Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died Monday morning of a stroke. The country's first woman prime minister created a lasting legacy in conservatism - one that celebrates busting unions, privatization, and deregulation.
Margaret Thatcher may have been out of office for nearly a quarter of a century, but we’re still living in her world.
The former conservative Prime Minister of Great Britain died Monday morning of a stroke, but her legacy remains at 10 Downing Street.
The government is once again locked in a pitched battle with British trade unions. And the Labour party—led, ironically, by Ed Miliband, son of the Marxist intellectual Ralph Miliband—is a lukewarm, deracinated shadow of what it was before Thatcher came to power. Wave after wave of budget austerity have wracked the country’s finances and contributed to the gradual dismantling of the welfare state. Even the National Health Service, the crown jewel of the United Kingdom’s social safety net, is being irrevocably transformed.
Here are some of the moments that brought us to this point and embody the essence of Thatcherism, the political ideals of the “Iron Lady” that live on.
1) The miners’ strike
Thatcherism’s economic program was one of austerity, privatization, and aggressive union-busting. In the mid-1980s, Thatcher’s government said it would shut down 20 coal mines across Great Britain, costing some 20,000 miners their livelihoods. When the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) responded by going on strike, the government dug in its heels and waged a lengthy campaign to break the power of one of Great Britain’s largest unions.
Tensions reached a breaking point at the “Battle of Orgreave,” a violent clash between thousands of police and and thousands of striking miners at the coking plant in Orgreave, South Yorkshire. There were no casualties, but more than 100 people were injured, and the union eventually called off the strike. Thatcher’s defeat of NUM was a crucial moment in British labor relations, on par with President Reagan’s successful attack on the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization.
2) The Falklands War
Early in Thatcher’s government, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a territory of the United Kingdom, over a territorial dispute. Thatcher sent in troops, and was able to force Argentina’ s surrender within two months. 255 Britons, 649 Argentinians, and three Falkland Islanders died during the war.
Thatcher later thanked Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet for his support of British action in the Falkland Islands. When Pinochet was arrested for war crimes for his treatment of Chilean citizens, Thatcher campaigned for his release; Pinochet eventually served house arrest in London and received thanks from the prime minister.
“I’m also very much aware that it is you who brought democracy to Chile, you set up a constitution suitable for democracy, you put it into effect, elections were held, and then, in accordance with the result, you stepped down,” she said during a visit to the home where Pinochet was serving his house arrest in 1999, the BBC reported.
3) Mass privatization
Over Thatcher’s 11 years as prime minister, the Tory government pursued an aggressive campaign of privatization and market liberalization. Writing for the Guardian, Richard Seymour notes that within four years, “the government sold off Jaguar, British Telecom, the remainder of Cable & Wireless and British Aerospace, Britoil and British Gas.” British Steel and British Petroleum were soon added to the list. In 1989, Thatcher also privatized 10 water supply companies.
4) Section 28
Thatcher’s administration installed Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act, which forbids local government from promoting homosexuality. In recent years, the Conservative Party has tried to distance itself from the Thatcher government’s stridently anti-gay stance.
“There’s no such thing as society,” Thatcher famously said in 1987. “There are individual men and women and there are families.” Perhaps the definitive expression of Thatcherite morality, that one statement repudiated any policy that carried even a whiff of collectivism, and reflected Thatcher’s faith in both old-fashioned family values and free market individualism.
Thatcher also adopted the slogan “there is no alternative” to defend her policies of market liberalization and privatization.
6) Nelson Mandela the “terrorist”
Though Thatcher’s government was formally opposed to apartheid in South Africa, she also dismissed South African civil rights leader (and future South African president) Nelson Mandela as a terrorist and the anti-apartheid African National Congress as a “typical terrorist organization.” This is another view which the modern Conservative Party has publicly repudiated.
7) The near-destruction of the British welfare state
Recently released documents show that Margaret Thatcher had been planning even more right-wing reforms for the United Kingdom. Her 1982 cabinet planned to eradicate the National Health Service, the United Kingdom’s socialized health care provider and the centerpiece of British social democracy. Thatcher’s plans also included “introducing education vouchers, ending the state funding of higher education, freezing welfare benefits and an insurance-based health service,” according to The Guardian.