation agenda. Wave after wave of deregulations, which began with Thatcher, but continued under Neo-Labour allowed financial institutions to gamble the entire financial sector to the brink of insolvency, necessitating the biggest state interventions in UK history to save them from the consequences of their own recklessness. The financial crisis, the credit crunch and George Osborne's failing ideological austerity experiment have all contributed to the escalation of the national debt, and all of these things can be traced back to Thatcher's introduction of ideologically driven neoliberal-pseudo-economics.

One other thing that needs to be said about this point is that it is illustrative of the Tory mentality of measuring the price of everything and the value of nothing. Their problem with the current economic situation isn't the huge rises in long-term and youth unemployment, massive rises in the number of children growing up in poverty, cuts to infrastructure, services and education, ever rising personal debts, financial sector greed and corruption, industrial scale tax-dodging or the fact that the government is led by and positively riddled with barefaced liars; it is that a foreign financial institution (that only a few years ago caused the economic crisis by stamping £trillions worth of toxic derivatives with AAA ratings) has removed their AAA rating from UK sovereign debts.

Conclusion "So before you sit there slagging her off (especially those who weren't even born when she was Prime Minister) take a look at what happened to our country since she resigned.

Many of the problems that have happened to our country since Thatcher resigned can clearly be traced back to decisions made by her government. I'll go through a few of her toxic legacies after a quick not about the parenthesised effort to so silence those that have suffered the consequences of her social divisiveness and economic mismanagement by whining that they weren't even born when she was ruling to roost. This effort to shut down criticism is truly feeble stuff, it's like saying that people shouldn't be allowed to have an opinion on the First World War unless they are one of the few hundred people still living that were children at the time; like forbidding anyone under the age of 57 from expressing an opinion about the leadership skills of Winston Churchill, or like preventing future generations from criticising Tony Blair and his desperate efforts to secure the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Here are some of the toxic legacies  that can be traced back to Margaret Thatcher. For a more comprehensive exploration of these themes, you can read the Margaret Thatcher is Dead article instead.

Neoliberalism - Thatcher was responsible for the introduction of ideologically driven neoliberal pseudo economics. Countless current economic problems can be traced back to the abandonment of the social democratic model in favour of hard-right economic extremism.
New Labour and political apathy - Thatcher once cited Tony Blair and New Labour as her greatest achievement in politics. To her, it was a great success that Labour abandoned their central ethos in favour of Thatcherite neoliberalism, but most people should be able to see that it actually resulted in the death of political diversity which went on to cause the spread of political apathy.
Centralised executive power - No Prime Minister has ever done more to damage participatory democracy. She stripped power away from local government and centralised in her own hands. This centralisation of power runs entirely contrary to all of her waffle about small government and no Prime Minister since has wanted to hand back powers to local government.
Manufacturing Decline - Thatcher relentlessly pushed the absurd post industrial fantasy, where the UK economy would more or less abandon productive activity like manufacturing in order to focus on providing services centred around the financial sector in the City of London. The industrial decline Thatcher instigated has continued under all subsequent orthodox neoliberal governments, and these days Britain runs record breaking trade deficits and the decision to put the gamblers in the City at the very centre of our economy looks ever more foolhardy.
Trade Deficits - back in the 1970s the balance of trade was considered one of the most important economic indicators, these days people fixate upon GDP, and the grotesquely distorted measures for inflation and unemployment and tend to ignore the fact that the UK trade deficit has been widening ever since Thatcher initiated her assaults on the UK industrial sector.
Mass unemployment - Thatcher didn't inherit full employment in 1979, but she reintroduced the near forgotten spectre of mass unemployment that hadn't stalked the country since the 1930s. To the Tories, mass unemployment was a price worth paying, and unemployment has remained high ever since. Another of Thatcher's cons was placing people on sickness benefits in order to manipulate the headline unemployment figures downwards. Even if people weren't incapable of work at the time, decades of inactivity and poverty on sickness benefits will have rendered the majority too old or infirm to contribute anything now. The current Tory administration are so cheeky that they resort to blaming Labour for the explosion in sickness claimants, when the policy of parking the unemployed on sickness benefits was introduced by their ideological godmother.
Social division - Thatcher was undeniably the most divisive Prime Minister of the 20th Century. She set communities against each other in order to prevent people coming together in solidarity against her rule. Where solidarity was shown she used the police as her own personal militia to crush dissent. Thatcher's industrial strategy tore the economic heart out of countless communities, then her government instructed those still with jobs to blame those without for the catastrophic failure of her policies.
Poverty (falling wages, loss of disposable income, ever rising personal debts) - Thatcher set about destroying several decades of social progress. The wealth gap began increasing under Thatcher and has never stopped since. Thatcher's socially and economically divisive policies ensured that the rich got all the gravy and the poor got all the blame. Not only did this wealth transfer to the rich have devastating social consequences, it also had appalling economic consequences too. As the value of wages fell, disposable income fell too and personal debt rose. Low disposable income and high levels of personal debt are two of the causal factors in the current economic stagnation.

