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Wednesday 17 April 2013

Myth Of Thatcher's Home Owners & Shareholders

Hopefully, today, Wednesday the 17th of April 2013, will finally mark the end of the recently unexpected and unwelcome Thatcher-fest, which has done much to reopen the bitter wounds of division in our country that the lady in question did so much to create during the 1980's. Fortunately, the current incumbents of Downing Street have singularly failed to benefit from the multi-million pound party political celebrations surrounding the "Iron Lady"; and it is with a profound sense of relief, as well as a touch of amusement, to note that the vast majority of the great British public are not only aghast at the cost of the state-funeral-in-all-but-name to their own pockets, but have also failed to reward the Coalition's blatant propaganda exercise in the most recent opinion polls.
History will no doubt be a far less kinder judge of Margaret Thatcher's legacy than any of us will ever be; and even today the social and economic repercussions of her time in office are constantly being scrutinised, reviewed and challenged, in order to determine both the benefit and damage that they may or may not have wrought on our country. Of course, a Britain without Thatcher and therefore "Thatcherism" is, was and will always remain a completely undiscovered country, simply because she did exist, did hold power and did implement the range of socio-economic policies that irrevocably changed our nation forever. However, her acolytes, past, present and future, will always believe and will continue to profess to the heavens that without the Blessed Margaret, then Britain would have certainly gone to "hell in a handcart", lead in no small way by a small number of left-wing trade union lunatics, the enemy within, who were determined to put themselves and their membership's demands above those of the rest of the country.
Quite whether they're right or not we'll never know, as Margaret Thatcher and her party were elected to power, bringing with them the monetarist, free-market, libertarian, Victorian ideals that ultimately helped to create the de-industrialised, de-unionised, part-time, low-paid, morally bankrupt, selfish, stakeholder economy that is so celebrated today, at least by those who have benefited directly from this particularly brutal social and economic revolution. The top 10% of British society, those with the most to gain from her revolutionary capitalist thinking and associated policies have much to thank Margaret Thatcher and her political heirs for, as they have seen their fortunes soar, while the remaining 90% of the population have seen their socio-economic fortunes stagnate or simply nosedive into financial oblivion. To underpin this claim, official figures for the entirety of Thatcher's Premiership are said to show that 50% of all tax benefits for the period were in fact awarded to the top 10% of earners, a state of affairs that seems to have continued right through to the present day. It is also worth noting that in 1979 an estimated 1.7 million children were reported to be living in poverty, a figure that had soared to 3.3 million in 1990, indicating that the Thatcher "reforms" had not been such a positive move forward for those who were in the poorer economic groups of British society. During the same period, the numbers of UK pensioners living in poverty was said to have increased by a full third, rising from 3.1 million to 4.1 million during Thatcher's three terms of office.
Apologist for and supporters of Thatcher's government often point to the fact that rather than decimating British society, she and her policies actually empowered large sections of the populace, especially those aspirational groups whose dreams of personal improvement were constantly being thwarted by the sort of out-of-date socialist dogma that had previously strangled any sort of entrepreneurial spirit. To illustrate the benefits of Thatcherism, they instinctively highlight some of their more populist strategies, the wholesale privatisation of British manufacturing industries and the introduction of the "Right To Buy" legislation, both of which are claimed to have freed the working and middle classes from the drudgery of state ownership.
In reality however, neither of these measures brought any sort of social or economic freedom to the wider British population, only to those who were willing or able to take advantage of the possible windfalls that such property or share purchases might offer in the medium to long term. In the case of "Right To Buy", a property bought for £20,000 in 1979 was reported to be worth around £250,000 in 2011, a tenfold increase on its initial value, assuming of course that the original purchasers were able to withstand the various economic storms that transpired in the intervening years. In truth of course many of the people who bought their council house under the new "Right To Buy" legislation very quickly found themselves struggling to cope financially and either chose to sell the property on the open market, or found their homes being repossessed. In either case, large numbers of these newly empowered "homeowners" subsequently found themselves and their families living in private rented accommodation, or going back into local authority housing, the very place they'd started off from. It is interesting to note that in 1979, prior to Thatcher's first term of office, the number of house repossessions in the UK was said to be in the region of 3,400 a year, whilst between 1980 and 1987 this had grown to 26,000 per year (a near seven-fold increase), before dropping back to 16,000 in 1989. Between 1989 and 1991, the period marking the resignation of Margaret Thatcher and the election of her successor John Major, house repossessions had not just soared, but had gone stratospheric, with a reported 76,000 properties taken back by mortgage lenders over that same period. Although that sky-high figure very quickly reduced, even between 1991 and 2004, on average 8,000 properties were still being repossessed by lenders, who then sold them back into the property market, often at heavily discounted rates.
In truth, although millions of council properties were undoubtedly sold to their tenants, many of whom remained in them for years afterwards, a significant number undoubtedly ended up in the hands of property management groups, buy to let entrepreneurs and other private owners, including speculators and developers, who subsequently made a great deal of money from their new acquisitions. Between 1989 and 1994, large numbers of repossessed houses were reported to have found their way into the hands of these investors, helping to maintain in part the "housing bubble" that has proved to be so damaging to the UK economy. Even today, it is estimated that 53% of BTL landlords own fewer than 5 properties, which equates to about 3% of the private rented market. This is in complete contrast to the 13% of larger private landlords who are said to own a massive 74% of available private housing stocks, a fact that has no doubt been helped by both the introduction of more landlord-friendly legislation; and the extremely low interest rates currently being offered to those with large reserves of capital. At the present moment in time it has been suggested that a full 33% of all properties being sold in London alone, are in fact being purchased by private/BTL investors, helping to make the capital city largely unaffordable for those with very modest incomes. 
It is certainly not true to claim that Thatcher's "Right To Buy" legislation helped to create any sort of new home owning democracy, as the current state of affairs in the UK's property market proves. In fact, it could well be argued that instead of releasing tenants from the restrictions of council home ownership, all that the new laws did was to move millions of supposedly aspirational working class people into a fresh form of wage slavery, where servicing their new mortgage took precedence over everything else; and as an aside, handing corporate bosses a new stick with which to beat their workers.
