Archives for posts with tag: Margaret Thatcher

Sermon for Evensong on the First Sunday in Lent, 10th March 2019

Psalm 119:73-88; Jonah 3; Luke 18:9-14

Turning is sometimes a bit controversial. ‘The lady is not for turning’ they said about a former Prime Minister. The current Prime Minister is praised for the fact that she ploughs on and does not turn from her desired path. It’s supposed to be a very good thing to be single-minded and steadfast, and not to deviate from your objectives.

But actually, a major theme of Lent is in direct contradiction with this. Lent is, among other things, about repentance, repentance meaning changing your mind, μετανοια in Greek. There’s a good example of it in our first reading from Jonah, about the city of Nineveh, the ancient Assyrian city in upper Mesopotamia, located on the outskirts of the present-day Iraqi city of Mosul. On the banks of the River Tigris, Nineveh was at the heart of the earliest human civilisation.

God didn’t like what was going on in Nineveh. He instructed the prophet Jonah to go there and denounce them, tell them the error of their ways. Jonah didn’t want to face them, and decided to run away to sea instead; but the ship got caught in a storm, and the sailors were deciding, by casting lots, whom they should chuck overboard to lighten the ship. Poor old Jonah drew the short straw. They asked him more about himself: where he came from and what he was supposed to be doing. 

Jonah told them that he worshipped the one true God, who made both sea and land. He also told them that he was escaping from this god. ‘What shall we do with you,’ they asked, ‘to make the sea go down?’ Because the storm was getting worse and worse. Jonah said, ‘Take me and throw me overboard: and the sea will go down.’ Jonah said that he knew it was his fault that their ship had been hit by this great storm, because he, Jonah, had disobeyed God. Well, they chucked Jonah over the side, and Jonah was swallowed up and saved by being in a whale.

Then he emerged from the whale, came back and had another go. This time he did carry out what God had instructed him to do, and he went to Nineveh to tell them the error of their ways. That’s where we come in and pick up the story. When Jonah had warned them that in forty days their city would fall – impliedly, because of their evil deeds – they changed; they repented. The king of Nineveh arose from his throne and covered himself in sackcloth and ashes. He spread a decree through Nineveh, telling the population not to eat or drink, but rather to show their penitence and turn from their evil ways. 

God saw what they’d done, that they’d turned from their evil ways, and ‘God repented of the evil’, he changed his mind about it, and he decided not to destroy the city. Changing your mind, here, is a sign of magnanimity, generosity of heart. God is, by definition, omnipotent. He can do anything. He has no need to change his mind. But he did. It wasn’t a sign of weakness. And so was the way the King of Nineveh reacted to Jonah’s preaching. He didn’t dig in his heels and pretend that what they were doing was right. He was big-hearted enough to admit that they were doing wrong, and they needed to change. 

Knowing that you’re right, and the other fellow is wrong, is all part of this. In the New Testament, Jesus has this telling story about the Pharisee and the publican, the privatised tax-man. Even Margaret Thatcher – of revered memory, of course – never tried to privatise the Inland Revenue: but the ancient Romans did. It was just like Capita or any other other outsourcing people. They incentivised the private tax collectors. You got to keep a percentage of what you collected, so, the more you collected, the more you earned. 

Peter Mandelson and New Labour would have been fine with it. They’re supposed to have said, ‘We’re relaxed about people getting filthy rich’. Just imagine. What a great franchise opportunity. No wonder the people hated the ‘publicans’, the tax collectors. But this publican had an attack of conscience. Although he was working within the rules, he knew it was wrong. 

But the respectable bod, the Pharisee, paraded his virtue and charitable giving. He thanked God that he wasn’t a sinner like the publican, an extortioner, unjust – and sleeping with other men’s wives as well. A thoroughly bad lot. But he, the Pharisee, was just fine. He didn’t do any of the bad things that the publican did. But even so, Jesus reckoned that the bad old taxman was the one who was more worthy of salvation. All he said was, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’. Jesus reckoned he would get that mercy.

