Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Thatcher

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  • Stewart, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Putting me in mind of a great line by John Cooper Clarke, from Beasley Street

    Keith Joseph smiles, and a baby dies
    Round the back of Beasley Street....

    Te Ika A Maui - Whakatane… • Since Oct 2008 • 577 posts Report Reply

  • Stewart,

    I lived through most of the Thatcher years in the UK and can't think of anything nice to say about her. A nasty selfish idealogue who fostered division and drove a wedge between people, fractured British society in ways that left scars that still haven't healed.
    She & her policies were responsible for hastening the widening of the gap between rich & poor, have and have-not.

    My 1st thought on hearing of her death was Hoo-fucking-rah.

    Te Ika A Maui - Whakatane… • Since Oct 2008 • 577 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Russell Brown,

    .,

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Hmmm. It's getting worse.

    Margaret Thatcher has been accused by the Australian foreign minister of having held "unabashedly racist" views after he revealed that the late former British prime minister had warned him of the challenge posed by immigration from Asia.

    Bob Carr, who served as premier of New South Wales between 1995 and 2005, said that Thatcher pleaded with him to ensure Sydney did not "end up like Fiji" where citizens of Indian heritage formed a majority until a coup in 1987.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    No kidding Thatcher was a racist...

    Especially, yeah, I'm not going to criticise Banks, a man who would have seen the local economy utterly destroyed by a set of deliberate choices made by Thatcher, for his hatred. Fair enough.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    12-15 years ago, when I had friends living there, and spent many a night out in that area (ah The Fridge, ye'll never be forgot!), Brixton was still pretty rough. However, a lot of (white) younger professional childless couples, living on 'normal' salaries (not bankers) moved there because it was affordable, and they put up with the bars on their windows and the not-so-occasional mugging.

    Although it shouldn't have come as a surprise to me, I visited a little while ago, and it's gone all gentrified in the last ten years. Who would have thought that a whole bunch of typical middle-class businesses would have followed the money? And who would have thought that a whole demographic who were of the system and knew how to play the system might have done just that as they grew up, had children, and started shaping their environment to their own advantage?

    I felt rather sad to have to walk around without constantly watching my back.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    I’d also respectfully suggest Greenwald has the dick privilege to not see the pretty rancid and intensely gendered shit that got thrown at Thatcher. And still does at any “aggressive” ANGRY un-woman in politics – from Gillard through Hillary Clinton to Angela Merkel.

    Yes, it does. But Thatcher as an individual was: unlikeable, sneering, condescending and (word used advisedly) patronising. Personal opinion, of course.

    I think her unlikeability as an individual got rather conflated with the fact she was a woman: she wasn't disliked as a woman per se (well, not as much as has been suggested). Which doesn't make it right, and yes, she got a lot more intense shit thrown at her because of her gender. But I think not as much as you think - anyone with that sort of voice, with that sort of tone, would have got a lot of shit (I admit I'm struggling to think of a male equivalent - being lectured by a sarcastic hooray henry, maybe?)

    Blair, for example, takes a lot of personal flak for his mockney man-of-the-people faux-chumminess, and his 'who-me?-how-could-you-possibly-think-that-I'm-truly-hurt-to-my-core' reaction to any criticism, as another example.

    I've thought about your 'miss manners' point, and I disagree. While there may not be bucketfuls of explicit examples of 'don't you dare speak ill of the dead', Louise Mensch aside (a person who considers liggers at that evenings envelope opening to be publicity-shy retiring wallflowers, and who makes it her life mission never to be caught short of an opinion), the gushing flood of tributes and saccharine opinionating that has dominated the news has much the same effect - it crowds out any debate that might be critical or more nuanced. I also think that this serves to fuel some of the more virulent celebrations. If you can't see your PoV even being acknowledged, you're going to shout it louder and nastier.

    This line from the Russell Brand article more or less sums up my feelings now the dust has settled: "one mate of mine, a proper leftie, in his heyday all Red Wedge and right-on punch-ups, was melancholy. "I thought I'd be overjoyed, but really it's just … another one bites the dust …". I would not be entirely surprised if Iain Banks is revising his intentions now that money has to meet mouth.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Martin Lindberg,

    I suppose one has to be grateful to Maggie that she served a purpose as a unifying enemy for so many bands in the eighties. The passion of their hatred is evident in the music by The Specials, Everything But The Girl, Billy Bragg, The Style Council, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Morrissey, Redskins, Kirsty MacColl, Capital Letters, Robert Wyatt, Crass, The Communards and Elvis Costello.

    To name but a few.

    Thanks Maggie.

    And, time and again, The Jam (of which the Style Council is related).

