Maggie’s legacy – Free-market economics

The revolution as carried out by the Tories in the Eighties was very much driven by Margaret Thatcher, as described by Ken Clark:
‘We were all believers in free-market economics; we all thought the trade unions were a dreadful, over-powerful vested interest. We all thought we should stop bailing out lame-duck industries and pouring the taxpayer’s money into over-manned, overpaid and inefficient nationalised industries. But once we came to government, in 1979, if it hadn’t been for Margaret, I’m not sure many of us would have had the courage of our convictions. She gave us all the courage to do what we all believed ought to be done. Over time, we pushed the boat out further and further, and became more and more unpopular with the public – but she made us put our tin hats on and get on with it. To our astonishment, we survived as a government.’

As a child of this era, my politics were very much influenced by my elder brother’s, ie what he loved, I hated. Therefore, I loathed Margaret Thatcher, then, and in many ways I still do. However, now I can admit that some of what she did, was good for this country, but I still firmly believe she went too far.

Having read 20 personal opinions of ‘Maggie Thatcher, milk snatcher’ some things have stood out. One in particular being that she didn’t introduce the policy of cutting free milk for primary school pupils, she was just carrying out the Treasury’s directives. But, hey why let the truth get in the way of a good rhyme. The other being that the majority of people, mostly in her own party, completely under-estimated her and that she only became leader because Keith Joseph, who had similar views to her, had shot himself in the foot with an ill-advised speech.

But it’s Ken Clark’s statement, that really resonates:
‘We were all believers in free-market economics; we all thought the trade unions were a dreadful, over-powerful vested interest. We all thought we should stop bailing out lame-duck industries and pouring the taxpayer’s money into over-manned, overpaid and inefficient nationalised industries.’

I am not a believer in free-market economics, certainly not as they have played out in the last 30 years. Now, instead of the unions being a dreadful, over-powerful vested interest, we have huge, over-inflated corporations who have too much say on how this country is run, with weak unions unable to stand up to them. Instead of lame-duck industries we have shockingly run banks (HBOS, Royal Bank of Scotland and Northern Rock) who have had tax payers money poured into them to save their overpaid and immoral dealings.

Margaret Thatcher did much that was positive to transform this country, but in allowing free-market economics to hold sway in the UK the Western World has led us into the depression that we’re undergoing now. There has to be a balance between giving the market its head and reining it in so that it doesn’t go too far. The first decade of this century shows the extent to which the financial markets will go to make a profit when there is no-one there to stop them, ie government regulation and basic morals; while this current decade shows how hard it will be to rebalance the books after bailing the banks out.

And, Thatcher’s legacy continues, as those politicians who grew up in same era as me, but who see Maggie’s free-market capitalism as a shining beacon to follow, are now pursuing policies far nastier that she would ever have done and making the poor pay for the rich’s mistakes.

After five years in government, Cameron will leave us with a privatised National Health service, a sold-off Royal Mail, Justice System and Registry Office, a depleted Welfare state, and an education system run by vested interests and the whims of the Secretary of State for Education.

I just hope that unlike Thatcher’s government, the people of the UK will see sense and vote the Coalition out at the next election, rather than subjecting us to another five years of a government for, and by, the privileged few.

The Three Conversational No-nos

Once upon a time, back in the early 20th century, there were three topics of conversation that were considered ‘bad form’ – money, religion and politics. Polite society deemed them too contentious for the dinner table, club or pub.

You might think times have changed. Everywhere and anyone now discusses money. How much will the bankers bonuses be this year? How little tax exactly have Google, Amazon and Starbucks paid? How big is the government deficit? How high will the Big Six raise energy bills this year? How excessive were your MP’s expenses? How much were the banks bailed out?

But in fact, we’re still not talking money, the conversation is all about the financial situation. Since Bush winningly stated ‘it’s the economy stupid’ the economic agenda has dominated the media landscape. We don’t talk about our salaries, and the pay freezes we’ve had, or how we’re coping on the one salary since our partner got made redundant, or how we’re wondering how to pay for food and fuel now we pay the bedroom tax, or how to feed our children since our housing benefit’s been cut. Those topics are still too personal to be aired by the great British public.

As for religion, well maybe your mates are happy to demonstrate their obeisance at the cult of celebrity, or the fervour of football fanaticism, but actual religion, a belief in a god, or how religion informs their moral framework, again not so much. And that’s not to say that people aren’t reaching out for the guidance, community and questing for meaning that religion has often provided, given the popularity Sunday Assembly and philosophical lectures.

Which leaves politics. Does anyone you know talk about politics ie about their MP, policy that’s being passed into law or debates in parliament? That’ll be a big fat no then. But why not? Politics affects the economy. We have a coalition government that lives and dies by its economic performance – as all Tory governments have done – and every decision they make has a direct impact on our pockets. From lowering the tax threshold for the highest rate taxpayers, to encouraging the Bank of England’s quantative easing, otherwise known as printing money, to supporting banks to lend for mortgages and allowing payday lenders to charge exorbitant interest rates, all of these policies and more has made a difference to your life.

So, I think it’s time to start having these conversations with your family, friends, work colleagues and neighbours. So what if you disagree, or maybe you won’t. It might lead you into a discussion about a community issue you feel strongly about, or inform you about an issue of the day. At least you won’t be discussing the weather, the footie or Katie Price’s latest divorce (although you can as well, if you must!).