Well Ed, Keynes might not have been on side..
Ed Balls’ recent announcement that Labour would prepare its Shadow Budget within Coalition spending limits came less than two weeks after the IMF urged George Osborne to slow the pace of cuts.
So why did the Shadow Chancellor meekly abandon his position just as it received tacit endorsement from an organisation that was hitherto austerity’s biggest cheerleader?
Keynesians were flummoxed. However, for all Balls’ indignation over austerity, Labour’s previous prescription was really just austerity-lite: they were still going to cut, just a bit more slowly.
Balls has recognised his limited room for manoeuvre. With the UK having lost its prized AAA credit rating in February, a slowdown in the pace of cuts – never mind a net spending boost – may ultimately increase the cost of borrowing and balloon the deficit further still.
The name of Keynes has been invoked by the Left to damn the austerity drive across Europe, while the Right ripostes that imprudence during the boom left the finances too fragile to countenance more stimulus spending.
Often overlooked is the fact that Keynes preached fiscal constraint in the boom times to leave a budgetary surplus to draw on when the economy contracts: “The boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity,” he wrote 76 years ago.
Achieving a tri-partisan compact to pursue such policies seems a forlorn hope if you subscribe to the axiom that voters tend to vote for parties that spend heavily during boom times but lurch rightwards when the economy nosedives.
The rise of fascism is often cited as exhibit A: European trends have often supported this theory. With the debt contagion threatening to engulf the Eurozone, a wave of Rightist victories left only Belgium, Denmark, Austria and Slovenia of 27 member states with left-leaning governments by 2011.
The election of François Hollande in France and electoral breakthrough of Leftists in Greece has reversed the polarity somewhat, but we’re a long way from 2007 when 10 left-of-centre administrations held power in the Eurozone.
The undeniable hardening of opinion against benefit ‘scroungers’ amid the biggest squeeze on living standards since the 1930s further validates the theory that voters grow less receptive to social justice narratives when their own economic situation deteriorates.
But people don’t simply become hard-hearted.
Swing voters – because most voters are solidly right- or left-leaning regardless – often vote for parties whose spending patterns mirror their own when income rises or falls.
But it’s counterproductive, cry the Keynesians, for the state to emulate a private household’s eminently sensible approach. Cut spending on eating out by £100 a month and a household saves precisely £100 a month. Income is entirely unaffected.
Between government spending and income, however, there’s a feedback loop, the so-called ‘paradox of thrift’: slash public spending and you put people out of work, thus increasing the benefits bill and reducing income tax receipts. Rising unemployment reduces consumer demand and fewer public-sector contracts are available to private businesses – again stunting growth and reducing the tax take.
Perhaps, then, swing voter should defy their intuition and vote in governments that implement countercyclical spending policies – so parties of the right to ‘fix the roof when the sun is shining’ and then of the left to cushion the crash.
Canada, which turned a budget deficit of 9 percent of GDP into a surplus in just three years following a humiliating ratings downgrade in 1992, represents a good case study for countercyclical spending. Scarred by the early 90s recession, there was a bipartisan consensus to avoid deficits, so the Canadians were better equipped for stimulus spending when the 2008 crash hit. Canada has created more than 600,000 jobs since the slump.
Perhaps European governments should practice what they preach to Northern Rock and RBS, who are forced to keep greater reserves of capital to act as a safety buffer during unforeseen events. “When you have an extra kidney, you don’t have to predict the source of harm – whether it’s going to be a snake or cancer or whatever,” said Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the Black Swan, on Radio Four last year.
“Likewise if you have a lot of savings, you don’t have to predict the cause of the next crisis. But if you have debt, you need to be very accurate in your forecast of the future.
“To emulate nature, we could just say we don’t want government debt […] we want a surplus in the good years. It is completely immoral to stick your descendents […] with the cost of your mistakes. Even if debt is economically efficient, you’re not bearing the risk.”
Increased spending during downturns and retrenchment amid booms would surely result in a more serene economic cycle; lower peaks, sure, but shallower troughs too.
