Monday, 8 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher – humbug alert

Few wish to speak ill of the dead. And so with the death today of Margaret Thatcher, even most of her fiercest opponents are being generous in their tributes and any criticism is muted (although Liberal Democrat Voice’s insistence on “tributes only” is going too far).

There will doubtless be a few ill-judged reactions in poor taste but don’t waste your disapproval on them. Instead, watch out for the unscrupulous politicians who exploit the memory of Thatcher to justify what they are doing now. Because however much today’s politicians pay fulsome tribute to Thatcher, they are actually deeply uncomfortable with her main attribute.

Whatever you thought of her ideology, the key thing about Thatcher was that she had an ideology. She was a conviction politician with a clear vision of what she wanted to achieve. Her famous statement “there is no alternative” (‘TINA’) was an expression of that conviction, not of consensus politics or convergence on a mythical ‘centre ground’. Her conviction was based on a moral idea of right and wrong, not on the bogus grounds that her preferences were obvious or inevitable. Thatcher’s agenda was above board, not smuggled in under the guise of non-ideological ‘pragmatism’. She thought radical change was possible; she did not accept conventional wisdom as a given and never attempted to merge into an homogeneous political class. She welcomed argument and did not respect people who always agreed with her. This is the antithesis of what mainstream politicians believe today.

Thatcher’s convictions have left an appalling legacy and many of the major problems we face today, such as the consequences of financial deregulation or inflated house prices, can be traced back to decisions of her government. But the problem was that her convictions were wrong rather than that they were convictions per se. It will require convictions of equal strength to challenge the consensus she created.

So as you listen to the tributes between now and the funeral, beware of the politicians who invoke Thatcher and ‘TINA’ to justify the status quo without providing any kind of substantive argument. Anyone who suggests that Thatcher’s victories in the 1980s mean we have no choice today will reveal that they do not understand Margaret Thatcher’s conviction politics and do not understand why, by severely limiting the range of political options, they are undermining democracy.

Postscript: As predicted, Francis Maude appeared on Monday evening’s edition of BBC2 Newsnight, arguing that Thatcher had settled a whole host of political issues in perpetuity.

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