    And the Frankies' take on geo-politics of the time (with the Richard Nixon cut-up):

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5441 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn,

    Bit self indulgent and a bit long -

    A closure of sorts-

    My first exposure to Thatch’s Britain was watching the Toxteth riots on TV. I was being made up for a matinee performance of musical hall songs for local old folks. A teacher sat next to me, pointed out that some of those rioting were my age. At the time I could not comprehend what would inspire people I viewed as like me, to do things like that. I stepped out, I sang, and settled for the simple pleasure of entertaining others.

    “Qualifications once the golden rule, are now just pieces of paper”

    By 1984 I had a very different grasp of the world. I was watching Billy Bragg perform a miner’s benefit at my local College of Further Education. Having been expelled from school with limited qualifications at the peak of British unemployment, I looked to gain some leverage by reclaiming lost or missed qualifications. By then, my god mother’s son (god brother?) also unemployed, was going through the personal anguish of a war he fought, but didn’t believe in. That year PW Botha visited the UK and I started getting on buses to places I had barely heard of. Travelling the country and actively objecting to the actions of “Thatch” took me north, where I saw an unfair fight become an unjust one. The “Banana squad” reinforced a battle between police and ordinary people - a battle of Thatch’s contrivance. If that wasn’t enough, footage from the BBC showing the antics of the Met was seized from the BBC never to be seen again.

    “call up the draughtsmen, bring me the craftsmen, build me a path from cradle to grave”

    In the period leading up to privatisation, the kids I grew up with, played football with and stayed with when no one else would have me, fought over hours and wages at Morris Motors. By then I had worked in an assembly shop and left the job unable to deal with what I saw as the “soul destroying boredom” of manufacturing work. My friends lost and in 1990 I asked my neighbour from the 70’s about what it all meant. I asked him how he did the job and why he felt it was worth fighting for. For my friend the job meant certainty and security; He knew how much he earned, how long to work, how much save and spend. When the whistle went his life was free to share with friends and family and the factory was all he grew up with. When we went to school he was forced to be right handed. Left handers had fewer opportunities for skilled work because so many tools on the shop floor were designed for right handed people. Lefties got jobs feeding the line or sweeping up and that is where they stayed. My friend made a conscious decision that the boredom and constraint was worth the certainty. He settled for a bargain I could not bear. I came to understand a very different contract between workers and management. The kids I grew up with were raised to work in factories, they made sacrifices many would not grasp and felt betrayed when they were left with nothing as industrial Britain was closed down.

    “A nation with their freezers full, are dancing in their seats, while outside another nation, is sleeping in the streets”

    In 1988 I sold most of my belongings and travelled to America. What I saw was not some grand escape but the future of Britain, divided between the rich, the little people and the invisible. While homeless people slept in the shadows and corners of subway stations, fur coats and stilettoes walked past treble clefs on the road above. At the time, the almost Dickensian image was new and shocking for me. Walking out of New York City you could actually see the rings of economic contraction, poverty and loss. In DC I saw young men dress and wash in toilets on the Mall, having slept rough, clearly desperate to re-capture lost livelihoods. Desperation summed up by a scuffle for the hand dryer which was used to fast dry a shirt washed in the toilet sink. I also saw a huge queue of people just lining up to get to the top of the Washington monument and celebrate the greatness of a nation. The people I met repulsed me, more concerned with who I knew and what I earned as opposed to who I was. Travelling across the US by Greyhound was nothing like Simon and Garfunkel for me. Within four months I was back in the UK uncomfortably aware of the drift away from Europe toward the US and the consequences. The idea that Thatch wanted Britain to be more like America appalled me.

    “Which side are you on, boys? Which side are you on?”

    On my return to Britain I continued to get on buses. I got held by the police during the poll tax riots and while at university I protested the “liberation of Kuwait”. As I graduated University grants disappeared and education cuts began to bite. Getting rid of Thatch was one thing, undoing the legacy was impossible. In 1992 after another Labour loss at the polls I stopped getting on buses. I did campaign in 1997 for the “new hope” Blair, only to realise that a combination of Thatch’s legacy and Rupert Murdoch offered legitimacy only to the right; something I could not bear to watch in the following years. Finally, after a bicycle race in 2000 I spoke to a timekeeper, a really nice bloke, who had remained unemployed since the closure of the steel mills in Sheffield. For him “getting on his bike” meant travelling to Germany to get work. Something he said he might have tried, but re-learning metallurgy in German was all but impossible. Instead his wife supported the whole family working at a checkout in a supermarket. No bitterness, just resignation at being unemployed for more than a decade. What Thatch did for them and so many others like them was throw them over the side of a sinking ship without a lifejacket far less a lifeboat. Revisionists may well talk about “what had to be done”, as a bully may tell us how they “had” to hit someone. Even then there are choices about how and where the pain should fall. As far as I could see the pain was always suffered by the same people. There were choices but Thatch didn’t care for them.

