11 April 2013

British politics changed this week - principles are being discussed

Having lived only in the UK and New Zealand, I've witnessed only a few passings of political leaders.  In the UK,  I barely missed Ted Heath and James Callaghan's passing.  In NZ, I recall the passing of Rob Muldoon and David Lange, oh and Bill Rowling (truly a footnote I barely recall).

None have been more than a fraction of the influence that Margaret Thatcher has had on the world, and because she was driven first and foremost by principle and a commitment visceral belief in freedom and resistance to communism.

The more there is of her, the more it is abundantly clear that she turned the tide of history for the UK, and that the left, with its faux compassion and peculiar attachment to central planning, only wishes it could do the same in reverse.

The media coverage of her has been wall to wall, and there is no lack of writing for and against her, but what really counts is the level of discussion.  Conservative Home is perhaps the best place to find links to much of that coverage, positive and negative.

Perhaps the most poignant point made of her yesterday was in the House of Lords. Lord Tebbit, who left Parliament in 1987 for family reasons, regretted his retirement from politics saying "I left her, I fear, at the mercy of her friends. That I do regret".   Men, and they all were, who will themselves be footnotes in history, floored a giant.  Yes, because she made one big mistake, but none would get her to change that through principle, but for popularity.  She wasn't going to have that.

Time after time, backbench Conservative MPs have paid testimony to her out of principle. Those who opposed her have shown themselves up for what they are.  Socialists who think they know how to spend other people's money, whose compassion is only shown by their belief in spending other people's money, and whose decade after decade of caricature have been shown up for being false.

Portrayal of Thatcher as a warmongerer, for taking on the invasion of the Falklands by a fascist military dictatorship is simply churlish.  To say she supported apartheid has been thoroughly shouted down, because she considered those fighting it to be no angels either.  The claims that what she did "caused the ills of today" are treated as laughable, 23 years later.  Memories of rubbish piling up in the streets, blackouts and strikes shutting down the economy, and limits on foreign currency purchases, cause some of the young to notice how far we have come.  Few want to go back to a phone monopoly that took weeks to supply a new phone.

Finally, the caricature of her as a predatory heartless hater of the poor is shown to be just that - the creation of leftwing spin that could not confront her willingness to cut the blood supply of dying industries, that was draining the life from the living.  She didn't cut the welfare state, she didn't privatise the NHS and nobody could accuse her of withdrawing state support for the poor.  She was a conservative, not a libertarian.  She believed the welfare state existed to cover people when they had bad fortune, to give them what they needed before they found or created a new opportunity.  The left simply wanted all of these people to be forever dependent on the state, and the unions that destroyed businesses by demanding pay rises of 20-30% every year.

"Divisive" Thatcher won three elections in a row, with landslides, whereas the 1970s were plagued with governments of tiny majorities and a short run coalition.  Indeed the late 1970s were plagued with militant union strikes under the Labour Party, as the unions thought Callaghan to be too moderate, as what they wanted was Soviet style socialism (don't believe me? Google "Arthur Scargill and Lenin").  

There were 605,000 miners in 1960, 289,000 in 1970, 235,200 by 1979 and 62,000 in 1990.  Far more lost their jobs under Harold Wilson than under Thatcher.  Manufacturing production rose 7.5% between 1979 and 1990, smashing the lie that she destroyed industrial production.  What did happen was that the services sector took off, shrinking manufacturing as a proportion of GDP.  

What shines above it all were her principles, and these are like a shining light in today's politics of spin, compromise and polls... they are worth remembering.

Her fundamental belief that governments were very poor at knowing how to spend other people's money, against the implied obfuscated belief by most politicians that what they do is "invest".

The fact she recognised taxes involved taking other people's money and so it should be minimised, unlike those who regard paying taxes as a duty and as a contribution to the greater good.

Her belief that people should be unshackled by laws and regulations to pursue their dreams and build their own lives through their own effort.

Her commitment to families, communities and voluntary effort to show compassion and benevolence to each other (despite the self-serving strawman claim that she loathed people caring for each other).

Her loathing of statutory monopolies, closed shops and protectionism.  She especially despised laws that made union membership compulsory.  Her "anti-union" policies included such "atrocities" as mandating secret ballots for strikes, prohibiting "political" strikes that had nothing to do with negotiations on pay and conditions of employment, requiring majority mandates for strikes.  She privatised state businesses and opened them up to competition, and she embraced the Single European Act believing that open borders within the EU were good for free trade.  She was to resist the EEC desire for that to become a federal super state.