I think this is a lesson for us today. What do we feel about whether we should let people whom we disagree with, or worse, whom we think are doing something evil, worship with us and be part of our church community? There’s an article in this week’s Church Times by the Dean of St Paul’s, Dr David Ison [See https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2019/8-march/comment/opinion/the-looking-glass-world-of-the-judgemental]. It is focused on the question whether LGBT people can be denied Holy Communion, because allegedly they are sinners, the question whether they are ‘worthy’ to receive. But it could equally be about anyone whose beliefs don’t chime with ours. I know that, for example, I disapprove very strongly of UKIP, and what I think it stands for. I think that in many ways UKIP is actually evil. But I know there are people who come to this church who support UKIP. Dr Ison says, in effect, that when we examine our consciences, we are all to some degree ‘unworthy’. We are all like the people in Jesus’ parable. It would be wrong for me to parade my supposed virtue in contrast with the sins of those whose views I disapprove of. Like the King of Nineveh, I must change my mind, I must repent.

A few years ago I tried to persuade the PCC at Cobham to make St Andrew’s an Inclusive Church, capital I and capital C – part of the Inclusive Church network. It would involve not just being inclusive, welcoming all sorts of people: certainly LGBT, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual – or ‘intersex’, the ‘I’ in LGBTI, but also telling the outside world, putting a statement of welcome for all, in public, outside on the church notice board. 

And not just LGBTI people would be welcome: black people, foreign people, people in scruffy clothes, people who might be homeless dossers, just coming in to be warm. Anyone. If your church belongs to the Inclusive Church network, there’s a sign outside to tell people, whoever they are, that they are welcome.

Do you know how I got on with my proposal to St Andrew’s PCC? Any ideas?  I lost, 19 votes to 2. They said, ‘Of course we’re inclusive. But we mustn’t offend the bigots by making it too obvious’! We mustn’t offend the bigots. Really. That’s what they said. Now I think that Inclusive Church is right within the ambit of what Jesus was talking about with his parable of the Pharisee and the tax-man. Even though the tax-man probably wasn’t ‘worthy’, he was welcome – welcome not just in the church, but even in the Kingdom of Heaven. 

I really think that our churches should be genuinely open and welcoming, and as Dean Ison says, you can’t start to exclude people because they don’t measure up to your personal standards, however apparently scriptural those standards might be. I know from talking to people who have felt shy about coming to a church, because they are worried that they are ‘different’ in some way, that it makes a big difference if the church has a sign outside which confirms publicly that there is a welcome inside for everyone, however different, or even defective, they might appear to some people to be. 

For me, one thing that means is learning to welcome even the UKIP people. It means changing my mind: repenting. During this Lent, what do you think you might change your mind about? Are you like the Pharisee, or like the publican? Or are you like the King of Nineveh, even? I hope and pray that you are.

Amen.

Hugh Bryant

Sermon for Evensong on the Third Sunday before Lent, Septuagesima
Ephesians 5:1-17

Today is actually Education Sunday, which is an ecumenical fixture promoted across all the churches in the UK. It is sponsored locally by Churches Together in Cobham, Oxshott and Stoke. This morning I preached a sermon at Mattins about Christian education, and I raised a few queries about what’s going on in our schools today, contrasting the church schools with the newer Free School in Cobham, which appears not to have any religious assemblies.

But this evening I want to come nearer to home and, if you like, to run a bit of a trailer for the study course which I hope as many of you as possible will try out during Lent. This year is one of the years when we will be organising the Lent course ecumenically under Churches Together again, and the groups will be organised on the basis that you will meet people from the other churches in Cobham as well as from St Mary’s.

I know that there is a sign-up sheet at the back of the church, and that Sue Woolley is the point-person whom you need to see if you haven’t signed up yet. There will be sessions during the evening and during the day most days.

What we will be studying is St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, from which our second lesson this evening came. Ephesians is not a long letter. It has just six chapters and in my Bible it runs over three and a half pages. It is nevertheless what the great Bible scholar C.H. Dodd regarded as ‘the crown of Paulinism’, Paul’s finest letter.

In its six short chapters Ephesians covers just about everything you need to know about Christianity. First, of course, about Jesus’ death and resurrection. Then about grace, about God’s generosity to us and the effect of it on us Christians.

The title of the course is, ‘Be Reconciled’. Reconciliation is a major topic in Ephesians. In the context of the early church, the people who needed to be reconciled were the Jews and the Gentiles – and St Paul was known as the Apostle to the Gentiles. Christianity would never have become the worldwide religion that it is, if it had remained as a Jewish sect.

The letter goes on to look at the wider context of reconciliation, reconciliation with God. Sin is understood as separation from, exclusion from, God’s love.

Other themes include St Paul’s perspective on the church, the body of Christ – not the churches as they are today, in lots of denominations, but as the way, the channel, through which the Holy Spirit works on earth.