    “I’m not looking for a New England”

    I left the UK for NZ in 2002, other expatriates ask me when will I go back? I put it to them that I left for good reasons, amongst them was Thatch’s legacy and the final lurch across the Atlantic in British politics. I haven’t gone back because I do not recognise nor feel any attachment to the nation that Thatch so callously divided. The UK simply doesn’t look like home and hasn’t done for a long time. I still get angry when I see an image of Thatch, but she is not a figure I loved to hate as some would put it. This is not mourning; I want closure, after some thirty years I want to be rid of the outrage and helplessness that feel when that name comes up. Which is why this is no celebration either.

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Rich Lock,

    Rich and 81st. Good to hear from both of you. I don't find your stories self-indulgent, in this context. Thatcher passing is like a milestone for Brits, and summing up entire lives lived under her legacy is natural, and also interesting.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • DexterX,

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1224 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to BenWilson,

    Yeah, been drafting you an e-mail for the last two months. Must get that finished...

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to Euan Mason,

    What a great pity her unbelievably nasty policies didn’t die with her.

    My feelings too. Not sorry she's dead, no joy either. Just sad that so much of what she embodied lives on. #lotofworktodo

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    List of all the bad stuff she did (apologies for the FB link, but I didn't want to come over all Farmer Brown with a megapaste):
    http://www.facebook.com/philip.c.cave/posts/10151616963161528

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes,

    I have never again experienced the bleak, pervasive sense of alienation she fostered in government. And I would not wish to.

    Just look around you, what do you see?.
    Perhaps you have been sucked in like so many others, you are even starting to sound like a National shill.

    Blame must also accrue to the British Labour movement,

    Sound familiar?.
    "It wasn't us, it was Nine Long Years Labour™"

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Martin Lindberg, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    Just look around you, what do you see?.

    Oh puh-leeze

    Stockholm • Since Jul 2009 • 802 posts Report Reply

  • Angus Robertson, in reply to Russell Brown,

    The monetarists came in everywhere -- and as Rob notes above, at the very least, they achieved much-needed price stability everywhere they had policy influence.

    They did for a while, but then 5 years ago they disappeared - in the EU, the US and Japan current policy is to inflate the monetary supply. So its are back to square 1. The monetarists are no longer in power.

    Maggie Thatcher had a country with an industrial base that was incompetent at being industrial. British cars of the period were crap. She recognised this sort of thing was a problem and decided the solution was to stop subsidising the production of crap cars. The end of subsidy destroyed the British industrial base and a lot of people involved have despised her ever since. She dies, is vented upon.

    But its all just history right?

    Except the sort of thing she stopped is happening again. Only this time it is mostly a financial sector which is incompetent at being a financial sector (ironically her reforms deregulating the sector contributed to this). Today the western financial sector is subsidised to the hilt. Bankers are Tories and the Tories are bankers. The Tories are going to go right on socialising the losses of a financial sector whose bankers take ever greater risks, because they literally cannot lose money. Maggie could not get near top of todays Tories.

    So its up to the left to do something. Since what Maggie did was awful and horrible and the almost worst possible thing in the world (just marginally less so than torture) we can pretty much assume it isn't going to be - let the unprofitable banks go bust.

    But fortunately....

    Its been said the alternative to what Maggie did was so much better and she was just a total stuck up [insert gendered/neutered insult here]. It is assumed that everyone knows* what the alternative was. Well I don't know and would really like to know.


    * possibly everybody knows nothing and just pretends to know.

    Auckland • Since May 2007 • 984 posts Report Reply

  • Angus Robertson,

    tl;dr?

    What was the alternative to what Thatcher did?

    Auckland • Since May 2007 • 984 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Angus Robertson,

    What was the alternative to what Thatcher did?

    I’ve been thinking about this. I don’t think many of even the strongest critics of her policies would vote to return to some key elements of the post-war consensus. (Much as no one in New Zealand actually wants to go back to spending billions of dollars subsidising farmers. We actually paid farmers more if they dumped more chemical fertiliser on their land, a policy we’re still paying for now.)

    The fully-nationalised coal industry had been in decline since WW1 and was being subsidised to the level of (in 2012 money) £11.5 billion annually. It was (and oddly enough, Thatcher acknowledged the issue of climate change) also heading for an environmental trainwreck. Mining was dirty, dangerous work from a bygone era.