The other great social "leveller" introduced by the Thatcher government was said to be the wholesale privatisation of those British manufacturing industries that were returned to private ownership with the claim that they could only be returned to profitability by the private sector. The Conservative mantra of "everything privately owned is good; and everything publicly owned is bad" not only seemed to be risible at the time, but has proved to be so over the period of the past 30 years or so. Beginning with British Petroleum in 1979 and ending with the UK's Electricity Generators in 1990, in turn the Thatcher government systematically raided Britain's industrial base by selling off British Aerospace (1981), Cable & Wireless (1981), Amersham International (1982), National Freight Corporation (1982), Britoil (1982), Associated British Ports (1983), Enterprise Oil (1984), Jaguar (1984), British Telecom (1984), British Shipbuilders (1985), British Gas (1986), British Airways (1987), Rolls Royce (1987), British Airports Authority (1987), British Steel (1988), Water (1989) and Electricity Generation (1990). Although British Rail was the last great nationalised industry to be privatised, this was in fact sold off during John Major's Premiership; and even at the time was reportedly being criticised by that great supporter of British de-industrialisation, Margaret Thatcher! Such had become the accepted view of selling off the "family silver" that even when New Labour were returned to power under Tony Blair in 1997, they kept faith with the free-market thinking of Margaret Thatcher, by not only privatising Britain's Air Traffic Control industry, but also by copying the PFI (Private Finance Initiative's) first introduced by the Conservative's, which saw British schools, hospitals, clinics, ports, roads, bridges, etc all being built and owned by private interests, with the proviso that the public purse would be guaranteed to meet the often exorbitant rental and maintenance costs.
The other great claim of the Thatcher socio-economic revolution was that it empowered the people of Britain through personal shareholding, most notably through their involvement with the widespread privatisation of the former nationalised industries, including some of those mentioned in the previous paragraph. According to a "This Is Money" article, in 1963 an estimated 54% of UK company shares were being held by private individuals, whilst in 1981 this figure had fallen to 28%, then fallen again in 1991 to around 20%, until it was down to 11.5% in 2010. According to generally available sources, attributed to the UK Shareholders Association in 2005/6 something in the region of 10 million individuals own or hold shares in the UK, although whether or not this takes into account foreign born and based investors is unclear, but is assumed to be the case.
Obviously, any and all of these figures are open to a wide range of interpretations, including the fact that during the 1960's, when British manufacturing industries were still thriving and private business ownership would have been at its height, then it is perhaps little surprise that many production companies and therefore their shares would indeed be in private hands. The decline and disappearance of Britain's privately and publicly owned businesses no doubt accounts for much of the dramatic fall in share ownership between 1963 and 1981, as it did for the other subsequent periods noted above. Interestingly though, assuming an average figure of between 8-10 million private shareholders between 1981 and 2006, then in reality the much celebrated shareholder bonanza, talked about and promised by Thatcher and her Conservative government never really happened. That lack of widespread public benefit was possibly due to the fact that the potential for and actual cost of public participation was always greatly exaggerated by the advocates of privatisation, purely in order to offset public concerns over the proposed public sell off, of what were, after all, publicly owned assets. In the case of British Gas, only an estimated 1.5 million individuals bought shares, many of whom quickly sold their allocation on, in order to make a quick profit. Around 1 million individual investors bought shares in British Airways, whilst only 600,000 individuals bought shares in British Steel, so any suggestion that the privatisation of Britain's nationalised industries helped create a nation of stakeholders is a complete fallacy, one that was nurtured by Thatcher and her ministers to deliberately mislead the British people. Such was unreasonable haste to "flog off" Britain's family silver that little thought seems to have been given to how these sell-offs might impact our vital industries, to the extent that today 7 out of the 10 UK water companies are now owned and controlled by foreign interests, whilst 4 out of the 6 electricity generating companies in the UK are wholly owned and controlled by foreign companies.
With virtually all of the substantive UK industries having already been sold off by either the Conservative governments of Thatcher and Major, who were in turn diligently copied by the Labour administrations of Blair and Brown, inevitably finding British possessions to sell off to private corporate interests, both foreign and domestic, is becoming increasingly difficult. The obvious "prize" asset of course would be Britain's National Health Service, which with its annual turnover of an estimated £100 billion per year, is undoubtedly something worth fighting over for most of the private healthcare companies eagerly circling it at present. Thanks largely to John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, the process of preparing the NHS for full privatisation has already begun, although the majority of the British public seem to be blissfully unaware about the impending loss of their free-at-the-point-of-delivery health service. Cameron has already indicated that he intends to privatise virtually all of the "back office" services used by various police forces; and one wonders how long it will be before the police themselves become little more than privately funded security guards? Surely the next logical step?
Let us all hope that history judges Margaret Thatcher's political, economic and social legacy sooner rather than later, in order that we can learn, sooner rather than later, that she was wrong about virtually everything; and that her legacy has left us with nothing but divisiveness, bitterness, inequality, idleness, hopelessness and penury. Her true legacy could probably be paraphrased in the words of a truly great British Prime Minister - "Never in the field of British politics, was so much harm, done to so many, by so few"

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Thatcher Myths - The Falkland's To The Miner's Strike.

Celebrants of the Thatcher era often point to the fact that she won three successive General Elections, even though many of her government's policies were highly unpopular, leading them to claim that these electoral successes were a sign of her inherent "greatness". Any such claims though, overlook the obvious fact that the Conservative "brand" and most of its various constituency MP's were far more popular individually than Margaret Thatcher was as a national party leader. Even her more favourable standing today, some 20-odd years after she left finally office is thought to be due to the fact that her modern successors are so dire in comparison to her, in terms of their personalities, their ideas and their convictions, rather than reflecting a general desire for the country to return to a more "Thatcherite" era. In fact, the only recent politician to have come close to achieving Thatcher's political stature has been the New Labour leader, Tony Blair, who successfully managed to re-package and re-cast many of the earlier free-market, monetarist policies of Thatcher for a new generation of British voters. Blair's and New Labour's great illusion was to convince a vast majority of the electorate that what "walked like a duck, quacked like a duck and looked like a duck", was in fact anything but a duck; and with much of the country desperate for a change after 18 years of Tory rule, most of us missed the fact that rather than being dead, Thatcherism had just been revamped for the 21st century.