I find it really fascinating to read and study anything which tells us about the life of the early church. Sometimes I think one forgets what cataclysmic events Jesus’ life, death and resurrection must have been for the people who were close in history to them. It wasn’t just something that you read about, but you could see the vital consequences, the living controversy.

Religion was very important to the Ephesians. They were people who revered the Greek gods: ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians’ you will remember they chanted in the story in Acts (Acts 19:28). It was a powerful city with sophisticated people. It’s interesting to see how St Paul and the other early Christians coped with this strong, confident civilisation which believed in different gods.

I think there can be messages for us to learn today. People may not say, ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians’, but there are other things which seem to be worshipped like pagan gods. There was a staggering letter in yesterday’s FT: the latest instalment in a correspondence which started with somebody saying that, for someone on £200,000 a year, a rise in tax back to 50% would cost about £7 a day, and the letter said, ‘What’s the odd £7 a day more or less, between friends?’ Someone who was that well paid wouldn’t miss it.

Then there were some other letters saying that no one had mentioned the point of paying taxes, that is, to support the community at large; but yesterday there was a letter from a lady in Evercreech, Somerset, whose judgement may of course have been slightly skewed because perhaps she had been flooded, but what she wrote was this.

‘The pursuit of success provides a satisfying goal in itself, resulting in financial rewards if it succeeds making the attendant sacrifices worthwhile. It is therefore galling to have this endeavour viewed by the public as a source of envy and by politicians as an asset to be plundered. Only when success is assured and large amounts of wealth have been amassed do the incentives change. Only a few will follow … [the] noble values of gaining satisfaction from a willingness to contribute to community. In the main, it becomes a game, with the driving motivation to outwit the Inland Revenue … The only way to reverse this trend is to shoot their fox by lowering taxes significantly and moving the goalposts again, in order for recognised philanthropy to become the new order of priority as a source of satisfaction and status.’ (Letter from Miss Sierra Hutton-Wilson in the Financial Times, February 15-16 2014)

I wonder what Jesus would have said about that. There is really nothing about anyone other than the self in what this lady writes. The main objective which she supports is ‘the pursuit of success’. First, become successful (meaning, become rich). Lower taxes will help you to achieve your objective. There is no room for philanthropy until and unless you have achieved your objective. Then, and only then, philanthropy can become ‘a source of satisfaction and status’.

Think about the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan’s motives were not a desire to feel better (satisfaction) or the be more highly regarded (status). Instead, as we read in St Luke’s gospel (10:33), when he saw the man who had fallen among thieves, ‘he had compassion on him’ – the Greek word literally means, ‘his innards were churned up’ by what he saw. It wasn’t, as somebody once said, only possible for the Samaritan to be generous because he himself was well-off; it was because he cared about the other man, the injured man.

After all, Jesus told the parable to illustrate what it was to be someone’s neighbour. There’s nothing in Jesus’ teaching about ‘satisfaction and status’. But yesterday, the Financial Times could print this letter under the heading ‘Philanthropy – the new status symbol’ without batting an eyelid.

As Christians, we have to be on our guard against these seductive ideas which encourage us to be selfish and not to love our neighbours. The idea that you get wealthy first, and then do some philanthropy not because it helps other people, but because it makes you look good, is superficially pretty attractive, and it has been endorsed by famous people. The person who said that the Good Samaritan had to be rich, before he could have done anything to help the injured man, was – who do you think? It was Margaret Thatcher.

So you wouldn’t be blamed for adopting that selfish theory – only be generous if you are rich enough, and if it makes you look good or feel better. The best people agree with you. That was exactly the challenge that St Paul and the early Christians faced. His letters, including his letter to the Ephesians, set out how he countered these seductive arguments. His arguments are still good value today. To follow self is to cut yourself off from God. Separation from God is what ‘sin’ means. So when Paul says, ‘Be reconciled’, he means, be reconciled with God, be saved. (See Ephesians 2:16.)

This is still so relevant today. Come and study Ephesians this Lent. I guarantee it will be very worthwhile.

Sermon for Holy Communion for Thanksgiving at St John’s, West Hartford, 28th November 2013
Deut. 8:1-3, 6-10 (17-20), James 1:17-18, 21-27, Matthew 6:25-33

Carved on the inside of the pulpit at Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge – I should say, ‘Cambridge, England’ – carved by the great preacher Charles Simeon, were the words, ‘Sir, we would see Jesus’ (John 12:21). In other words, the preacher’s job is not to leave you with an impression of the preacher, but to try to leave you with an impression of Jesus.

