One of the triumphs of Labour spin over the last twenty years has been to caricature Thatcherism. Because they so feared its success, economically and electorally, they set out to associate it with a set of unpleasant characteristics so we would “never go back to it”. Their presentation of Thatcherism was a tissue of lies, but quite successful with some people.
Labour sought to endow Thatcherism with five disagreeable features:
1. The economics of boom and bust
2. Belief in or acceptance of great inequalities
3.Run down of manufacturing
4.Intolerance of minorities
5. Cuts in “front line public services”
They also attempted to tarnish popular Euroscepticism with these alleged failures, branding the “old” Conservatives as too Eurosceptic, and seeking to associate this mindset with the rest.
The truth is, of course, the opposite of most of this. Thatcherism was based on
1. Honest money – economic policy was grounded on targets for the amount of money that could safely be allowed in circulation to fuel non inflationary growth. Boom and bust was introduced by shadowing the DM and by John Major’s policy of joining the Exchange Rate Mechanism against Margaret’s better instincts, a policy urged on him by Labour and the Lib Dems in a consensual act of folly. The one Conservative economic error was to become too Euro friendly and to join a European scheme of economic management which was bound to fail.
2. Encouraging a land of opportunity for all, where anyone could get on in life whatever their background, whoever their father was, wherever they went to school. High Thatcherism was based on shares for all, more small business activity,sharing wealth and income through hard work and access to opportunity.
3. Manufacturing was seen as an important part of our economy. It was in the Tory years that the motor industry was rebuilt in the UK by attracting foreign captial and management following the collapse of the nationalised UK industry. The pharmaceutical, aerospace and other leading industries flourished with appropriate government help.
4. I never heard Margeret Thatcher express any hostility to people on the basis of creed, colour, religion or lifestyle. We sought a Britain that used all its talents, whatever their background. We did not wish to make windows into men’s souls or to send in the thought police.
5. In the 1980s the government pursued a radical policy towards nationalised industry, but a very traditional cross party policy rowards Health, education and the police. Each year saw real increases in funding, and the PM regularly made speeches explaining how much extra the government was spending. She did not seek cuts to front line services and valued new schools, hospitals and the additional teachers, nurses, doctors and police which she recruited.
If we compare this with Labour’s recpord, the irony is that they have come closer to their caricature of Thatcherism than the Thatcher government ever did.
1. They followed a policy which created a far bigger boom and bust than the ERM
2. Inequalities rose under Labour
3. Manufacturing output fell under Labour , compared to growth under the Conservatives
4. Labour promoted some minorities, but attacked other groups in society which it did not like. Do not be a Nimby or a motorist under this government.
5. Labour continued with the policy of real increases in spending on most public services, yet it failed to fund the army properly for the wars it wished to fight, and allowed so much of the extra cash to be absorbed in administration and pay increases that some cuts did take place despite the record funding.
The changes Conservatives are calling for today are changes to the way the UK is run. We have been run by a government of spinners for too long. Their cariacture of Thatcherism is one of their successes. It is time we swept it away, pointing out it is a tissue of lies. If only we had had the same success with growth, industrial growth and rising living standards in the last decade that we enjoyed in the 80s we would be a lot better off. The Conservatives have “changed” from the caricature of Thatcherism – mainly because most of it is myth not reality.