In a funny sort of way, had Margaret Thatcher been a police officer and her two greatest "successes", the Miners Strike and The Falklands Conflict been law enforcement operations, then the chances are that they would have been thrown out of court on the basis of one of them being a case of deliberate "entrapment", whilst the other was the result of her own sheer personal vanity. According to some historians, with the previously mentioned Ridley Plan in place, it has been suggested that Thatcher purposefully and wilfully picked a fight with the NUM, knowing that they and their leadership would willingly oblige, bearing in mind that not only their jobs, but the lives of their communities were at stake. Like poking a highly irascible guard-dog with a sharp stick, Thatcher and her ministers picked the time and the place for their defining battle with the Trade Unions, confident that their newly introduced Employment Acts, the secretly collected coal stocks; the highly discriminatory benefit rules; and the thousands of highly motivated police militia's that had been put on standby at highly attractive pay rates, would be more than sufficient to effectively crush any union opposition to the government's plans.
Bearing in mind that such events tumultuous events took place before the dawn of the internet and the 24-hour-a-day news that it allows us today, most of us were informed by the same MSM that exists today, The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, The Express, The Sun and The Mirror, most of which had a strong right-wing bias, simply because of their owners personal and commercial ties to the Conservative Party. So it was never going to be the case that the general public were told the whole truth about the causes of the Miners Strike, only a politically slanted version of the truth, one where the Miners and their causes were bad; while the government and their reasoning were good.
Although nobody would suggest that unionised labour should have the right to usurp a democratically elected government, modern thinking suggests that consensus, rather than conflict is the equitable way to move forward. Unfortunately, neither Thatcher, nor the Miners leadership of the time were in any mood to compromise, even if that had been the right thing to do. It goes without saying that the most successful European economy, Germany, has built much of its economic and social success around consensus politics, in the country and in the workplace, something that Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill were obviously unwilling to do, perhaps suggesting that both in their turn were completely unsuitable for their roles and for the times that they lived in. It is often an unknown fact that in reality Arthur Scargill had little power to hold a national ballot amongst Britain's coalminers, simply because he had no right to demand one. Apparently, under the terms of the NUM's rules, each region operated as an individual representative body, meaning that any strike ballots were supposed to be held locally, not nationally, as was being commonly reported by the UK's MSM of the time. It also appears to have been the case that just like in the best spy novels of the time, the Thatcher government and its allies were more than content to use police and security service personnel to both infiltrate and monitor various branches of the NUM, whilst at the same time individual members of the Conservative Party were reportedly carrying out their own covert operations against the miners, in order to guarantee the government some form of winning strategy. Clearly then, Margaret Thatcher was determined not to suffer a similar fate to her political predecessors, of having her government brought down by elements of Britain's Trade Union Movement, some of the same people who would later go on to nominate and support Tony Blair, first as Labour Party leader and then later as Prime Minister.
No doubt many would look back on the years of our country's industrial unrest, with the lights going out, the rubbish not being collected, factories being forced to work a 3-day-week and the dead not being buried; and would come to the conclusion that Thatcher was right to crush the power of our apparently out-of-control Trade Union Movement. Most of us who lived through that period believed that to be the case, largely because we either believed the distorted truths that were being published in most of the MSM of the time, because we didn't agree with the often strident and confrontational politics of some of the more high profile union leaders, or because we simply didn't believe the stark warnings of some within the TUC movement that the Thatcher regime was not only intent on the wholesale de-industrialisation and privatisation of Britain's manufacturing base, but would go on to create the basis for one of the most unequal, divided, mistreated and surveilled societies in Western Europe, if not in the world.
That other great event of Margaret Thatcher's period of office was undoubtedly the Falklands Conflict, which not only cost hundreds of lives on both sides of the conflict, but also cost millions of pounds to both country's economies. Britain's overall attitude to the Falklands was generally one of indifference; and although a minimal amount of expense and resources were spent on the islands, as per their status of an Overseas British Territory, it was only when the Thatcher government came to power in 1979 that events began to transpire that finally brought these faraway windswept islands fully into the British public's consciousness. As part of a large scale financial reorganisation of the Armed Forces, including the Royal Navy, the Thatcher administration planned to withdraw HMS Endurance from the region, leading the ruling military junta in Argentina to believe that the UK had little strategic interest in the islands. In the same year, 1981, Thatcher and her ministers also introduced the British Nationality Act, which reduced the rights and entitlements of the Falkland Islander's, further adding to the Argentine leader's belief that any military seizure of the disputed territory by their Armed Forces would be largely ignored by a British government, 8,000 miles away in London.
Serious miscalculations by successive governments, lead by both James Callaghan and later Margaret Thatcher almost guaranteed that a highly unpopular Argentine military junta would attempt to seize the islands at some point in time, in the hope that Britain would simply shrug its shoulders, or agree to negotiate away the island's sovereignty, rather than send its naval forces halfway across the world. Clearly, those avid supporters of the cult of Thatcher would have us believe that the "Iron Lady" had absolutely no idea that a planned withdrawal of HMS Endurance and a proposed downgrading of the Falkland Islander's citizenship status would result in an Argentine invasion, which as it turned out happened to be a fatal miscalculation by the supposedly "great" British Premier. As she was to prove on a number of occasions, in other areas of government policy, it was often her own personal conceit which lead to instances of conflict and adversity that might well have been avoided; and proven to be a whole lot cheaper, had she been a little less dogmatic.
