NEW POLL: do you think Margaret Thatcher was a good or bad thing for Britain?

by Stephen Tall on July 19, 2008

A story LDV didn’t get round to covering this week was the Mail on Sunday’s suggestion that Margaret Thatcher is to be honoured when she dies with a state funeral, the first British Prime Minister since Winston Churchill to be afforded such an honour. This prompted a flurry of commentary from friends and foes taking fairly predictable positions.

* “all that pomp and ceremony in her honour, plus a day off for school kids, will be very, very wrong.” (The Mirror)
* “Thatcher did succeed … like Churchill, the country owes her a 19-gun salute.” (Harry Phibbs in The Guardian)

A whole generation has been born post-Thatcher; no-one born after 1969 will even have had the opportunity to vote in an election at which Mrs Thatcher was the Tory leader; views of her now are more temperate than when she was in power.

To an extent she is now viewed as an historical inevitability, a necessary (if sometimes harsh) corrective to the bloated, pessimistic 70s’ corporatism under which the UK had laboured. Indeed, it was a view which was propounded as early as 1980 by former Liberal leader Joe Grimond, who argued in The Future of Liberalism: “Liberals must stress at all times the virtues of the market, not only for efficiency but to enable the widest possible choice…Much of what Mrs Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph say and do is in the mainstream of liberal philosophy.”

All of which leads me to ask this question of LDV readers:

“On balance, do you believe Margaret Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister was a good or a bad thing for the UK?”

The two options, as the question suggests, are:

Yes, Margaret Thatcher was a Good Thing on balance
No, Margaret Thatcher was a Bad Thing on balance

(There’s no hand-wringing, wishy-washy, equivocating, some-things-were-good and some-were-bad option in this poll. Of course your views about Mrs Thatcher’s governments will be mixed; but grasp the nettle and come down on one side or t’other).

And, of course feel free to continue a more subtle debate in the comments thread below.

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Like much in life – its not what you do – its the way that you do it!
Unfortuntaly the way she & the Tories did things were not the right way. I hope I have seen the last PM in her style.

by Greenfield on July 19, 2008 at 3:47 pm. Reply #

Some necessary changes at the start, hampered by an oil price shock in the early eighties and economic incompetence in the late eighties, believed in her own publicity and became a megalomaniac.

On balance a bad thing, a terrible disastrous thing.

by Spanny Thomas on July 19, 2008 at 5:33 pm. Reply #

Bad thing. Divisive, dogmatic, and in the end just a bit mad. Thousands would claim that she ruined their lives. They’re probably exaggerating, but then those who claim that she single handedly brought down communism are also exaggerating just a touch. Totally undeserving of a state funeral.

by Laurence Boyce on July 19, 2008 at 5:37 pm. Reply #

On BALANCE? Thatcher – ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’

by Martin Land on July 19, 2008 at 6:11 pm. Reply #

Mrs Thatcher was the most divisive and unpleasent prime ministers of the 20th century. The only good thing about her was that she left a legacy for the Tory party that made them unelectable for 3 general elections.
She decimated public services in this country, and she centralised the British State. She had no concept of civil liberties and she stood in the way of multiculturalism, gay rights and women’s rights. She hated the advances of the 1960s and she tried (and failed) to turn the clock back to “Victorian Values”.
The diisions between rich and poor grew wildly under her leadership and she didn’t care in the slightest.
Her smarmy relationship with Ronald Reagan, president of the US was appallingly sycophantic, and he too was a dreadful man who made the so-called religious right very powerful and supported vicious policies in Central America and much of the world.
I rarely hold grudges, but there is so much about That Woman that I dislike intensely that I could write on and on about it. Just to hear her voice makes my flesh creep.
I am not so vengeful that I am minded to think about her funeral. All I can say about that is that it ought not to be a state funeral. She was supposed to be against the state in any case, although in practice she centralised it as much as any socialist government ever managed.

by Geoffrey Payne on July 19, 2008 at 6:22 pm. Reply #

What a stupid question. Party time when she finally dies.