    But it should have been possible to address these problems without simply abandoning all those communities – and, even given the militant intransigence of the NUM, basically going to war on them. The decision to leave the north to rot was an actual decision. An ideological one.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Martin Lindberg,

    Oh puh-leeze

    Blinded by the Right?
    Cut loose like a douche, another runner in the night .

    To paraphrase Springsteen.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I have also been thinking about this.

    The fundamental problem that Britain had (and largely still has) was a total lack of community of interest between employers and workers.

    The former (drawn in human terms from a public school educated, isolated caste) were concerned to achieve profits with minimal investment and thus maintain their dominant economic position. For the workers the only option for their own betterment was to utilise their one form of leverage - withdrawing their labour (or threatening to do so) at the point where it would cause maximum disruption (such as to a newspaper about to go to press).

    In postwar Britain before 1979, this had reached a fairly dysfunctional equilibrium where workers had fairly secure employment and decent wages and business/state functions rattled along getting steadily more broken, to the detriment of the employer class. This was partly manifest in stagflation, but that was mostly due to the fact the employers were unable to attack employment or conditions due to union strength.

    What Thatcher did was to use the physical power of the state to wage war on the working class, enabling the employers to impose reduced conditions and employment and shift the burden of economic dysfunction from rich to poor.

    There was an alternative: a radical government could have transferred industries from state and private capitalism into cooperative hands while removing the institutions that maintain class division (public schools, elite universities and undertaxed wealth accumulation*). This would create a world where workers own and control their employers and generate that community of interest between enterprise and worker which is so lacking.

    [* The Attlee government paved a way here. The reason there are so National Trust owned mansions for tourists to visit in the UK was due to that government's tax policies making such properties unaffordable in private hands. Unfortunately, this didn't last - widespread tax evasion was followed by Thatcher removing the taxes and enabling plutocracy to dominate again ]

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to 81stcolumn,

    Fascinating post, thank you.

    Also: Gabor Toth, thanks for yours.
    Some really fascinating material in this thread.

    ETA: Thanks to Peter Darlington for this stonking Glenda Jackson speech on Thatcherism .

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3891 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    This was partly manifest in stagflation, but that was mostly due to the fact the employers were unable to attack employment or conditions due to union strength.

    I do think that in some cases it was a matter of not even being able to effect rational change.

    I mentioned the print unions in the original post. When I applied for a subbing job at NME, fresh off the boat in 1986, they were astonished that at Rip It Up, I'd been able to do the typesetting on a computer (at least to the extent of entering and marking up copy). That kind of thing simply was not able to happen in publishing at the time.

    There was an alternative: a radical government could have transferred industries from state and private capitalism into cooperative hands while removing the institutions that maintain class division (public schools, elite universities and undertaxed wealth accumulation*). This would create a world where workers own and control their employers and generate that community of interest between enterprise and worker which is so lacking.

    Would that have actually fixed any of the problems of the coal industry?

    And while I'm playing devil's advocate, it does have to be noted that Thatcher was seen as an enemy of the old elites.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    They did for a while, but then 5 years ago they disappeared – in the EU, the US and Japan current policy is to inflate the monetary supply. So its are back to square 1. The monetarists are no longer in power.

    I'm not so sure about that. Quantitative easing is the monetarist answer to the Keynes trap. It works on the same logic, dispenses the money by the same channel, encourages the same debt fueled growth that must hit hard limits at some point. It is ironically not austerity that is bringing private debt more under control, but actual consumer self-control due to fear, and the banking system is doing everything in it's power to erode that self-control, because it undermines their ability to control the money supply, and thus growth. Nothing has changed systemically, at all. We do not have a new world order of economic management.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    a matter of not even being able to effect rational change

    For the print workers, was it rational? A printer now (unless elevated to management) probably works longer for less money than their counterpart in the 1970s. Journalists maybe had a few golden years as papers expanded to fill 200 page Sunday supplements, but that's all gone now.

    Would [co-operative ownership] have actually fixed any of the problems of the coal industry?

    Well, the fundamental problems of fluctuating coal prices and carbon costs (which were unknown in 1980) don't admit of many fixes. It's to be remembered that the UK government didn't break even on the costs of fighting the miners for over ten years, and the cost of substituting coal with nuclear power was huge (and only really justified by a need to battle both the mining unions and to produce plutonium for a putative nuclear war with the Soviets).

    Putting the miners in direct control of their destiny (and preferring UK mined coal over foreign imports) might have lead to an extended and controlled rundown of the industry, giving people and communities a chance to adjust and disperse.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

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