With hindsight, it is perhaps also worth remembering that despite the distances involved, our own Armed Forces, who are some of the very best in the world; and with some of the best equipment devised, were not actually facing a similar professional army, but rather a rag-tag collection of poorly lead conscripts, who had little interest in conquering anything, never mind a collection of windswept islands in the South Atlantic. This is not to diminish or undermine the role of our soldiers, sailors and airmen who risked and occasionally sacrificed their lives to restore the principles of international law; and protect the rights of the Falkland Islander's to self-determination over their future rights. All too often our servicemen and women are called upon to pay the price demanded by the policies of some or other misguided British politician, who have little knowledge of or interest in the "cost in British blood" that their adventurism will require, as we have subsequently discovered to our cost in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Although Britain was right to confront the Argentine Junta, over their illegal military seizure of the Falkland's in 1982, a "great" political leader would never have allowed a foreign state to believe that our country was so weak, or so unprincipled, in the first place.           

Sunday 14 April 2013

Thatcher's Sick Man To Cameron's Laughing Stock

Such is the desire of our political establishment to fully rehabilitate the reputation and legacy of the late Baroness Thatcher that nothing it seems is safe from the journalistic revisionist's currently employed by Britain's right-wing press, most especially those at the Mail, Express, Telegraph and Times. Only months after we were told that without our membership of the EU, the United Kingdom would be nothing more than an isolated, inconsequential backwater on the periphery of mainland Europe, suddenly we're being asked to believe that the former Tory Prime Minister, dubbed the "Iron Lady", had somehow made our country "Great" again, after almost single-handedly rescuing the nation from its inevitable post war, post imperial decline.
As part of her restoration of Great Britain and its downtrodden peoples, the modern Tory press would have us believe that not only did their dead heroine restore British pride and prestige from the gutter of international opinion, but also rescued the UK population from the scourge of unionised labour, who she colourfully referred to as the "enemy within". Such highly divisive language, setting class against class, worker against worker, was of course typical of the sort of authoritarian, libertarian capitalism that Margaret Thatcher believed in and was determined to see employed in Britain, which over time and through her political heirs she has succeeded in doing. Yes, she was aged and frail when she passed away, Yes, her intelligence was much dimmed by the ravages of dementia; and she had been more or less abandoned by those who should have been closest to her, her son and daughter. We all know that she was a notably strident and highly divisive figure who came to dominate British politics during the 1980's, being the lady "who wasn't for turning"; and a person who preferred to rule by dictate, rather than through consensus, but that hardly excuses the near deification of Baroness Thatcher, which seems to be the objective at present.
How sickening it is to see the great and the good of the British establishment recalling their fond memories of Thatcher, when many of these same people were either instrumental in her downfall, or wouldn't have given her the time of day when she was alive. The levels of sheer hypocrisy, insincerity and pretence that have surrounded the "Iron Lady" and her political legacy is not only utterly and shamelessly appalling, but largely untrue. She has been credited with saving our country from the worst excesses of trade unionism, protecting western Europe from the military threat of the Soviet Bloc, credited with improving the lives and the lot of the average British citizen, with creating the basis of a stakeholder economy, where those who strive or aspire to succeed can do so. Thatcher has been credited with rebuilding a broken Britain, creating a country that could once again hold its head up high on the international scene, a country that could begin to compete with its international competitors; and as they're fond of saying today, creating a Britain that was "open for business".
Unfortunately, in order to create Thatcher's new and reinvigorated Britain, there was a huge price to pay, with massive changes being wrought to the cultural, social and economic structures of the country, much of which continue to blight our country through to the present day. Although Thatcher and her policies may well have rescued us from being the "sick man of Europe", there is little doubt that her legacy has been to turn our nation into one of the greediest, selfish, most divided, intolerant and unhappiest countries in the world, which is hardly a political legacy to celebrate, let alone one to revere.
The Ridley Plan:
Right from the outset of her Premiership, Thatcher was determined not to suffer a similar fate to that of her political predecessors, by being brought down by the British Trade Unions, especially those that controlled the country's vital industries, such as transport, gas, electric, coal, rail and the docks, etc. It was reportedly Edward Heath who had ordered contingency plans to be drawn up to counter strike actions by the trade's unions, leading to the Ridley Plan, which Heath himself was reluctant to implement, but that Thatcher later enacted prior to her confrontation with the National Union of Mineworkers.
Fundamentally, the Ridley Plan could have been used to confront and defeat any of Britain's large trade unions, although it was primarily used during the bitter Miners Strike that took place between 1984 and 1985, largely because that was a time of the Thatcher government's choosing. By choosing the field of battle and identifying which unions were most likely to call a strike, the government could then develop strategies to deal with and offset the worst effects of any such industrial dispute. Using the maxim of "forewarned is forearmed", by anticipating the likely actions of the various union leadership's, Thatcher and her ministers were able to put possible solutions in place well before a single day had been lost through strike action.
As Britain's mineworkers had proved to be the most pivotal strikers in earlier disputes, by causing fuel shortages throughout other essential industries, much of the Ridley Plan was thought to have focused on confronting and defeating this particular group of workers. As a result, Ridley suggested that Britain's coal stocks were secretly built up by all of the country's generating plants; and that plans were put in place to import foreign coal to supplement the nation's supplies. As part of this strategy, these supplies would be brought in through non-unionised ports; and non-affiliated haulage companies were approached to arrange for these coal stocks to be carried around the country, thereby preventing these supplies from being affected by secondary union action. Also, in order to reduce the nation's reliance on coal alone, the plan called for Britain's generating companies to invest in new gas, or oil generators, so that the country's electricity supplies were less dependent on coal, thereby reducing the power and influence of workers within the coalmining industry. Determined that every means should be used to discourage strike action, by any union, the Ridley Plan also called for strikers to be penalised through the benefit system, ensuring that no public money should be used to sustain a strike; and forcing the trade unions to use their own funds to support the striking workers and their families. Finally, the Ridley Plan called for the foundation and the equipping of mobile police taskforces, who would be used specifically to tackle the problem of "flying pickets", the groups of striking workers who travelled from area to area, to either support fellow strikers, or sometimes to intimidate non-striking workers, both of which outcomes were known to have happened during various industrial disputes throughout the 1970's and 1980's. A later addition to the Ridley Plan was the introduction of government legislation that not only forced unions to hold postal ballots before any strike took place, but also allowed the courts to sequester a union's funds, in the event that they contravened these new labour regulations. It was thought to be this, more than anything that essentially emasculated Britain's Trade Union movement more than anything else, to the extent that the UK's trade union bodies are now generally irrelevant to most British citizens, other than to the Parliamentary Labour Party that they continue to fund.
