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What I Know about Margaret Thatcher


 

Although the Conservatives won three general elections while she was leader there was never any great enthusiasm for her. The Conservative party never won more then 50% of the vote, the highest was 44.9% in 1983 in an election held on the anniversary of the end of the Falklands war. Because of the Falklands victory there was a rise in Conservative popularity despite unemployment reaching 3 million in 1982. Quite often during her time as prime minister her party was more popular then she was.

She has been described as "divisive" which makes it sound like the country was split 50-50 between those who liked her and those who didn't. In reality there were some people who thought she was great, a lot of people who hated her and a group in the middle who may have voted Conservative in one or more of her election victories but disliked her and her uncaring attitude towards those who suffered unemployment because of her economic policies.

The Miners strikes. Thatcher hated trade unions – especially the National Union of Mineworkers who had played a major role in bringing down a previous Conservative government in 1974. In 1984 the National Coal Board announced the closure of 20 mines with the loss of 20,000 jobs, this would devastate many communities where the coal mine was the biggest employer.  It was revealed later that the government had been stockpiling coal before the closures were announced in case there was a prolonged strike by mineworkers. Not all coal mines were losing money but the coal industry would no longer be subsidised – in contrast to the farming industry which is still being subsidised today.

Thatcher described Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress as terrorists. In 1987 she said

"The ANC is a typical terrorist organisation … Anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land"

Other Conservative MPs were equally scathing Terry Dicks called Mandela a "black terrorist" and Teddy Taylor said "Nelson Mandela should be shot" although he claims to have been "joking"

She supported Solidarity the Polish trade Union whilst at the same time introducing anti trade union laws in Britain and in 1984 the Conservative government banned union membership at GCHQ the governments communications headquarters. Fourteen employees who refused to give up union membership were fired. The ban was lifted by the Labour government in 1997 and the fourteen former employees were offered re-employment and three of them returned to work at GCHQ. Thatcher was keen to support the Lech Walesa and the Solidarity trade union in Poland as Walesa believed in free markets and oversaw the transition of the Polish economy from a centrally planned economy to a free market economy.

During the 1982 Falklands conflict she ordered the sinking of the Argentine ship the Belgrano even though it being outside the 200 mile exclusion zone around the Falklands and the fact that it was sailing away from the islands. A Peruvian peace plan had been offered but the sinking of the Belgrano scuppered any chance of it succeeding. The Belgrano was sunk on 2nd May even though peru's UN representative Arias Stella claims the British government knew of the peace plan at midday on 1st May. Thatcher claimed the Peruvian plan was offered to her after the sinking. Diane Gould, who famously challenged Thatcher on this subject live on BBC television and later wrote a book about the Belgrano attack, says that if this is true then there was

"a grand total of 14 hours from midnight on May 1st in Peru during which the Prime minister and her cabinet were apparently kept in ignorance of the Peace Proposals."

(On the Spot, The sinking of the Belgrano, 1984, Diana Gould, p.52)

Ronald Reagan treated her with contempt. When they were photographed together it was all smiles but when the US was threatening to invade Grenada (a member of the commonwealth) Thatcher warned Reagan against it. When she spoke to him on the phone Reagan assured her that there would not be an invasion but he later wrote

"She was very adamant and continued to insist that we cancel our landings on Grenada. I couldn't tell her that it had already begun."

After the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989 in which 96 Liverpool football supporters were crushed to death at a football match, Lord Taylor conducted a report into what had happened. His report blamed the police for the disaster and not the Liverpool supporters. Much of the press however had blamed the fans for being drunk, stealing items from the pockets of the dead and for attacking police officers. Thatcher was concerned at the criticism of the police and did not want to give full backing to Lord Taylor's report, she merely wanted to

"welcome the thoroughness of the report and its recommendations"

and asked

"The broad thrust is devastating criticism of the police. Is that for us to welcome?"

The aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, which exonerated the police and accused Liverpool fans of being drunk & violent, was described as the "biggest cover-up in British history". Many of the false accusations made against Liverpool fans came from senior Police officers attempting to cover their own backs.

Thatchers government introduced the Community Charge. The Community Charge was a Poll Tax* that nobody liked. Introduced in Scotland in 1989 and in England & Wales a year later it was never popular. Its abolition was announced by John Major in 1991 but not because of the Poll Tax riots in Trafalgar Square a year earlier but because even lifelong Conservative voters hated it.
(* A Poll Tax is a tax in which everyone, rich or poor, pays the same amount).

She loved General Augusto Pinochet. General Augusto Pinochet was a Chilean army General who led a United States backed coup against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in 1973. After the coup all political parties were banned as was all trade union activity. He remained dictator of Chile from 1973 until 1990 and during this time the Guardian reports that

"Especially shocking was the level of repression in a country with a longstanding parliamentary tradition and a hitherto mild record of military involvement in politics by regional standards. Official investigations since 1990 have confirmed over 3000 deaths and disappearances at the hands of Pinochet's security forces. Torture was institutionalised, secret detention centres operated into which detainees disappeared never to be seen again, and murder squads were despatched to kill prominent dissidents abroad."

In 1998 he visited London for back surgery human but arrested and placed under house arrest where Thatcher visited him and thanked him for his help during the Falklands conflict and told him

"I'm also very much aware that it is you who brought democracy to Chile"

forgetting that he had overthrown a democratically elected government.

Compare Margaret Thatcher and Clement Atlee (who defeated Winston Churchill to become Labour prime minister in 1945) Amongst other things Atlee created the NHS, built 1 million new homes and 1,000 new schools and introduced social security and child benefit. Thatcher 'introduced' record levels of unemployment, the Poll Tax, the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich and didn't allow local councils to build new homes which created the affordable housing crisis there is now. Atlee also had small funeral service attended by less then 150 people Thatchers cost up to £10million. (For more comparisons of Atlee and Thatcher click here.)

David Cameron saying "She saved our country" is like the US soldier in Vietnam who, in answering a question from Associated Press reporter Peter Arnett about an attack on a Vietnamese village, replied "We had to destroy the village in order to save it".

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