The person, the image, the icon: when so many people are shouting hysterically both for and against the phenomenon known as ‘Margaret Thatcher,’ a temptation rises in a mind like mine to try and make sense of it all. What simple truth can be told?
Take one thread: what she did to England. The story, to my mind, begins a hundred and fifty years ago. The great capitalists had not only deprived the independent poor of most of their land (‘the enclosures’): they were combining in companies and industrial corporations to deny their workforces all but the most basic supports of life, reducing them to conditions often worse than slavery (visiting American slave-owners were often shocked at the high mortality of English workers, particularly children: slaves, representing capital investment, were not squandered so recklessly.)
So, the birth of trade unions: a simple way for workers to combine and protect themselves against the new capitalists: against laws made in their favour, and the power those laws gave them, often exercised in the most horrific manner.
Over time, however, power corrupts; and the trades unions were no exception. After a hundred years, their own power was being exercised irresponsibly, unaccountably, with no concern for wider society. If this memory is not available to all, it needs to be recovered.
And so a proportion of voters (was it 34% of the electorate?) voted in a government headed by Mrs Thatcher to take on irresponsible trades union power. Whatever else happened, her government accomplished the job. But she and her party represented an even greater power: the power of naked capital, and capital-creation, to appropriate for its own profit the wealth and labour of others.
And so, quite simply, the gridlocked corporate industry of England was destroyed: and the City of London was liberated, to loot and pillage the world via the most corrupt system of finance ever invented. This power-house of appropriation has supplied the government with borrowings (and tax) to feed those reduced to meaningless subsistence by the destruction of corporate industry. And England became the place we know today: none of Thatcher’s successors have chosen to confront or undo a legacy which gives them so much in money and power.
At this point, the famous quote of Acton ‘all power corrupts…’ seems inadequate. The words of Jacob Burckhardt seem more appropriate:
‘Now power is in itself evil, no matter who wields it. It is not constant or dependable, it is a lust, and therefore insatiable: unhappy in itself, it is bound to make others unhappy too.’
A story simple enough.