Of course it has been argued by many of Thatcher's supporters that she rescued the country from the evils of trade unionism, which had helped to make Britain the sick man of Europe; and that defeating the un-elected barons of the TUC was only ever done for the benefit of the nation. In reality however, the primary reason for her drive to defeat the Trade Unions was her own government's wish to survive the sorts of strikes and disputes that had either paralysed, or brought down the administrations of her predecessors. With the unions intact, it seems highly unlikely that many of her later policies, including the widespread de-industrialisation and privatisation of British industry could have taken place, whereas with the larger trade unions destroyed, or legally neutered, there was little to prevent the large-scale sell-off of the country's industrial base. The resulting 3 million unemployed that was the inevitable outcome of her policies; and the wholesale decimation of individual villages, towns and cities that had previously relied on these industries and businesses, were a price worth paying, just to see an end to the spectre of unionised labour that had cast such a shadow over most of the post war governments in Britain.
It's worth recalling that within days of coming to power the Thatcher government announced its plans to sell off the nation's shareholding in most of the nationalised industries, starting with British Petroleum. In November 1979, British Leyland announced plans to restructure its operations, which would lead to the loss of 25,000 jobs over the coming years, whilst in February 1980, some 11,000 steelworkers posts were lost in South Wales, as many of the nationalised industries were downsized and restructured in readiness for their eventual sell-off to the private sector, or in some cases in preparation for their closure. Around a year after the Conservatives came into office, British Aerospace was privatised and by August 1980, the unemployment figure had reached 2 million, as tens of thousands of workers were shed, either by the government directly, or by the newly appointed "hatchet men" appointed to bring those industries back to some sort of profitability.
In May 1981 the Talbot car plant at Linwood in Scotland was closed and the UK's unemployment figure was reported to have reached 2.68 million. In October 1981, 3 British Leyland factories were closed, leading to the loss of a further 3,000 jobs, whilst by the start of 1982 unemployment in the UK had reached the 3 million mark. Significantly, although Thatcher's popularity waned, fortunately for her she was rescued by the outbreak of the Falklands conflict, ultimately a small war that she herself was thought to have precipitated by seeming to withdraw Britain's military protection from those faraway islands. By September 1982, some 14% of the total working population was reported to have been unemployed, but in the following month the way in which these figures were collated was altered by the Thatcher government, even though this did little to hide the scale of the problem.
By November 1982, some 400,000 people had taken advantage of the "Right to Buy" legislation introduced by her government, but her refusal to allow the revenues from such sales to be reinvested back into new social housing, undoubtedly helped cause part of the housing shortage that the entire country continues to struggle against. In December 1982, it was announced that some 1200 jobs were being lost at the Round Oak Steelworks, just a fraction of the 1.5 millions jobs that had been lost since the Thatcher government first came into office. Worse still, by February the national unemployment figures was said to have reached 3.2 million; and in the following month all cleaning, catering and laundry services within the NHS were put out to tender, resulting in a fall in the workforce, a reduction in wages and working conditions, as well as the obvious decline in standards of cleanliness in a large number of hospitals, which became something of a national scandal.
The Miner's Strike:
By the beginning of 1984 and having ensured that all elements of the previously mentioned Ridley Plan had been put in place, the government announced plans to either close or privatise all of the remaining 174 coalmines within the UK, resulting in the NUM calling for and beginning a year long strike. Although some of the right-wing media would have us believe that virtually all mineworkers came out on strike, this in fact is untrue, as some regions opposed industrial action, were keen to minimise disruption; and hoped to keep their pits open in the long-term, although this ultimately turned out to be a forlorn hope. By June 1984 the UK's unemployment figure had reached 3.26 million, although by November 1984 almost half of the striking miners had returned to work, many of them forced back by sheer poverty, after the Thatcher Government introduced new legislation to cut a striker's family benefit by half.
While the remaining striking miners were confronted by rank upon rank of mounted police; and mobile taskforces from outside the coalmining regions, elsewhere, in December 1984, both British Telecom and the Trustees Saving Bank were privatised, helping to off-set the escalating costs of paying for the growing ranks of the unemployed and the thousands of police officers who were earning a small fortune from protecting those coalmines still in production. By the beginning of February 1985 and with their resistance broken, virtually all of the remaining coalminers returned to work, having achieved none of the concessions that they had demanded from the Thatcher government; and that left a lasting legacy of bitterness between them and the police and other working miners that continues to exist through to the modern day, having easily passed from one generation of a family to another. Never in the history of modern Britain have the actions and policies of a serving Prime Minister so divided individual communities, let alone the country at large; and yet for some deluded supporters of Margaret Thatcher, it is precisely this divisiveness that they consider marks her out as a "great" leader and therefore deserving of a ceremonial cum state funeral?
At the beginning of 1984, when the miners strike began, there were 174 working pits in Britain, many of which were thought to have been perfectly viable, but expensive to operate. With an excess of cheap imported coal available, along with the introduction of both oil and gas generation, just the actual availability of coal below ground was not sufficient justification to maintain a working coal industry within the mainland UK. In 1985, the year the bitter strike came to its almost inevitable conclusion, some 25 of the remaining 174 pits were closed and between the end of 1985 and 1992, an additional 97 coalmines were closed or mothballed, with virtually all of the remainder closed in the years since. The economic thinking of the Thatcher years, which paid scant attention to the social costs that such pit closures would cause to each of the affected communities, ensured that the devastation wrought in these regions was simply ignored, or off-set by wasting billions of pounds of oil money, rather than using these same funds to create new modern industries that might usefully employ many of these former miners. Instead of work, most of these regions were simply offered platitudes, boredom, waste and the prospect of their once proud communities becoming run down, drug affected backwaters, which would slowly empty of people, as the desperate and the aspiring would "get on their bikes" to look for something better elsewhere. But perhaps more importantly for all of our main political parties, never again would any national government, of any persuasion, have to take any serious heed of unionised labour, to the extent that they had between 1945 and 1985. From the Thatcher government's point of view, not only had the "enemy within" been well and truly crushed, but the days of Britain being the "sick man" of Europe were truly over and the traditional working class would never be the same again.