That having been said, I think I ought to tell you a little about myself, so that you can decide whether indeed I am qualified to be addressing you today. The bad news is, of course, that if you come to an unfavourable conclusion, I am standing here, six feet above contradiction …

In your notices for today, your Rector, Hope, kindly introduces me as a ‘maritime lawyer in England, a lay Reader from St Andrew’s in Cobham, Surrey’, who went to the same college as your Assistant Rector, and ‘who has charge over the chaplains at Guildford Cathedral.’ I have to admit that my legal practice ceased seven years ago now, so I’m a very bad guide to the ins and outs of the DEEPWATER HORIZON oil spill or the COSTA CONCORDIA tragedy; not only that, but it have also recently stopped organising chaplains at the Cathedral.

The reason for that is that I am now heading a team which is setting up, and will on 13th December launch, a food bank in Cobham, Surrey – from where I bring you greetings from the congregations at St Andrew’s in Cobham and St Mary’s in Stoke D’Abernon, which are the two parishes where I minister as a Reader. I’ll come back to the food bank in a minute.

The elephant in the room is that I am an Englishman, which probably disqualifies me from preaching to you Americans on one of your two greatest holidays, which are quintessentially American. We do eat turkey, but only at Christmas. Self-destructive urges are referred to as ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’. Christmas. Do your turkeys vote for Thanksgiving? Maybe they do. There is a Presidential pardon, I hear, so there must be votes in it somewhere.

So having said all that, which I suppose amounts to a rather laboured disclaimer, let’s turn our minds to the Word of God for today.

We are here to give thanks to God for His bountiful gifts. Although Moses in Deuteronomy speaks to the Israelites looking forward to the Promised Land, we’re already there: we have reached the Promised Land. You certainly have. Part of your history certainly involved a great journey from England to reach your Promised Land, and now here you are enjoying it. It is indeed a good land, where you will ‘eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing’, so obviously you shall ‘… bless the Lord your God for the good land He has given you.’

But here’s the bit which I want to talk about this morning. Moses said, ‘Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth”, but remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth.’ In the Letter of James, ‘Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above; coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.’ We have just sung the wonderful hymn based on that passage, ‘Great is thy faithfulness, … there is no shadow of turning with Thee’.

In St Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, ‘Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. …. Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.’

The question is whether it is us who are the authors of our own success or failure. Moses in Deuteronomy says very clearly that it was not because of the Israelites’ excellence or hard work, or whatever it was, that they had been saved from Egypt; it was because God had blessed them.

When I was in Hartford last, Hope and Bill asked me whether I had seen a film about Margaret Thatcher, called ‘The Iron Lady’. They said it was a very good film, and that Meryl Streep had done a wonderful acting job.

Now one of the things that I’ve noticed in my travels is that our friends in different countries very rarely see each other’s leaders in the same light as they are seen domestically.

Actually, perhaps we would all agree about President Kennedy. And yes, I can remember where I was when the news came through. Even at the tender age of 12, I remember the feeling of shock and disappointment which those events in Houston 50 years ago caused. I think that we probably would all agree that he was a great man, cut down in his prime, and that he had not been in office long enough to realise all the things he promised.

But when Hope and Bill told me what a wonderful film ‘The Iron Lady’ was, I had a different reaction. They, like all my friends outside the UK, thought Lady Thatcher was someone who should surely be celebrated, and that the film had done a good job of celebrating her. But I surprised them: I said I had no intention of seeing the film, however excellent it might be. Far from celebrating Lady Thatcher, I really thought she did a great deal of harm.

That is perhaps rather a harsh thing to say from a pulpit, but I stand by it. I can expatiate for a long time on the reasons. In essence, Margaret Thatcher believed that everyone had the seeds of their own success or failure within them: it was up to you whether you prospered or starved. She did not care for people who were not able to be active in the market, perhaps because they were old, or ill, or disabled, or not intelligent enough, or just poor. She even said to a journalist once, ‘There is no such thing as society’. She ruthlessly suppressed the powers of the labour unions, greatly reducing the protection available for ordinary employees. Thousands were put out of work. Industry was decimated.

One of her ministers suggested that, if one was out of work, one should ‘get on one’s bicycle’ and go where there was work. This was highly offensive, because the people who were out of work – at least metaphorically speaking – had no bicycles, and there was no work for them, anywhere.

