When news broke of Margaret Thatcher’s death on Monday, my first thought was to write a small obituary the way we did for Gerda Lerner and Rita Levi-Montalcini. However, when it came time to say something nice like “she will be missed” or “what a great leader she was,” I couldn’t do it. I just could not do it. Why? While it was great that she was the first woman and the longest serving British prime minister of the 20th century, and it was sad that she suffered so many strokes over the past eleven years and is leaving a family behind, when you look more closely at what she accomplished while she was in power, she was far from the great leader many of her obituaries are making her out to be.
The biggest offense for me was the way she treated laborers and labor unions, instead choosing to focus on the individual, Although people did become home-owners, entrepreneurs, and bankers due to her approach, even more people became unemployed as well, especially in northern England–by closing factories and cutting social spending, Manchester quickly made a turn for the worse. In 1982, its unemployment rate was 32 percent. The greater Manchester area lost almost a fifth of its manufacturing jobs during the 1980s, and more than 125,000 people moved away. From 1979 to 1993, the poverty rate in Britain tripled. In the mid-90s, a U.N. report found that Great Britain had the most unequal society in the West.
Really? We’re supposed to celebrate a leader who hurt a great percentage of her population so she help give a leg up to some of the richest people in the world? It makes me furious. Yes, this is something that still goes on, but really? No wonder my dad’s response upon hearing the news of her death was “my heart is as broken as the lives of the laborers she destroyed.” Why should we give tribute to a leader who chose to hurt her country and not to really help it?
I could go on in great detail with other valid reasons why I can’t celebrate Thatcher–the Falklands, her friendship with leaders like Augusto Pinochet, the way she handled the Troubles in Northern Ireland (particularly the 1981 Irish Hunger strike) her stance against the unification of East and West Germany, the way she wouldn’t acknowledge the struggles of women while in a position of leadership herself (she didn’t believe in the glass ceiling)–but the labor one is the one that makes me the most angry. I feel she deliberately hurt her people, the ones she was supposed to be protecting, with her elimination of industry and the promotion of the individual over the group effort.
When politicians talk about the emphasis of the individual, they really mean one specific group of people–people who don’t really need anything as they’re well off to begin with. This is nothing new, and Thatcher wasn’t the only politician who followed this Rand-ian model of leadership, and she certainly won’t be the last. But I can’t sit here and say, “oh wow, Thatcher sure fucked up and helped set the tone for the current global political climate, but since she was a woman, I have to applaud her, she really made great strides for us. Who cares if she destroyed her people? Yay for firsts!” Nope. I can’t do that. Just because she was a woman doesn’t mean I have to agree with or even like her (in case I didn’t make that clear.) And thus, this is why I can’t say anything nice about her.
So, what’s your take? UK based readers, did I miss anything significant?