by ColinW on July 19, 2008 at 6:47 pm. Reply #

Anyone who counts General Pinochet as one of their friends isn’t deserving of a ‘balanced’ judgement.

by tony hill on July 19, 2008 at 9:58 pm. Reply #

“Well I hope I don’t die too soon
I pray the lord my soul to save
Yes, I’ll be a good boy
I’m trying so hard to behave
Because there’s one thing I know
I’d like to live long enough to savour
That’s when they finally put you in the ground
I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down”
– Elvis Costello

by Anonymous on July 19, 2008 at 10:15 pm. Reply #

On balance a good thing, which is why many of her reforms have not been reversed, even after eleven years of Labour government.

by David Boycott on July 19, 2008 at 10:39 pm. Reply #

Geoffrey Payne:

I agree broadly with your sentiments.

However:

“She had no concept of civil liberties”

Sure, but she didn’t introduce martial law for under-18s, bring in ID cards, satellite surveillance of motor vehicles and a national eavesdropping database, and she didn’t raise the legal drinking age to 21.

“Her smarmy relationship with Ronald Reagan, president of the US was appallingly sycophantic,”

But not nearly as sycophantic as Blair’s relationship with Cheney. Thatcher rebuked Reagan for invading Grenada without asking her first and reconquered the Falklands in defiance of the Americans (or at least elements of the military industrial complex).

No discussion of Thatcher’s legacy can be complete without mentioning her hypocrisy in signing the Single European Act but then weeks later declaiming “No, no, no, Jacques Delors!” Or her bare-faced humbug in facing down the IRA hunger strike yet giving in to their demands on the quiet a short while later.

Thatcher was awful, but her successors are in many ways much, much worse.

A state funeral is entirely unwarranted.

by Sesenco on July 19, 2008 at 11:05 pm. Reply #

“Thatcher rebuked Reagan for invading Grenada without asking her first …”

Without asking her first!

Considering Grenada was an independent country that just happened to have been a British colony in the past, that scarcely betokens the most enlightened of attitudes …

by Anonymous on July 19, 2008 at 11:10 pm. Reply #

Anonymous, the point I was making is that on occasions Thatcher did have the guts to disagree with the Americans. Whether or not she was right to do so in every instance is immaterial to that point. By contrast, Blair and Brown have obeyed Cheney’s orders with utmost servility. They are spineless lickspittle in a way that Thatcher never quite was.

by Sesenco on July 19, 2008 at 11:26 pm. Reply #

Sesenco

Yes, I understood the point. I just thought the way you put it was rather ironic – if it was meant to be a point in her favour.

by Anonymous on July 19, 2008 at 11:32 pm. Reply #

Having said that, I am somewhat relieved by the voting so far.

Given recent policy developments, I had been wondering whether Margaret Thatcher might be a viable candidate for the Lib Dem party presidency this time round.

by Anonymous on July 19, 2008 at 11:34 pm. Reply #

There’s a paradox at the heart of the question because she created the battle lines for political discussion, and clearly still does.

So on whichever side you fall regarding whether she was good for you or for the whole of society (and I don’t think she was for either, on balance), she gave our democracy a definite boost.

To be the target of vitriol is the price of fame.

A polarising figure.

by Oranjepan on July 19, 2008 at 11:43 pm. Reply #

I feel sad as the year’s pass that my hatred for an appalling creature who knew the price of everything but the value of nothing diminishes. She was the woman who set in train the centralisation of power that we see in the obscenity of Gordon Brown’s abject administration.

We were warned, but we voted for Blair – who she spawned. Brown’s first act was to be photographed with her.

Thatcher’s small town prejudice cast a huge shadow over late 20th century Britain but it is undeniable that busting the unions was necessary – and supported by the Liberals at the time.

When Elvis Costello wrote ‘tramp the dirt down’ I genuinely thought it would be her epitaph – but she (as usual) outstayed her welcome and has ended up as a senile, decrepid old harridan – and that unfortunately for her will be how she will be remembered.