According to Mrs Thatcher, it was up to you if you succeeded. According to Moses, and indeed according to Jesus, it isn’t. As we heard from Deuteronomy, Moses said, ‘Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth”, but remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth.’ Jesus said, ‘Look at the birds of the air’.

And that brings me to the food bank. When I was preparing to come here, Hope sent me an advance copy of your notices for today, which I’ve referred to already. In it, I see that last Sunday you an interfaith Thanksgiving service, joining with the Congregation Beth Israel from down the road. The offering suggested was an offering of non-perishable food for the West Hartford Food Pantry.

It might surprise you to know that, in the UK today, there are over 400 food banks. In the Borough of Elmbridge, where my home, Cobham, is, (which is said to be the second most prosperous borough in the country after Kensington and Chelsea), our food bank in Cobham will be the third food bank in that rich borough.

In England we used to have a ‘welfare state’. We had a safety net, and we prided ourselves on it. Nobody would starve if they were out of work, or disabled, or old, or suffering from anything else which prevented you from being able to have enough money, from your own efforts, to buy food. The state would provide a safety net. You would never starve. ‘Consider the lilies of the field’. It made sense.

That has gone. The present British government has so reduced the scope and effectiveness of our welfare state that there are large numbers of people who need to go to food banks for emergency non-perishable food: in other words, they are starving. There are people starving in Britain. I hope you find that as shocking as I do.

So we are following your good example, and setting up food banks. It is a very Biblical thing to do. In his letter, James says, ‘Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this; to care for orphans and widows in their distress’. Earlier on in the same passage, ‘Be doers of the Word, and not merely hearers.’

So after all, I think that, where I come from, we’re not that different from you. Christian people are trying to be ‘Doers of the Word’, we are trying to look after the orphans and the widows in their distress. And I pray that God will bless us – and you – in this work. At this wonderful time of Thanksgiving, with God’s help, let us all continue to ‘do the Word.’

Lord Young of Graffham, the 81-year old former cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher, who is now the Prime Minister’s adviser on ‘enterprise’, was on the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme today saying that 95% of the companies in Britain are small enterprises employing a couple of people or fewer. ‘If they all hired one more person, our unemployment problem would be solved’, he said.

The trouble is, what sort of employment is it? The Conservatives such as Lord Young want to ‘reduce red tape’ allegedly affecting small businesses, so as to encourage more people to start up small companies. Revealingly, Lord Young also said recently that a time of economic recession (the existence of which he conveniently denies) ‘low wage levels … made larger financial returns easier to achieve’ for the owners of businesses (The Guardian, 11 May 2013).

The difference, seen from an ordinary employee’s viewpoint, between a big company and a little start-up, is in the likely security and longevity, in the overall quality, of employment offered. Rolls-Royce in Derby (and worldwide), whom I recently visited, offer 100 local youngsters apprenticeships, and 100 graduates graduate training programmes, in their Academy each year. Once their training is complete, these people can expect long-term, pensionable employment with full employment protection under the law.

In a start-up following the Lord Young model, young people will be employed for short term contracts on the minimum wage, contracting out, where possible, of the protection offered by law – for example under the Working Time Directive, limiting employees’ hours of work. They will have minimal job security – this is the obverse of the much-vaunted ‘flexibility of employment’ which the current government makes such a virtue.

The Thatcherist programme continues. Having destroyed much of our manufacturing industry, the Thatcherists now work to ensure that the gap in quality of life between the rentiers, the bosses, and the employees is not just a question of rewards – although that gap has widened hugely since Thatcher came to power – but also involves huge disparity in job security and the ability to achieve a stable place in society.

Is there any evidence that cheap labour automatically makes for successful business? I suggest not. Good products and investment in people and technology would seem to be much more productive. Rolls-Royce in the UK, or, for example, Mercedes-Benz in Germany, are good examples. Government should make policy to help such companies to grow and prosper, rather than adding to the number of vulnerable, rootless and exploited short-term workers without proper skills, training or reward.

There are several key features of Thatcherism. They include the following.

Doctrinaire adherence to monetarist economic theory:
A belief that ‘public’ is bad, and ‘private’ is good:
A belief that ‘there is no such thing as society’:
Military adventurism.