The housing crisis - Thatcher contributed to the current housing crisis in two ways. Her hatred of anything social led her to attack social housing provision and to instigate the firesale of social housing and her obsession with home ownership led to the development of the massive property speculation ponzi bubble which burst so spectacularly in 2007-08.
Rent seeking parasitism - Thatcher's privatisations and deregulations led to the development of the "too-important-to-fail" model of capitalist parasitism. She introduced the policy of allowing private interests to put themselves in the position where they can demand ever greater taxpayer funded subsidies and charge ever increasing prices, safe in the knowledge that the state or the individual consumer will tolerate this rent seeking behavior and cough up incrementally greater amounts, rather than suffer the much greater economic shock of having their rail network, health service or banking system declare bankruptcy and shut itself down, or the greater personal shock of having their water or electricity supply shut off due to non payment of inflation busting bills.
Tax-Dodging - The Thatcher government set the great tax-dodging bonanza in motion with the abandonment of capital controls. That many of the people to have made themselves filthy rich through their offshore activities have gone on to pump £millions into the Tory party is absolutely no surprise at all. In fact the current leader of the Tory party is the son of a tax-dodger that cashed in on Thatcher's tax-dodging bonanza in the 1980s.
The financial sector meltdown - Many of the aforementioned legacies came to ugly fruition with the 2007-08 financial sector meltdown and the subsequent economic chaos. The contributory factors that have Maggie's fingerprints all over them include neoliberal pseudo-economics, the lack of political diversity, manufacturing decline, the absurd post-industrial fantasy, financial sector deregulation, the housing crisis, poverty, lack of disposable income, personal indebtedness, rent-seeking parasitism and tax-dodging.
The Murdoch Press - One final factor that simply cannot be ignored is the Murdoch bias. Thatcher opened the establishment door to Murdoch and in return for support in his papers, she allowed him to build up a vast anti-competitive share of the UK media. The fact that all current political leaders in the UK have to go and grovel ("Cow Down"!) before the Australian-American kingmaker Rupert Murdoch so that his criminal media empire might back them, is a disgusting spectacle that is yet another of Maggie's toxic legacies.

What we have learned

That this water-brained diatribe is the most popular tribute to Thatcher on social media is a clear demonstration that the majority of Thatcherites are callous, fact averse, revisionists, afflicted with such stupidity they would gladly propagandise against their own human rights.

The fact that the author of this meme couldn't come up with anything better than those six woefully poor points demonstrates what a feeble legacy Thatcher must actually have. The fact that tens of thousands of Maggie apologists shared this pitiful meme demonstrates the dreadful lack of critical thinking skills amongst tribalist Tories.

Another common theme with Maggie apologists is the sheer cognitive dissonance of their proclamations that she was such a great leader that changed the country completely and left a wonderful legacy, combined with their demands that we consider how badly the country has deteriorated since she was turfed out of office by her own MPs. They want to talk up her wonderful legacy when it suits them, but then immediately point at the radioactive social and economic fallout from Thatcherism as evidence that everything was better when their beloved harridan was running the country!

Here's my annotated version of the meme:

More articles from
Margaret Thatcher is dead

What is ... neoliberalism?
  The Great Neoliberal Lie
The economic case against tax-dodging
  The "unpatriotic left" fallacy
The NHS is not safe in their hands
  The warped Tory redefinition of rights
  The catastrophic failure of "Osbornomics"
Why I blame the left for the economic crisis

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