In the week in which Margaret Thatcher dies, some are asking if it is too soon to think about the political legacy of Thatcherism 1979 – 1990.
The Financial Times front page coverage (9 April) ended with the unanswered question of whether current crises have their foundations in the Thatcherite 1980s, such as:
1. council house sales (housing crisis),
2. big bang in the city of London (banking crisis),
3. privatisation of utilities (energy crisis),
4. deindustrialisation (manufacturing crisis).
Added to which could be the deregulation of buses outside of London, the poor maintenance of state schools and hospitals, and the general limitations placed on local government all as legacies which still leave us with work to be done.
There are then the political party legacies: New Labour (1993-2010) and where next for the Labour Party; Conservatives and how long the scars of their ousting of Thatcher (1990) will continue to poison and divide it; and the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Green Party in trying to reach voters outside their core supporters through a sustained popular or populist movement.
There is a respectable argument that Thatcherism is best understood as a form of Maoism, in that it was a cultural revolution, anti-intellectual, anti-establishment and focused around a strong leader, a personality who can relate directly with ‘the masses’ as if unconnected with their government. However, there is a price to pay afterwards. I remember hearing a retired school headteacher who said that the best way to leave and hand over to the next leader was “if the water simply closed over your head”.
This humility and wisdom in a leader is unfortunately rare, but perhaps the best measure of a time of rule is the quality of the times afterwards.