Monetarism

When the Conservative Party led by Margaret Thatcher won the 1979 election, it followed a time of economic crisis – a loan from the International Monetary Fund in 1976, devaluation of the pound and interest rates around 15%. The ‘winter of discontent’ of 1978/9 saw the worst industrial unrest in Britain since the General Strike of 1926.

Thatcher decided that a particular economic theory, ‘monetarism’, propounded by Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and Alan Walters, was the only possible solution. It was ‘supply side’ regulation. If the amount of money was reduced, prices (and inflation) would drop. She said that ‘There is no alternative’ (‘TINA’). The economy was regulated according to various ‘money supply’ figures ‘M1, M2,’ etc.

The effect of this policy was to reduce the size of the economy, and in particular to destroy much of Britain’s manufacturing industry. Margaret Thatcher was willing to see thousands put out of work rather than modify her application of monetarist theory. Unemployment reached 3 million in 1980.

Just as Edward Heath, the previous Conservative prime minister, had inflicted huge economic damage through his imposition of a ‘3 day week’ in 1973 in the face of a miners’ strike, saying that ‘there was no alternative’ because there were ‘insufficient coal stocks to fuel the power stations’ – a claim which turned out not to be true – so Margaret Thatcher’s claim that ‘there is no alternative’ to monetarism was open to challenge, but she was still willing to sacrifice many people’s livelihoods for the sake of her economic dogma.

In fact, far from its being beyond doubt that her theory was right, in March 1981 The Times published a letter from 364 economists saying ‘there is no basis in economic theory …. for the government’s present [monetarist] policies’. For many ordinary people, whose livelihoods had been ruined by these policies, it created lasting distrust in politicians that a government could ignore the fact that there was principled disagreement among those best qualified to judge the wisdom or otherwise of what the government was dogmatically insisting on doing – and that the government preferred to stick to its questionable dogma rather than to maintain stable employment for the majority of the population.

Thatcherist economic policies, for example the abolition on restrictions affecting share dealings (the ‘Big Bang’, or deregulation of the stock market in 1986), harmed manufacturing industry and benefitted services such as banking, insurance and other ‘City’ businesses. This meant that for those without the necessary professional qualifications to work in the service sector, i.e. the vast majority, who worked in factories, employment became much more uncertain and the expectation of a single career for life disappeared. Of a working population only a tiny minority work in the favoured service sector. Apprenticeships have drastically reduced in number. All this has militated against social cohesion, and resulted in serious riots in Liverpool in 1981. People no longer had the ‘wartime spirit’ of working together for the good of the country as a whole.

It is noteworthy that David Cameron is again pursuing classically Thatcherist deflationary economic policies and justifying them by asserting that ‘there is no alternative’. Just as in the early 1980s, public spending of all types is being sharply reduced, and a recession made worse thereby. However, to the contrary, public investment, for example in major infrastructure projects, has been a powerful instrument in reviving economies in recession, for example under President Roosevelt in the USA in the 1930s, when a major road-building programme was undertaken, which created jobs and built useful assets conducive to economic growth – i.e. better roads. By eschewing such public investment, Thatcherist economic policies are still damaging the British economy, and putting many people out of work. There have again been riots.

Margaret Thatcher had never studied economics (she studied Chemistry at Oxford, and subsequently read for the Bar), and she failed to perceive some very important differences between British business practice and, for example business practice in Germany and Japan, with the result that British manufacturing has become less competitive. Industrial loans in Britain typically mature, i.e. have to be repaid or re-financed, over a much shorter period than loans in Germany or Japan, where the repayment period is much longer – typically seven years as against three. British manufacturers are rarely led by managing directors who are engineers, whereas German or Japanese manufacturers usually are. In consequence there is more emphasis on developing and perfecting better products than in the UK, where accountants rule. It is not accidental that most cars bought in the UK are produced by German or Japanese companies, and that although British car factories are producing large numbers of cars, they are not designed here, and the manufacturers are not British companies. Thatcherism has fatally weakened British manufacturing companies.

Public bad – private good

Margaret Thatcher, as a child of a successful shopkeeper, became successful, in the sense that she became prime minister rather than the successor in title to her father’s business, through hard work and application, she believed. She never acknowledged that she had received any public benefit. Her father sent her to a fee-paying, private school, and she did not win a scholarship at Oxford. Although in reality she owed a very considerable debt to her father for the privileged start in life which she received, she developed a strong belief that a person’s success or failure depends above all on their own efforts – every person is the author or their own success or failure, according to her.

