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7 most annoying Thatcher myths

10th Apr 13 12:31 pm

Sinking the Belgrano was a crime? Not even the Argentinians believe that

Whether you are a true blue fan of the Iron Lady or will be opening the bubbly at the celebratory party at Trafalgar Square on Saturday, it is worth getting your facts straight. So here are 7 thought-provoking myths which both sides ought to appreciate being punctured.

1) She killed manufacturing

British factories increased output by 7.5% during her premiership. Output grew a further 4.9% by 1997. Curiously, it was under Labour that the decline hit. By the end of Brown’s tenure at Number 10, manufacturing output was lower than the day Thatcher left office. The manufacturing share of GDP fell almost continuously – as it did in pretty much every Western nation.

2) “Everybody hates Thatcher”

A Guardian ICM poll gives the Iron Lady a 16-point net-approval rating, with half of Brits saying she was “good for Britain”. And it’s not a de mortuis bounce. In September a YouGov poll revealed only two politicians in the nation were in net positive approval territory: Boris Johnson and Margaret Thatcher. David Cameron polled at minus 18, Ed Miliband at minus 29, and George Osborne at minus 53.  

3) Scargill wished to negotiate

Thatcher went to war with the mining unions. But her adversary’s role is often overlooked. Arthur Scargill was the boss of the National Union of Mineworkers, and what sort of a man was he?

In an extraordinary interview with BBC 5Live in 2000, Scargill reminded us that he was a Stalinist who adamantly supported the USSR, and suggested the Russian gulags – in which millions perished – might not have existed (prompting the listener who’d asked him about it to draw a parallel with David Irving’s holocaust denials). Famously, when asked how much losses a pit could make before being considered for closure, Scargill replied “the loss is without limits”.

On the eve of the strikes in 1984 energy minister Peter Walker put together a deal offering miners another job or a voluntary redundancy package, plus £800m investment in mining. He told Thatcher: “I think this meets every emotional issue the miners have. And it’s expensive, but not as expensive as a coal strike”. Thatcher replied “You know, I agree with you”.

Scargill turned down the offer, vetoed the expected ballot of miners to decide whether to strike, and, called a strike (Scargill later wrote about his decision in the Guardian).

Scargill’s politics eventually proved too extreme for his erstwhile political allies on the left, and he ended his career isolated and mocked by his fellow socialists. These days he declines to give interviews.

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4) The Belgrano should not have been sunk

Even the Argentine military don’t buy this myth. The misunderstanding comes from the nature of the 200-mile area Exclusion Zone. But the zone was a warning to neutral vessels, not an attempt to confine the conflict exclusively to the zone. Rear Admiral Allara, in charge of the Malvinas task force which included the Belgrano, said: “the entire South Atlantic was an operational theatre for both sides. We, as professionals, said it was just too bad that we lost the Belgrano”. The Belgrano’s captain Hector Bonzo confirmed: “‘It was an act of war, lamentably legal.”

Bonus tip: The Belgrano had been a US navy ship in a former life, and survived the attack on Pearl Harbor.

5) Thatcher started the end of the coal industry

Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson who served from 1964 to 1970 and again from 1974 to 1976 closed 290 pits to Thatcher’s 160. In 1967 alone there were 12,900 forced redundancies.

Between 1957 and 1963, 264 pits also closed.

Closure of the pits

Source: BBC

Closure of the pits

6) “There is no such thing as society”

Read the full quote and it is clear Thatcher meant the reverse. Here is the full quote from an interview given to Women’s Own in 1987:

“I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand ‘I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!’ or ‘I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!’ ‘I am homeless, the Government must house me!’ and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing!

“There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first… There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.”

7)  She chose inflation over jobs

The Philips Curve plots unemployment against inflation. It illustrates the trade-off: as one falls the other rises, and vice versa. In healthy economies the curve is tight to the X and Y axes meaning both are low. In dysfunctional economies the trade-off exists, but both are high. Thatcher’s goal was to reduce inflation at the expense of unemployment, so that part is true. But her goal was to dr
ag the UK’s Philips Curve back towards the X and Y axis. In plain English: she pursued low long-term unemployment and inflation at the cost of short-term unemployment. A more complicated trade-off than is commonly appreciated.


BONUS MYTH: She called Nelson Mandela a “terrorist”

One more myth: that Thatcher dismissed Nelson Mandela as a “terrorist”. We can find no evidence of this. What is usually quoted is her statement in 1987 when she described the ANC as a “terrorist organisation”.

David Cameron has described her statement as a “mistake”. But the context is interesting. It came in the aftermath of a speech in 1986 when Winnie Mandela endorsed the “necklacing” of political opponents. For the uninitiated, necklacing is the placing of a burning tyre over the head of the victim, to kill. She said: “with our boxes of matches and our necklaces we shall liberate this country.”

The “football team” which formed her bodyguard were notoriously violent.

The struggle for freedom was not entirely peaceful. At the end of the Eighties more than 5,000 were killed in skirmishes between the ANC and the rival Inkatha Freedom Party.;

Regarding apartheid, here’s what Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the former Inkatha Freedom Party, had this to say:

“She was a voice of reason during apartheid and listened attentively to my plea against sanctions and economic disinvestment, which we both recognised would hurt the poorest of our people the most.”

“I was privileged to visit [Baroness] Thatcher at 10 Downing Street in 1986, and was honoured when she specifically travelled to Ulundi to visit me as the chief minister of the erstwhile KwaZulu government.” He said never before had an international dignitary shown such respect for black leadership.

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