Even though Margaret Thatcher's revolution didn't bring a complete end to trade unionism, as she may have hoped, with large-scale industrial manufacturing now generally extinct in the UK; and those union's that continue to exist so fettered by legislation, the likelihood of their widespread return is remote. As full-time manufacturing work has now largely been supplanted by part-time retail posts; and most worker's rights generally protected by statute, neither the need, the circumstances, or the facilities seem to exist for any such powerful representative body. Although large groups such as local government workers, teachers and railwaymen still cling to the idea of individual strength through numbers, these are very much the exception, rather than the norm, with most employees nowadays being un-represented in the workplace and therefore susceptible to exploitation or discrimination. Apart from their funding of the Parliamentary Labour Party, which for the most part appears to be entirely symbolic, the days of the Trade Union Movement's active participation in the political life of the country now seems to be firmly over, save for being involved in the election of the Labour Party leader, which seems to count for little in everyday terms.
Apologists for and supporters of Thatcher, much as they do today, point to the fact that the 2 million manufacturing jobs thought to have been lost under her regime were subsequently replaced by service sector jobs, forgetting to mention of course that many of these posts were part-time, low paid jobs, assuming that they existed in the first place; and weren't just training schemes designed to deliberately fudge the figures. Escalating benefit costs caused by high levels of unemployment and part-time, low-paid working were relatively easy to absorb, when one bears in mind that billions of pounds were coming in the Exchequer from the privatisation of the previously nationalised industries, the sale of council housing and from the vast revenues being generated by the oil and gas bonanza's from the North Sea. Rather than these monies being invested in Britain's schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, housing and jobs, instead they were used to invest in unemployment and wasteful job schemes, helping to make the rich even richer, by not only providing them with a cheap workforce, at a direct cost to the British taxpayer, but also by lowering the wealthiest citizens tax liabilities, whilst the poorest in the country continued to suffer.
(CONTINUED) Thatcher's Sick Man To Cameron's Laughing Stock II

Wednesday 10 April 2013

A Divided Nation Is Always Destined To Fall

It would be a remarkable legacy for any British political leader to leave behind them, to bequeath their nation a culture of individual selfishness, divisiveness, indifference, intolerance and in some cases maybe even hatred, between peoples of the same national tribe, all in the name of a particular economic and political ideology.
Who could forget the words of Margaret Thatcher, quoting St Francis of Assisi with "Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope." How hollow those words and the sentiments appear to be now, some thirty-odd years after she chose to utter them on the steps of Downing Street in May 1979, after defeating the Labour Government of James Callaghan.
Could we live in a more discordant country, one which is error strewn and where truth is often the very first casualty of our politician's and our media's everyday propaganda exercises? Have the people of Britain ever been more doubtful, suspicious, sceptical or dubious about the words coming out of their politician's mouths, their broadcaster's news bulletins, or their newspaper's editorials? Has there ever been such a lack of faith in our national leaders, to find solutions to the multitude of daily problems that are affecting peoples lives? Have the people of the UK ever been so desperate and hopeless as many are today, to escape the clawing apathy, indifference, despondency and misery that blights their lives each and every day?
Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and Co are just the latest in a long line of political incompetents who have helped to drive Britain to the edge of national destruction, creating a country where sixty-odd million cowed and neutered citizens fear more for their own personal incomes than they do for their own basic principles, or indeed for the fate of their neighbours and friends. Along with Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown they have helped to create a truly fractured state, one where the equally important regions of Scotland, Ireland and Wales have been driven away to the political periphery, to where hopes of their territorial independence could now be a realistic outcome.
It is remarkable to think that within the space of forty years, these half dozen mediocre British politicians have somehow managed to systematically undo nearly three hundred years of our country's economic, social and political history, much of which was orchestrated and built by far better men and women than them. Although the supporters of such changes undoubtedly believe that Scottish, Irish and Welsh devolution is an inevitable part of any modern political process, the fact that further territorial separation will almost certainly be accompanied by increasing antagonisms between the various national populations cannot be anything but damaging to all of the people of the UK, regardless of their nationality.
Interestingly, even though she was widely regarded as the most divisive politician of the entire post-war period, Margaret Thatcher's recent death has lead to an almost incomprehensible outpouring of political revisionism bordering on religious fervour, social propaganda and commentary, most of which would not be out of place in some of the world's most suppressed societies. In spite of the catastrophic harm that she undoubtedly wrought on the former industrial heartlands of Britain, their businesses, their communities and their individual workers, any public criticism, condemnation or even celebration of her passing is deemed to be spiteful, anti-social or unwarranted, by those within the chattering political classes who would have us believe that she somehow rescued our country from the "enemy within", even though this phrase alone would tell us we need to know about her own implicitly divisive, inflexible and uncompromising attitudes, when it came to the British society that she so easily dismissed as being non-existent.
Anyone who lived through the three-day-week, the power cuts, the mountains of uncollected refuse, or the dead not being buried, would recall those dark days as being enjoyable, or indeed ideal, but neither were they ever sufficient justification for introducing legislation that essentially sold our country off to the highest bidder, or to undermine the rights of workers to sell a fair days labour for a fair days pay. Ultimately, the 1970's and the 1980's became periods of extremes, when an elected government extensively used national agencies, the media, the courts, private money, Parliament and an awful lot of good fortune into rolling back many of the gains that the working population had fought for over several generations.