This led to her despising public investment. She is reported to have said that, if one is on a bus after the age of 26, it is a sign of failure! (Interview on Thames TV in 1976). She despised universities, because she believed that they fostered belief in socialism (irrespective which subject one studied). Similarly she saw no merit in museums or theatres, and she almost never used trains.

Monetarism involved a belief in markets as measures of value. Things were only worth what someone was willing to pay for them. If something could not be bought, it had – according to Margaret Thatcher – no value. This reinforced her antagonism towards the arts, pure academic activity and research.

Her private good/public bad analysis was nowhere more clearly shown than in her policy to sell off council houses. She restricted funding to local councils so severely that they had to raise money by selling off their assets – of which the biggest was their stock of council houses. She forced councils, by various means, to sell their stock of houses at an undervalue, and offered subsidised loans to tenants in order to facilitate their purchases.

She believed that it was ‘better’ for people to own their own houses rather than to rent them. Houses were ‘better’ under private ownership. Of course in turning former council tenants into property owners, she had a gerrymandering objective, to manufacture Conservative voters. She was never censured for this although her close friend and supporter, Dame Shirley Porter, was ‘surcharged’ (in effect, fined) £27 million for a similar gerrymandering policy in the London Borough of Westminster in 2004. The sell-off of council houses, coupled with a policy which forbade councils from reinvesting the proceeds in replacement new houses, was to change the economic outlook for working-class people radically.

When council housing was readily available, people could undertake relatively menial jobs, and accept relatively low pay, and still enjoy a decent standard of living. Council houses were well built according to the so-called Parker-Morris standards, which laid down, for example, minimum sizes for rooms. By contrast, private developments were not subject to the same requirements. By being a council tenant, a worker was to some extent protected from the vagaries of the economic market, whereas once the same person had bought their council house, they were exposed to market forces such as interest rate rises. In order to enjoy the same standard of living, they needed bigger salaries – which employers were not willing or able to pay. The result was ever more unemployment.

The idea that only markets are reliable indicators of value was – and is – central to Thatcherism. Although she herself shied away from introducing marketisation into the National Health Service, her successors, such as Andrew Lansley in the Cameron government, have embraced the ideas of competition between hospitals and other ‘suppliers’ of medical ‘services’ for ‘customers’. This completely contradicts the founders’ idea that the NHS should be a source of treatment and healing for sick people irrespective of cost – and that the cost should be met out of taxation.

The likely outcome of this is to make the NHS more like the American health system – available, and very good, provided that the patient has private resources, in wealth or insurance coverage (itself often prohibitively expensive), to pay for the treatment. In the USA, poor people suffer and die, simply because they are too poor to pay for medical treatment. This is the likely outcome of Thatcherist policy in relation to the NHS.

‘No such thing as Society’

Margaret Thatcher used this phrase in an interview with a journalist from the magazine ‘Woman’s Own’ in 1987, following her third election victory. She believed that individuals could determine their own success or failure, perhaps by working hard. In 1981, her follower Norman Tebbit told unemployed people that his father had tackled being unemployed by ‘getting on his bike’ and seeking out employment. She had no understanding that the majority of working people have very little economic autonomy: far from being able to get on their bikes, metaphorically speaking, they have no bikes to ride, and little of the knowledge or mental ability to do so. They do not have the cushion of capital savings to fall back on which her policy calls for. Tebbit’s saying was, in effect, a cruel taunt.

Thatcher and her followers believed that, if someone was out of work, it was their own fault – they had lost their job because they had not worked hard enough, or they had gone on strike for better conditions. It was not understood that many places of work closed as a direct result of Thatcher’s economic dogma, the policy of restricting money supply, and through that, of restricting investment. The employees were thrown out of work without regard for their diligence or abilities. Although Margaret Thatcher may have thought that her policies were designed to promote self-reliance, in many people they produced only despair and cynicism.

Thatcher saw the protection which trades unions gave to their members, in the ultimate by striking, simply as an impediment to economic growth. She did not value job security for the mass of people, and therefore she passed a number of laws which restricted the ability of the trades unions to take industrial action in order to protect their members’ employment rights. The most damaging of these, the Employment Act 1980, outlawed ‘secondary action’; in other words, a union could strike only in furtherance of a trade dispute in which it (its members) were directly involved.

