“They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbors.” – Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher, one of the founders of the Neoliberal Revolution and Britain’s first female prime minister, died today of a stroke at age 87. Her life was marked by unquenchable ambition and a ruthless use of power. Despite being born the daughter of a grocer Thatcher will be eulogized as a former head of state and baroness - whatever will be said about her, she knew how to climb the greasy pole of British society and politics. But at what cost?
Thatcher came to power in in the wake of widespread labor strikes running on a platform of restricting trade union power. Her introduction of Neoliberal economic policies proved incredibly unpopular and destructive to the middle and working class of Britain. As her cabinet split and unrest grew she looked like she might be out, then came the Falklands War.
War gave Thatcher the needed boost in popularity to secure her and her party’s re-election. Then she turned her guns on the real enemy, trade unions. Thatcher’s anti-union policies initiated a strike that she ruthlessly put down, breaking the union movement and securing the transformation of the British economy to be primarily dependent on the City of London and finance capitalism. Without the mining and manufacturing base that Thatcher destroyed, the United Kingdom’s destiny is disproportionately tied to the fate of its transnational speculating industry.
As the Cold War ended Thatcher’s hardline stances grew more irksome for the public and her fellow party members. Polls showed the British Labor Party had a double digit lead on the Conservative Party as Thatcher’s Euroskepticism forced out a prominent cabinet member who condemned her in the House of Commons for sabotaging his efforts to negotiate Britain’s entry into the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. This resignation combined with unpopular taxes and bad poll numbers cleared the way for a challenge to Thatcher’s leadership and after failing to secure party leadership on the first ballot Thatcher withdrew and resigned as prime minister. Her successor, John Major, went on along with the Conservative Party to win the next election as public support shifted on the party after Thatcher’s resignation.
Margaret Thatcher’s legacy left to Britain and the world is a burning animosity for the very idea of social responsibility and a promotion of the most predatory unregulated form of finance capitalism. Britain is a hollowed out shell of its former self and the Neoliberal movement, whose fire was lit first in Britain, was taken up in America by Thatcher’s political doppelganger Ronald Reagan who performed likewise with similar results. The theory was creative destruction, the reality was the destruction of creativity – well articulated by Thatcher as There Is No Alternative. The prison of free markets would envelope the world with disastrous results for the planet and its people. So long Maggie and good riddance.