Of course nobody in their right mind would have wanted the country to be run by the great union barons, who in some cases hadn't been properly elected to their posts, let alone given permission to hold sway over the economic, social or political future of our nation. But then, with conflict rather than compromise being the primary driver for both leaders of the dispute, maybe the outcome was almost inevitable, most especially where one side has the national media supporting their actions, albeit for the most selfish and self-serving reasons. Whether or not the newly revised history of Thatcherism agrees or not, it was during her leadership of our country that the concept of British society, began to be swept away, as she purposefully set class against class, worker against worker, neighbour against neighbour; and friend against friend. Her periods of office marked the beginning of the now widespread idea that being rich was good, being poor was bad, being self sufficient was good; that dependency of any form was bad, small or non-existent state was efficient and good, big state was inefficient and bad.
The greatest economic, social and political myths also largely emanate from Thatcher's years, most especially that private enterprise does things better and more cost effectively than their much maligned public counterparts. As has been mentioned many times, here and elsewhere, in reality the privatisation of the Telecommunications, Gas, Electricity, Water, Mining, Steel and Shipbuilding industries has only benefited their private shareholders and certainly not the millions of consumers who are now regularly held hostage to the annual price increases that each of these vital businesses apply. As an interesting note, it is ironic that a number of these highly important national assets, formerly owned by the British people, are often in the hands of overseas governments, meaning that the German and French people now own more of our vital industries than we Brits do, which would perhaps be funny, were it not so tragic for our own national population.
Although Margaret Thatcher and her personal ideology no doubt formed the basis for where we are today, the fact is that her initial foundations have been built upon and added to by a succession of likeminded individuals, all of whom have been in enthralled by the "Iron Lady" and her theories of monetarism and the free market. The likes of John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are all equally guilty of building upon the social divisions and deprivations initially set out by Thatcher, to the extent that there is little if any chance of these changes ever being undone by any future government, even if they wanted to.
Now more than ever there is a need for our vital services, our water, gas, electricity, health services, housing, schools and transport infrastructure to be safeguarded by government, yet they would seek to hand over what little is left to private interests, despite the fact that this would leave them open to rampant financial exploitation, thereby making them scarcer and far more expensive to the consumer. However, if you happen to be wealthy, greedy or acquisitive then you probably won't be that bothered, as you'll be able to pay the costs of such vital services, regardless of whether or not your poorer neighbour can or not.
After all, if you happen to be a follower of the Mail, the Express, or the Telegraph, then you'll need no persuading that virtually all benefit recipients are work-shy listless layabouts, who struggle to raise themselves simply to sign on every now and again. just look at the case of Mick Philpott, proof, if proof were needed; that some benefit recipients are not only lazy, but potentially dangerous too. It must be true mustn't it, because it says so in these quality papers? Also, if you're a true believer in these same newspaper's articles and editorials, then you definitely wouldn't think about being treated in a NHS hospital, where the nurses generally treat you like you're a prison inmate, assuming of course that they can be dragged away from their computers where they're busily surfing the net. Not that it's related of course, but it is interesting to note that many of these same newspaper articles and editorials just happen to carry banner advertising for one of the many private healthcare companies that are busily establishing themselves around the country. But of course that'll just a happy coincidence, won't it?
Interestingly, the BBC ran a piece about the expansion of the old class system, which suggested that the old three class system, the upper, middle and lower classes have been superceded by seven new classes, giving a fresh view of where the British population sits in their standing to one another. Of course, it might well be viewed that modern Britain could easily be broken down into pairs of distinct classes, the "haves" and "have-not", the "rich" and the "poor", or "northerners" and "southerners", or better still, the "plebs" and "patricians", whichever of these particular terms happens to rock your boat.
Whatever your preference, there seems little doubt that Britain is more divided now than at any time during its recent history; and possibly since the United Kingdom was formally created by the various national treaties. It cannot just be coincidence that all three regional assemblies have seriously contemplated full political separation, resulting in Scotland actually holding a national referendum on the subject in 2014? Despite the fact that such campaigns are likely to be unsuccessful in the short term, the fact that they're being thought about, talked about and even planned seems to say much about the divided nature of British society, none of it good. Increasingly, the northernmost regions of England are beginning to express their disillusionment with and detachment from their southern neighbours, to the extent that the idea of a fully regionalised and therefore separated England is no longer thought of as unimaginable, but is inevitably becoming possible to contemplate. For the southern counties of England, especially London, there is probably much to recommend the idea of an entirely separate capital state, one that owes no political allegiance or indeed financial support to its much poorer northerly cousins; and one cannot imagine that they would lose much sleep over the fate of the millions of people who presently live beyond the limits of the M25.
Although the idea of a federal UK, or even a regionalised England might seem fanciful today, given that there seems to be growing tensions between the North and South, England and Scotland, England and Wales, as well as between the mainland UK and Northern Ireland, over time these tensions and differences are almost certain to increase, leading to an erosion of the common ties of Britishness that have previously held the four home nations together. Even though no-one could legitimately claim that Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair or even Gordon Brown have deliberately or purposefully set out to fracture the historic cohesion of these four distinct nations, ultimately their shared destruction and undermining of our country's common ties, including its culture, habits, populations and laws have undeniably helped to cultivate the very worst of people's human nature; at the same time eroding the very best of the British character.
Today, large numbers of our Parliamentarians celebrated the life of our former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, recalling how, in their opinion, she had saved this country from its own self destructive impulses and from the enemy within, the working classes who had helped build our country in the first place. Today in the Commons, fictions largely replaced facts, and party political ideology replaced personal integrity, as one after another elected representatives revised our country's recent history in an attempt to eulogise and lionise the chief architect of our nation's social, political and economic decline, Margaret Thatcher.

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Economic Insanity Will Cost Our Country Dear Indeed

For a political coalition that is supposedly dedicated to reducing the country's massive public and private debt levels, one can hardly describe the results thus far a resounding success. Rather than diminishing Britain's indebtedness to the international markets, over the past three years David Cameron's and Nick Clegg's motley collection of ministerial chancers, incompetents, crooks and reprobates have not only managed to fatally undermine many of our vital public services, but done so at an even greater cost to the public purse.