The result has been a decline in union membership and the perception among employers that the UK offers workers the least protection against loss of employment of any European country. Recently the Cameron government commissioned a report from Adrian Beecroft, an entrepreneur and Conservative Party donor, which recommended that employment protection regulation should be watered down so that the UK would emulate the USA, where employers can hire and fire at will. There is no evidence that reducing job security even further would in any way promote economic growth. In the strongest European economy, Germany, unions are represented on the supervising boards of companies and employment is strongly protected.

Where, as a result of their being able to exercise leverage despite the removal of much of their power, unions can maintain a credible threat of industrial action, as the RMT Union under Bob Crow does, its members enjoy much better rates of pay and job security than similarly-qualified people in industries where there is no powerful union to protect them. Thatcherists forget that there are many more potential victims – workers – than employers. Union power benefits society rather than the other way round, as Thatcherists would have us believe.

Thatcher’s nostrum that ‘There is no such thing as society’ has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In removing statutory protections and emasculating collective organisations who could stand up to those who threatened the security of ordinary workers, Thatcherism has further weakened the bonds of society. The emphasis is on individual success: there is no real concern for the weak, the poor, the ill and the old. Again, the change from the caring society enjoyed during the 1939-45 war and its aftermath is striking, and disastrous.

Military Adventurism

Margaret Thatcher’s electoral fortunes were waning badly in 1982. She embraced the Falklands campaign despite the following:

British foreign policy over the Falklands towards Argentina had for several years been directed towards negotiating handing over sovereignty, but leasing back the islands in a similar way to what had happened between Britain and China over the New Territories in Hong Kong in 1898. The ‘polar research’ ship (effectively, a warship) HMS ENDURANCE was to be scrapped under Thatcher’s cuts in public expenditure. The Argentine government could be excused for misreading the signs, and drawing the conclusion that Britain cared little for the Falklands.

Having decided that it was a matter of principle that the Argentine invasion was to to be contested, just as in other spheres Thatcher was willing to risk people’s livelihoods for the sake of a dogma, here she was willing even to risk lives. Every ship which went to the Falklands was hit by Argentine bombs. By luck, all passed through the hulls of the target ships and, their fuses having been set incorrectly, exploded harmlessly on the sea bed. The BELGRANO was effectively a sitting duck which was turning away from the Royal Navy – but Margaret Thatcher personally ordered her to be sunk, with the loss of hundreds of lives. Thatcher relied on the bravery and military expertise of the British forces to draw the public’s attention away from the disastrous effects of her economic policies, and give her a war leader’s halo.

This has had a terrible effect. Thatcher’s successors, Blair and Brown, and now Cameron, believe in military might as an instrument of policy. Countless Iraqis were slaughtered through Blair’s willingness to adopt GW Bush’s doctrine of a ‘war on terror’, even despite the lack of any UN mandate. Britain went to war against Iraq in breach of international law – but in the mind of the Thatcherists, this did not matter, so long as the war was ‘successful’.

Similar bloody logic has applied in Afghanistan. Originally our forces were committed as peacekeepers, and the mission was sanctioned by a vote in the UN. We were assured by a government minister that there would be no need for bloodshed and that our troops would be home soon. That was in 2002, and hundreds of British troops have been killed and maimed since. The government puts out the line that our military activity is allowing the development of settled government and education for women – that, in the face of hundreds of years of history, Afghans can be persuaded to change their beliefs by the use of force.

The war in Afghanistan is useful for the Cameron, Thatcherist, government, in distracting attention from the dire economic situation at home, which their dogma is making worse. There are parallels with Thatcher in 1982. The sight of the British Paralympians, missing limbs as a result of being hurt in Afghanistan, was appalling. These brave people had been maimed in a completely futile cause – but the Thatcherists do not care, preferring to stick to spurious dogma about ‘achievement’ in Afghanistan.

Now as our troops are finally being pulled out, the US Ambassador to NATO, Mr Daalder, has argued that the money saved should not be put towards relieving the hardship caused by economic failure, but to more spending on arms. Thatcherist orthodoxy is that ‘might is right’.

Conclusion

Thatcher and her successors destroyed the post-war consensus between the haves and the have-nots. She destroyed the idea that the strong had a duty to protect the weak in society. Her analysis of the parable of the Good Samaritan was that the Samaritan was only able to be charitable because he was rich. The obscenity of this is breathtaking, but the damage goes very deep. Uncritical acceptance of Thatcher’s TINA has become so ingrained that few perceive how repellent her morality was. As a result, our society has no stable basis any more. The guiding principle, set by the market, is dog-eat-dog.