On the Death of Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher, Great Britain’s “Iron Lady” and conservative ideologue, died on Monday in London at the age of 87 following a stroke. Her passing has reinvigorated the fierce debate over her legacy in the economic, social, and political spheres. While her supporters remember her as a champion of the liberating power of capitalism,her critics accuse her of murderous intransigence and the initiation of class warfare. Thatcher unleashed her vision of laissez-faire supremacy upon the British economy, extolling the redemptive power of free market forces and defending harsh austerity cuts to social spending. Her project included vast privatizations, deregulation and open hostility to the costs of the welfare state. These liberal economic policy prescriptions, addressing the British economic crises of the early 1980’s, in many ways foreshadow the conflict over the proper course with which to confront the recovery of hard-hit Southern European countries such as Greece. The socioeconomic repercussions of Thatcher’s policies, which the New York Times describes as “devastating the poor, undermining the middle class and courting chaos” run eerily parallel to the effects of troicha-led austerity in Greece and Spain as rampant unemployment; the extreme accumulation of wealth at the highest echelons of the material hierarchy; and a sense of an impending reckoning loom in the street and along the breadline.
Thatcher was, in fact, a harsh critic of European integration, famously shouting “No! No! No!” in Parliament in regards to efforts by the French government to initiate greater European integration. Her legacy on this matterreigns today, as Britain has not partaken of the principle hallmarks of integration—currency uniformity under the Euro and entrance into the Schengen accords. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has also gestured his devotion to the Thatcherist outlook on integration and interstate regulation in his views on the European drive to restrict bankers’ bonuses and levy Europe-wide taxes on financial trading—efforts to which Cameron gave a resolute “No!” Such actions represent a common thread in British conservatism since the days of Thatcher’s reign—an inability, or more likely a focused apathy towards understanding poverty’s intricacies and roots in the name of protecting the privileged. In a political world governed by such apathy for the plight of working peoples, it is no wonder that the gap between rich and poor was widened under both Thatcher andCameron, with Thatcher’s tenure overseeing a major deterioration of quality of the life for Britain’s poorest.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Thatcher’s policy revolved around her brutal treatment of Northern Ireland, which turned the region into a functional warzone in the 1980’s. Gerry Adams, leader of the Sinn Fein movement of Irish Republicans, is quoted describing a “draconian policy of militarism” emanating from Thatcher’s conservative government, which led to British troops fighting against Irish Republicans in the streets of Belfast. Thatcher’s war against Northern-Irish independence was also famously fought in England’s labyrinthine prisons, which Thatcher filled with Irish political prisoners deprived of basic dignities , prisoners’ rights, and held for years without trial or charges. The infamous 1981 H Block / Armagh prison protest and hunger strikes represent Thatcher’s intransigence at its most insidious, resulting in the deaths of ten prisoners including provisional IRA member and Member of Parliament Bobby Sands. When the Irish people took to the streets to show solidarity with the hunger strikers, they were met with an unsparing barrage of plastic bullets, leading to the death of fifty that summer, mostly children between the ages of ten and fifteen.
And so, the memory of Margaret Thatcher is a bittersweet one, tainted by violence, division, and animosity. In attempting to instill a new system of values on the British people in order to break what she perceived as “a culture of dependency,” Thatcher on one hand encouraged hard work and perseverance while also undermining the basic fabric of society—a sense of communal progress. She famously remarked, in fact, “there is no society.”Margaret Thatcher’s policies reflected this indifference to a sense of working class solidarity in which the growth of the people is celebrated more than that of the individual. Thatcher's policy translated this famous statement with devastating clarity, asserting that there is no society for the poor, only a society for the wealthy. Such a vision, filtered along rotten divisions of wealth, materialism, class, and race has no ability to visualize a brighter future, one in which all of mankind can join in the bounty of economic and social progress.