Listening to many of the national news broadcasts yesterday, the 1st April 2013, which some have already dubbed the beginning of "Black April", one could have been forgiven for thinking that finally the penny had dropped; and that George Osborne's treasury had finally found a method to significantly reduce the waste and overall cost of our nation's debt, by introducing a small number of highly effective changes to the welfare system that will not only save the overburdened British taxpayer an absolute fortune; but also help reduce our trillion pound national debt.
Although all of the welfare benefit changes are important, the one that has received the most publicity is the "spare room subsidy", or the "bedroom tax", as it has been dubbed by many in the media. This is the coalition's idea for reducing the demand for social housing, by forcing under-occupiers to either vacate their homes, or pay more for the privilege of having spare living capacity in their homes. Of course, the fact that there is and always has been a shortage of single living accommodation within the social housing market has largely been overlooked or ignored by the architects of the scheme. Single person households, the one-bedroom, or "studio" type of apartments, are entirely a feature of modern Britain and certainly weren't catered for during the great council house building booms that took place in the post war period. Many of the single person apartments that do exist are generally held by housing associations or private buy-to-letters, who have begun to recognise the intrinsic financial value of their property holdings and are beginning to charge monthly rents to match the growing demand and diminishing supply.
Several weeks ago, a number of newspapers carried out their own investigations into the likely effects of this new so-called "bedroom tax". The vast majority of these reports lead to the same inevitable conclusion that one of two things would result from its introduction. The first likely outcome was that most under-occupiers, especially those in receipt of housing benefits, would be worse off every week, if they chose to hold onto their homes. The second revelation was that those who chose to move from public to private housing would in fact cost the taxpayer and therefore the treasury more every week, as private rents were often up to 30% more than their publicly owned equivalent, which begs the simple question: how on earth does that represent any sort of saving to the public purse? Even if you assume that most of the people affected by the housing benefit changes choose to remain in their homes and will somehow choose to absorb their housing benefit losses from their own meagre resources, there will still be tens of thousands of people, now and in the future, who will be driven into the much more expensive and highly exploitative private rental market; and where's the social benefit or financial savings in that?
Sadly, the truth of the matter is that very few taxpayer's will benefit from the new "tax", other than those buy-to-let landlords and private landlords who already earn much of their incomes, both declared and undeclared, from the public purse. It is perhaps inevitable that rather than reducing the cost to the public purse, these changes will simply lead to an increase in public spending on welfare benefits, as more social housing tenants are forced to migrate from the public sector to the private one; and if there's no extra money to fund these increased welfare demands then what happens next, an increase in rent arrears, starvation, homelessness, vagrancy, poverty and children being taken into care? And who exactly is going to pay for that?
The second great change that took place yesterday, the beginning of "Black April" was the beginning of the formal demise of Britain's much loved National Health Service, the publicly funded, free-at-the-point-of-delivery healthcare service, which has been much admired since its foundation in 1948. Gone are the cumbersome Primary Care Trusts and Local Health Authorities, blamed for many of the service's underlying problems; and hello to the new Clinical Commissioning Groups that are supposed to address many of these same issues, run by local doctors and nurses entirely for the benefit of their patients. Well, that's the idea we're all being sold by the Coalition anyway, but as with most things to do with David Cameron,  Nick Clegg and their damnable Government, the reality is somewhat different.
In truth, local GP's, hospital doctors and nurses will have very little to do with administering, buying or providing individual healthcare for the millions of people who rely on the National Health Service. Private for-profit management agencies will now largely determine the kind and level of care that people receive; and only after taking into account their own administration costs for providing their management services. Several hundred millions of pounds having been put aside for those essential services, then whatever is left out of the various regional health budgets will be shared between the variety of public and private healthcare providers, including the likes of Virgin Healthcare, Blue Circle, the NHS, et al, often purely on the basis of cost, the pounds, shillings and pence that each individual company quotes for particular procedures, or operations.
Following a successful business model, these private for-profit healthcare companies will almost certainly cherry-pick the most profitable patients, those whose conditions cost the minimum of investment and who can be turned around or dealt with in the least amount of time and money. Complicated, time consuming and expensive patients will be left almost entirely to the seriously degraded rump, or what will be left of the National Health Service, which will struggle to cope with its much more costly and far less profitable patient base.
In all likelihood and perhaps in line with the coalition's undisclosed intentions, a full-scale failure of the existing NHS, with its almost inevitable overstretched services, overworked staff and increasing mortalities will be justification for the introduction of a fully fledged system of privately funded healthcare, of the type operating in the US and elsewhere. However, the fact that tens of millions of Americans are unable to afford basic healthcare treatment, or that hundreds of thousands of them are personally bankrupted each year by meeting the escalating costs of their country's callous for-profit healthcare system, is not a feature of that particular model that its supporters are keen to emphasise. Repeating the proven lie that "private is better than public" proponents of for-profit healthcare companies would have us all believe they are better than the NHS, whereas the evidence of ALL previous privatisations, including telecommunications, transport and utilities would tell us all we need to know about that particular MYTH!. In reality the only people who benefit from the privatisation of any public service, be that health, transport, education, utilities or telecommunications are the SHAREHOLDERS and certainly not us, the customers.
Sadly for the people of the UK, most users of the National Health Service have remained indifferent, ignorant or just completely resigned about the potential loss of their healthcare services, much as they did when free dental and optical provision were slowly but irrevocably withdrawn by various governments. Even though increasing numbers of our population now have very poor oral healthcare and damaged vision, generally because of the exorbitant costs associated with private for-profit treatments, because such ailments are not life threatening in themselves, most people, often the very poorest in our society, simply make do with bad teeth and failing eyesight. The problem is, how will they do that if and when they begin to suffer from more serious ailments, those that can ultimately lead to an early or painful death; and where a free-at-the-point-of-delivery health service no longer exists? After all, if people can't afford to pay for their teeth to be done, or for their eyes to be corrected, then how exactly are they going to pay for more serious, life threatening illnesses to be treated? The obvious answer is that they're not; and like our poorer American cousins, increasing numbers of people are going to end up dead or flat broke.....possibly both!