I’m no longer bothered about tramping any dirt down – she needs to go with dignity, which I’m afraid her useless offspring or her spotty worshippers are incapable of accepting – hence the obscenity of a state funeral at a cost of £2m that the UK tax payer can’t afford.

by Dan on July 20, 2008 at 1:05 am. Reply #

Only Churchill and Wellington have had state funerals and of course in Wellingtons case it wasn’t for his miserable time as PM. the event would attract protests and something tels me the lady her self may not want it. the fact that this God foresaken government started speculation when the woman is in no fit state to respond says more about them than her.

Good or bad ? well I’m not up for a 10000 esay at tis time in the morning!

by David Morton on July 20, 2008 at 9:23 am. Reply #

Party time when she dies. There are some rather less than liberal comments here 🙁

I do not care for most of her policies and I have NEVER voted for one of her governments but I will not rejoice in the death of a fellow human being whose major flaw in my view is to hold a differnt political position to me.

by Spanny Thomas on July 20, 2008 at 9:40 am. Reply #

That a nation needs to debate the justification for a state funeral of one of its citizens is surely proof enough that it shouldn’t happen.

by Andrew Duffield on July 20, 2008 at 10:06 am. Reply #

Just to be advocatus diaboli for a moment. You could argue that next year we will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the election of the Conservative Government. he always used to define her own legacy as being complete when Britian had a non sociaist main opposition party (tick) and her three biggest achievements as being privatisation, income tax cuts and anti Union laws. Its inconeivable hat any of those three would ever b revrsed.

To use benns formulation there are sign posts and weather vanes in Politics. She was the ultimate sign post.

If you add to that being the first woman and the longest serving PM of the democratic age and three election wins you could argue she is a Titan.

What ever I tink of her she’ll enter the Pantheon and school children i 150 years time will write essays ranking her with gladtone, peel, lloyd george and Churchill.

by David Morton on July 20, 2008 at 10:08 am. Reply #

Well, I am going to make the case for Maggie. This is not to say that I think that everything she did was wonderful, or that she didn’t neglect to do some things she should have, just that the overall balance is massively to her credit. She is, IMHO, fully deseriving of a full state funeral although I, for one, hope that day is still a long way off.

A number of posters above have tagged her as being respoinsible for the deindustrialisation of the UK. That is massively unfair. She may have supervised this process, but it was fundamentally driven not by her but by the development of manufacturing technology. I have heard Nick Clegg blame Mrs T for the job losses in Sheffield, but the fact remains that a mostly automated steel plant with just a handful of employees can now produce more steel than a big plant with thousands of employees did in the 70’s. In the 70s, we contrived to spend huge amounts of money trying to preserve outdated processes in the nationalised industries, and this was simply unsustainable. Sure the miners’ strike may have been unpleasant, but then there was very little scope for compromise. Certain unions had made it abundantly clear that they did not want to see any progress at all. In such a polarised enviroment it is hard to strike a middle ground.

I have, in all seriousness, heard Lib Dem supports likening Thatcher’s handling of the miners to Stalin’s purges. All I can say is that such people obviously have a very narrow experience of life outside the UK.

In terms of her awareness for civil liberties, I think that Thatcher had a great deal greater awareness of the issues here than the current government. And, in fact, the way in which she showed how economic liberalism can improve the lot of the average civilian was a huge contributing factor to the collapse of the Soviert Block, and the subsequent incorporation of much of that into the EU, which remains one of the most major global civil liberties achievements of recent years.

The other big area that she is accused of is the breakdown of society. Again, I think that this accusation is massively unfair. There were a number of pressures in operation at the time. For instance, one of the big changes that really took off during the Thatcher era was double income families. This apears to have led directly to a number of less desirable consequences — less contact time between children and parents, the emptying of dormitory suburbs during the day and so on. But it is a hard balance to strike, because do we really want to go back to the assumption that women should be homemakers? Which maybe explains why, for changes like this, Thatcher had a broad range of support.

