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Iron Lady: Rust In Peace


Margaret Hilda Thatcher (1925-2013) once famously said, in an interview to Woman’s Own of 31 October 1987, that "There is no such a thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families”. Naturally she was often reviled for such a proposition, including by me as I repeatedly quoted her and criticised her vigorously for it in lectures and seminars. Taken literally such a proposition is patently false. Clearly the collection of individuals and their families are interconnected in a vast and thick mesh of relationships – through economic, political and social institutions – known as “the fabric of society”. The total is infinitely larger than the sum of its individual parts. But what Thatcher actually meant is that society is all of us, and is not an external entity distinct from the collection of all individuals and their families, so much so that she went on to say: "And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first.” A perfectly simple and innocent call for self-help, and for restraint in the reliance on government transfers from a budget to which in the end we all have to contribute. Sure, she was neglecting the fact that welfare transfers are not necessarily always a disincentive to create income and wealth, that they also represent a stimulation of demand and therefore may generate employment and income, and that a more equal and cohesive society may be worth attaining - at least up to a point - even if re-distribution had a net cost in terms of efficiency. But even these omissions and reservations are legitimate though possibly misguided opinions, for which Thatcher did not deserve to be reviled. Therefore belated but sincere apologies are due and are here unreservedly made. read moreread more Nevertheless, there are still many exceedingly serious reasons to revile her. The general principle, that one "not speak ill of the dead", does not apply to influential public figures (as we are reminded by Glenn Greenvald, Guardian 8 April): noblesse oblige. I lived in England throughout most of her political career, from 1962-1982, and intermittently until after her downfall in 1990, and disliked her passionately. Mrs Thatcher - for I could never bring myself to call her a Lady - to me was forever Thatcher-the-milk-snatcher (as in 1971, while Minister for Education in the Heath government, she abolished free milk for school children aged 7-11 years). Never mind the destruction of the British coalmining industry: coalmining is an attractive occupation and culture only in the morbid, romantic literary sickness à la D.H. Lawrence, and miners should have been retired gradually by Labour governments over the previous thirty years, instead of being kept employed artificially as a reserve army of Labour voters. But there was no reason to confront them as Thatcher did and unleash riot police on horseback assaulting them: she could have easily bribed them instead with the proceeds of North Sea Gas.

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