Her hatred for communism.  Apparently the first sentence she said to  Mikhail Gorbachev after a polite greeting was "I hate communism".  What leader today would be so bold and honest?  She knew the fight against Arthur Scargill, a man who then, and now, lauded Lenin and Stalin as heroes, was a genuine fight of good vs. evil.  Those today who call her evil, may take pause to wonder if they would have preferred Scargill to win, and how long they would have tolerated going down the path Scargill wished.  It was this hatred of communism that fortified her relationship with Ronald Reagan, her warmth towards Mikhail Gorbachev who was liberalising the regime and who eventually removed the imperial yoke from eastern Europe.  She is loved and admired by millions in eastern Europe and Russia for that.

Her commitment to Britain and British citizens wherever they may be.  The Falklands are well known, but she also angrily rang Ronald Reagan about the US invasion of Grenada, outraged that the US had not even discussed it with the UK, given the Queen was still Head of State of the nascent Marxist state.   She fought hard to protect the legacy of Hong Kong although knowing it had to be returned to China.

Her implacable opposition to terrorism and political violence.  Her attitude to the feral terrorists of the IRA was clear, and was fueled more and more by their acts against her friends (the loss of the gentle advisor Airey Neave was particularly hard to take, along with the Brighton bombing), colleagues and fellow citizens.  She had little time for the internecine sectarianism that plagued Northern Ireland, but she would not tolerate the Marxist Sinn Fein, backed by the USSR, Libya and Iran, seeking to force the Protestant majority to submit to rule from Dublin, by killing civilians there and on the mainland.  That opposition was seen in her contempt for the PLO, which actively engaged in terrorism at the time, and her opposition to the ANC, which was misunderstood as being support for apartheid.  She loathed apartheid, but she considered that a disorderly revolution by the pro-communist ANC would do as much harm to South Africa as Robert Mugabe did to Zimbabwe.

Finally, her hatred of fakes.  She loved a good argument, a good debate and someone who would argue a point, an idea, not someone who would moan, who would emote and just express outrage.  She equally liked people of substance, who worked hard, who achieved and strived, who sought to better themselves, to build, produce and make a go of their lives.  She despised those who thought live should be handed to them, which also included the inherited upper classes.  She had little time for the faux snobbery of the wet Conservatives and the champagne socialists, the ones who were ever so sympathetic for the working classes, but wouldn't be seen dead in their towns or suburbs, wouldn't be seen dead cooking dinner late at night with the staff (which she did, and she insisted on doing many chores for herself).  

She considered the "born to rule" Conservatives as being weak and having had none of the life experiences to understand those who took risks, and those who were born from modest backgrounds who looked up and beyond.  

She considered the Oxbridge socialists as despicable, comfortable middle class snobs whose politics patronised and demeaned most people as not being fit to run their own lives.  She had little time for spin and public relations, and considered polling and focus groups to be irrelevant.   Her policies to allow people to buy their own council homes, was about embracing the aspirational working classes, and she saw the dark Soviet style estates as harbours of despair, but populated by some who looked beyond and wanted better.  Those were the people she wanted to give a nudge to and encouragement.  Her privatisation policies which explicitly included mass share issues to the public, were about taking public ownership in the socialist sense, and moving it to the individual - true - public ownership.

Thatcher knew what she had to do, she had an intellectual framework which she worked within, which meant she believed that ultimately people knew best how to run their lives and could create wealth, enterprise and futures for themselves if only the state could get out of the way.  

Almost to a man and woman, her supporters and opponents have noted that she was principled, and stood by them, and noted she won three general elections on principle (and of course Labour fought those elections, in part on principles that the electorate soundly defeated).   She was hated because she won, she took on the sacred cows and swept them to one side.   She couldn't be rattled, she always had the answers at her command.   

Up and coming Conservative MPs like Dominic Raab, Conor Burns, Douglas Carswell, Steve Baker and others, have shown a future that holds some promise.  For they speak the same language, not just now, but regularly.  There is some hope from that, in that politics may in the next generation, be more about principle.  Nick Boles on property rights and Michael Gove on education, are the closest we have now.  For when the left is confronted with principle, it is completely sideswiped, for its principles look far more dark.

As such, I am a little more optimistic about the future of the Conservative Party.  Let's talk more about principles, about freedom, about choice, about property rights, about what "equality" means, and about how government favouring rent-seeking groups is wrong.   Let's talk about why compassion can only be delivered through taxes distributed by bureaucrats, about whether parents should choose their childrens' education, but most of all - whose lives is it anyway?


Anonymous said...

She didn't cut the welfare state, she didn't privatise the NHS

and as she said repeatedly after she was forced out by the cowards in her cabinet - not "finishing the job" was her greatest regret.

about what "equality" mean

communism - pure and simple. Which is why, in spite of Maggie, the UK, along with Western Europe, Canada, Australia and NZ are the only remaining communist states

Mark Hubbard said...

Really nice piece. Hope it gets widely read.

Sam P said...

Yes, excellent piece LS.