Friday, January 03, 2014
It's taken three decades for many Americans to realize that once revered Ronald Reagan was a vacuous bullshitter who steered their country on the path to its current ruin. It was all smoke and mirrors, appearances, form over substance and the United States has paid horribly for it ever since. It cost America the one thing it could not prosper without - a vibrant, robust middle class.
Now the veneer is peeling away from that other huckster, the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher. Her spin machine was the equal of Reagan's and, like all spin machines, it worked to deceive its target - the British public.
...Thatcher was able to do what she did in an agreeably closed bubble. There were mutterings of dissent from her "Wets" but nothing to take the shine off an administration that even now is held up as one that heralded renewal and political renaissance in Britain.
The newly declassified government archives from 1984 paint a different picture and may in time prompt meaningful re-assessment.
From the files, we learn new things about Thatcher and the miners' strike. It was the well-rehearsed case of the government and the National Coal Board that they wanted to close 20 pits. When the miners' leader, Arthur Scargill, said that was the thin end of the wedge, he was variously depicted as wicked or soft in the head. But the documents reveal a plan to shut 75 mines over three years.
We now know that for all the claims made by supporters and apologists, who say she hassled the apartheid regime for the release of Nelson Mandela, she actually made little or no effort to raise the issue during talks with the hardline South African president PW Botha at Chequers on 2 June 1984.
...She is fortunate that we discuss her administrations in terms of theatre; her relationships with Reagan and Gorbachev, or hand-bagging of faint-hearted leaders in Europe; her defence of the Falklands. But what of the omissions? What did she do of significance to address Britain's main problem of postwar economic restructuring? Or the hollowing out of the industrial base that she accelerated and what the people or communities affected would do without the industries that once sustained them? She did little or nothing about our international decline in terms of skills or schooling, or to settle the debate about our place in Europe. Indeed she was not even able to settle the debate within her own party – which suffers from that legacy still.
Not mentioned here is the fortune in North Sea oil and gas revenues that fell into Thatcher's hands during her reign. She didn't invest them for Britain in the future. She didn't apply them to building up the British economy. She squandered them to create the appearance of low taxes for the well-to-do to perpetuate the myth of her fiscal prudence when it was sheer alchemy well spun.