There are other things which she should have done, IMHO. The education system was allowed to fester, and welfarism was not really tackled at all. But then I think she is generally accused of having tried to do too much rather than too little 🙂

by passing tory on July 20, 2008 at 12:23 pm. Reply #

Thatcher is losing so far!

by asquith on July 20, 2008 at 5:19 pm. Reply #

I can’t stand the bloody woman, but does nobody else here see the delicious irony of a woman who declared that she wanted to dismantle the machinery of the state being given a state funeral?

And, you know, we CAN all do a reconstruction of the Jazz funeral in Live and Let Die on the day…

by Jennie on July 21, 2008 at 12:50 am. Reply #

To borrow her own words when she was finally sawing through the branch she was sitting on: “No! No! No!”

by Squirrel Nutkin on July 21, 2008 at 1:27 am. Reply #

An interesting point. Misregulation in Financial Services over Equitable Life which lost a lot of people much of their pensions and could cost the government billions, one comment in three days – a Conservative spending £8,000 on taxis in a year, seven comments – Was Margaret Thatcher Good for Britain, 24 comments in two days. In spite of having Vince, why do so few of us have any interest in the big issues?

by David Evans on July 21, 2008 at 10:53 am. Reply #

No comments does not equal no interest. No comments could mean that everything pertinent has already been said in the article, or that the article is SO interesting that I am going to blog about it myself, rather than just comment here.

A question to be debated will always attract more comments than a position baldly stated, because there’s always something to discuss.

Just sayin’.

by Jennie on July 21, 2008 at 11:22 am. Reply #

One of Thatcher’s more infamous deeds was her attempt in 1986 to relax the Green Belt.

As soon as the hint was dropped, we saw proposals for a belt of commuter suburbs along the M40 outside Oxford, a major shopping centre between Hook and Hinchley Wood, and 3,000 houses in a wood next to East Horsley Station.

And what were we told last week? Brown is going to relax the Green Belt so that thousands of Noddy-houses can be built in the Surrey countryside.

Thatcher appears to be senile because she spent 40 odd years inhaling her husband’s fag effluent, and shared his taste for lotions and tinctures. Thatcher was a loyal supporter of the tobacco industry, so she can’t complain.

by Sesenco on July 21, 2008 at 11:59 am. Reply #

Oh, I certainly go for the view that my Equitable Life posting was so perfectly formed that there was nothing to say 🙂

More seriously, it’s not a conincidence that the posting which posed a question got the most responses.

That said, I think there is a point that people in the party tend to talk relatively little about economic issues comapred to other policy area.

Hopefully some of the pieces on here (especially those from Tim Leunig) are helping to remedy that.

by Mark Pack on July 21, 2008 at 12:19 pm. Reply #

Margaret Thatcher. or Thatcherism to be more accurate, was only ever a symptom. Thatcherism was a force created by its opponents, not its supporters.

I’ll make me slightly unconventional point as short as possible to avoid producing an essay, but essentially it goes like this.

The Trade Unions were destroying Britain’s economy. That’s not to say everything that unions did then, or do now, was bad, but during the 1970’s they did a hell of a lot of stupid things. Particularly, they went on strike far too much and it was unqestionably damaging the economy.

Such was the ideological determination of the hard left, who were controlling the unions, that it was inevitable that they could only be beaten by an equally strong opposing ideogical force. They negotiation and common ground approach of Heath and Wilson had failed and Callaghan’s government was little more than a catastrophe.

So although this is a wider point, for me it is is summed up by the ultimate showdown: Thatcher vs Scargill. The miner’s strike was ultimately not about the close of mines and loss of jobs. That was what started it, but by the end it was about the hard left, embodied in scargill, trying to undermine the democratic process and bring down the government.

Anyway, I shall stop before I go off on a tangent about Scargill’s betrayal of his union members. Essentially my point is that Thatcher was definitely a good thing for Britain because the unions had made it clear that they could not be tamed gently. If not for Thatcher we would have just languished on through strike after strike until someone else did what she did.

by Kevin on July 21, 2008 at 6:51 pm. Reply #

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