Why do the Left want to kill Margaret Thatcher?
Yet, when Labour MP John McDonnell said this week to an audience of union members that he would like to go back in time to 1980 and assassinate Margaret Thatcher, he was greeted not with derision but with a loud round of applause. There has been no reaction from the Labour leadership.
Indeed, what makes this incident all the more disturbing is that McDonnell is no fringe backbencher. He is in fact a candidate for the Labour leadership, making him a potential future Prime Minister. Even worse is that McDonnell made his comments when surrounded by four of the five other candidates for the position, none of whom objected to his desire to kill a democratically elected Prime Minister.
Although tasteless, such remarks (as well as the tepid response from the Labour ranks) are not surprising. Twenty years after Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister, it is still common to hear such venom spat at a woman who is now extremely frail and struggling with severe memory difficulties. So why do the left hate Mrs Thatcher so passionately and indeed so much more than any other Conservative Prime Minister? The answer lies in her success.
When Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, Britain was in economic crisis, and had been for some time. From 1974, the top rate of income tax had been 83%, in some cases rising to an incredible 98%, killing growth, job creation and economic prosperity,[i] while inflation was dangerously high at 27%. In addition, powerful trade unions had taken control of the country’s many nationalized industries. The Labour government’s unwillingness to upset the unions -- one of their main sources of funding and votes-- meant that unions steadily grew in power until they had the entire country by the throat.
Strikes and power cuts became common as powerful unions forced the government to prop up failed industries. Any refusal by government to meet economy-draining demands by union leaders was immediately met with aggressive and often violent striking. This culminated in the “Winter of Discontent” of 1978-9 where a series of strikes meant that gas and power stations shut down, schools closed, waste piled up uncollected, trains stopped running and hospitals stopped taking patients. Famously in Liverpool, dead bodies were left unburied as gravediggers went on strike.[ii] Britain ground to a halt.
When, in the General Election of 1979, Thatcher’s Conservatives were elected, the Iron Lady hit Westminster “with the force of a tornado.”[iii] Within ten years she had turned the “sick man of Europe” into an economic powerhouse, mostly by exchanging Keynesian notions of tax and spend for classical free market economics in the style of Milton Friedman. Among the many policies she introduced, Thatcher slashed the top rate of income tax to 40% and cut the basic rate from 30%-20%. The average real income of British families rose by a stunning 37% between 1979 and 1992.[iv] Britain became the second largest producer and exporter of services, helped in part by a decrease in corporation tax from a crippling 53% in 1979 to a more reasonable 35%. Productivity and growth sharply increased as new jobs replaced old[v], London became a financial hub of economic growth on an unprecedented scale, and the country was propelled into prosperity.
Yet Thatcher’s most successful venture was in the fight with the unions, specifically coal unions. By the 1980’s, Britain’s coal industry had been a disaster for years, as policy had been dictated not by economic common sense, but by the hard-left National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) whose power made it almost impossible for governments to close down pits or lay off workers. Pits were making enormous losses, and coal that was being mined continually (irrespective of demand) was being stacked up in mountains. Government after government provided billions of pounds every year to subsidize a failing industry that had become little more than an expensive welfare program -- and one that was destroying the country.[vi] Thatcher was determined to change this, and dared to make cuts.
The head of the NUM was a self-proclaimed Stalinist named Arthur Scargill who was not only prepared to fight, but who saw the prospect of a mass strike as the opportunity to effect a socialist revolution in Britain, saying “This battle is certainly about more than the miner’s union.” In her excellent book, There is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters, Claire Berlinski shows just how dangerous Scargill and the NUM were to democracy and freedom in Britain.
Funded by Libya and the Soviet Union, Scargill could not be negotiated with -- his aim was not to help the workers, but to destroy capitalism altogether, bringing Thatcher’s government down with it. Throughout 1984-85, Scargill’s NUM tried to shut down Britain, with strikes, riots and flying pickets (where miners who wanted to work would be assaulted by Scargill’s mob and prevented from entering the pits) that unleashed chaos all over Britain. Thatcher’s Private Secretary at that time -- Charles Powell-- does not exaggerate when he states that Britain was on the brink of civil war.[vii]
Despite Scargill’s mobs being brutally effective, growing more and more violent by the day, and with Britain mere weeks away from running out of stockpiled coal, Thatcher refused to back down, and gave the police even more power to deal effectively with the riots. Eventually the miners, hungry and defeated, broke rank and went back to work. The Scargillian revolution collapsed, and Scargill was defeated. Berlinski notes that “it was the end of revolutionary socialism in Britain.” The radical trade union movement as a whole was destroyed, only regaining strength in recent years under Gordon Brown.
It is no coincidence that John McDonnell -- the Labour MP daydreaming about murdering Mrs Thatcher-- worked for a number of unions, including the National Union of Mineworkers. McDonnell has also recently praised the IRA for their “bravery and sacrifice.” This is the same IRA responsible for a campaign of terror that included the Brighton Hotel Bombing in 1984 -- the assassination attempt on Margaret Thatcher that killed five people but narrowly missed the Prime Minister.
The anger and the hatred from the left towards Mrs Thatcher is still very real, even decades after she resigned. Yet it must be understood that such people are not angry at Margaret Thatcher because of anything she did wrong, but because what she did worked. The destruction of the tyranny of the unions, the economic recovery and boom in prosperity, as well as her contribution to the fall of the Soviet Union[viii] dealt a severe blow to socialism in Britain. Thatcher showed that socialism does not work, and that free market capitalism does, and for that the left will never forgive her.