When Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party, back in the 1970's, Great Britain was a completely different place to the society we know and love today. Many things have changed. Here is a list of ten things which are completely different to the first day she sat down with her new shadow cabinet.
1. The Conservatives became Eurosceptic Party. Under Ted Heath they were avidly pro European.
2. Vital nationalised industries disappeared into foreign ownership. Steel, Rail, Airports, Electricity and Water companies, all formerly deemed vital national assets were privatised and flogged off to foreign owners.
3. Centralisation of power. Due to the political activities of local left wing authorities, huge swathes of decision making and tax raising powers were removed from local control. Metropolitan authorities were dismantled and tax raising powers were restricted. Although localism has been trumpted as "a conservative value" this is a sham as Councils cannot set taxes at levels they see fit.
4. The Europeanisation of Great Britain. Despite Margaret Thatcher claiming to be Eurosceptic, she signed the "Single European act". This piece of legislation secured the central role of Europe in British life and was the legislation that opened the way for the mass immigration from Eastern Europe.
5. Entrenched Mass unemployment. Before Thatcherism, unemployment was seen as evil and wasteful. Under Thatcherism it rose to over 3 million and has never truly recovered. One of the most unfortunate side effects of Thatcherism was the culture of benefits dependency. Whole swathes of the country had industries destroyed. In the absense of new jobs, generations of families have embarked on new careers as welfare dependents.
6. Downgrading of the Armed Forces. Thatcher presided over the biggest run down of military capability in the history of the British Armed forces. Had the Falklands been invaded two years later, the Navy would not have had the capacity to retake the islands. Despite the ever increasing number of commitments, budgets and capabilities have been trimmed virtually every year.
7. Destruction of the consensus on education. Despite having presided over the near destruction of the Grammar School system of Education under Ted Heath, as education secretary, under Thatcher the decline of the Grammar system was halted and reversed. The political consensus that the Grammar system was not fit for purpose was destroyed. The concept of parental choice as adopted as the new holy grail in education.
8. The rise of homelessness in Great Britain. In the 1970's homelessness was virtually unheard of. Now it is part of daily life. This is all part of the long march of Thatcherism.
9. The demise of Social housing. Thatcher adopted the policy of selling council houses to tenants. This turned many working class people into Conservatives and introduced a previous level of aspiration unheard of in the working class. Perhaps the most contentious aspect of this policy was the fact that receipts from the sales were not reinvested in the housing stock. We now see the effects of this, with working class families unable to get accommodation.
10. The rise of the career in politics. Prior to Thatcher, most people entered politics after establishing a career elsewhere. Politicians were supported by non political civil servants. Thatcher didn't trust the civil servants and gave rise to a whole new breed of ideological appointees. This whole new race of people, living off the public purse, have grown into a very lucrative industry for all concerned. Of all the changes Thatcher brought about, I believe that this is the most dangerous and divisive. These advisers come are usually highly intelligent people, who come straight from University. They have little experience of life and no understanding of the constraints of working for a commercial organisation. They believe they "know better" and they are the people who draw up the "blue sky thinking" that influences policy.
The reason that Thatcher changed Great Britain so radically is because every single one of the policies listed above have been adopted as the way things are in Great Britain. We had 12 years of Labour rule under Blair and Brown and Blair and not a thing changed in relation to any of them. I believe that the bile poured out by the left towards Thatcher this week is misdirected. Her legacy was not reversed by Labour despite landslide victories and huge majorities. It would be perverse for us to expect the Conservatives to reverse Thatcherism when Labour has adopted much of it. The one lesson I learned from the coalition is that the Lib Dems are the same as Labour and the Conservatives when it comes to Thatchers legacy.
I personally believe that each point on the list has damaged the interests of Great Britain, with the exception of point 4. I also believe that until the Labour Party comes up with firm proposals to throw off the Thatcherite legacy, we may as well have a Conservative government, because at least we know where we stand with them. I would urge that the most important change we could make is to reverse the Thatcherite trend described in #10 on the list. Until we get people advising ministers who have experienced the rigours of working and the stresses and strains of family life on a tight budget, we will never see any improvement with regards to the rest of the points.