It seems an impossible utopia. Across Europe policymakers have coalesced behind a consensus that deficit reduction should trump growth spending. Meanwhile, the Tories berate Labour for its profligacy during the boom times, forgetting conveniently how David Cameron had promised before the crash to “share the proceeds of growth” between tax cuts and spending rises – which surely would have resulted in a similarly huge deficit.
It seems that neither the Tories nor Labour have the stomach to challenge voters’ understandable instincts over state spending, whether its indulgence of largesse in the good times or approval of self-defeating austerity in the bad.
One can hardly blame them: had the Tory Party advocated punitive cuts between 1997 and 2007 their trio of General Election defeats would surely have been far heavier.
In that sense, when it comes to boom and bust, it’s neither the fault of Labour nor the Conservatives – we, as voters, sort of get the economy we deserve.
That said, the correlation between voting patterns and the state of the economy doesn’t consistently fit this model if you examine UK electoral history.
Labour governments were elected during the 1930-34 and 1973-76 recessions, although the early 80s downturn ushered in Margaret Thatcher and the Tories also presided over the next contraction, between 1990-1993. The 2010 General Election, the first since the 2008 financial crash, again returned a Conservative Prime Minister, albeit the Tories failed to win a majority despite the incumbent Labour administration having presided over the worst slump since the 1930s.
Winston Churchill is often quoted – falsely, it transpires – as saying:
“If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.”
You might also tell swing voters that if they don’t lean right during a boom and left during a bust then they’re fuelling a boom and bust cycle (a less catchy saying, I know).
This interview with Tariq Ali was conducted by Die Presse in Vienna and appears in German in the paper’s Sunday edition.
What is Mrs Thatcher’s legacy?
Her legacy is clearly visible in the state of Britain today. It is essentially a story of decay and ruin: A small, post-imperial vassal state dependent on nostalgia and, more importantly, the United States to keep itself afloat. On the economy the Thatcherite model (astonishingly, still being praised by blind politicians in denial) was effectively the deindustrialization of the country, the purchase of working-class votes by squandering the monies that accrued from North sea oil and laying the foundations for a financialised economic model that exploded with the Wall Street crash of 2008. We live in a world where it is convenient to personalize politics. Thatcher obviously pushed through the measures required by capitalism with a raw and ruthless energy that was her very own. She was a great believer in appealing to the lowest common denominator, to the animal instincts that remain present in the psychological make-up of individuals regardless of their social origins. Another politician could have done exactly the same things as she did using a less charged rhetoric. A number of old Conservatives were not shy in stating that their party had been taken over by English ‘poujadistes.’ She almost came a cropper. Had the Falklands war gone differently which it might have done if Pinochet’s dictatorship (pushed by Washington) had not backed Britain.
She outmaneuvered the once powerful Mineworker’s Union, forcing it to call a strike on her terms and then destroyed the union and in the process broke the back of a once powerful British labor movement. She had referred to the striking miners as the ‘enemy within’. Even as she neutered the unions, she effectively destroyed the old Labour Party. Thatcher’s favorite Chancellor of the Exchequer and cabinet colleague, Nigel Lawson, while reviewing a book in the Financial Times noted admiringly that the tragedy for the Tories was that Thatcher’s real heir was Leader of the Opposition. Blair’s policies were little more than a continuation of her policies with better PR and an aggressive control of the media. Blair was less lucky with his wars. Iraq finished him off. He was exposed as a simple and straightforward liar. The Scottish writer, Tom Nairn, was accurate in his assessment: “Like other flotsam on the ‘no-alternative’ wave of the nineties, they think that the essence of ‘modernization’ is adjusting society to fit economic and technological advances. Which means serving such changes, via a machinery of collusion between government public relations, a compliant legal system and a servile press.’
With Murdoch dominating the press agenda thanks to Thatcher’s ‘generosity’, she sent her tank commanders to fire a few warning shots at the BBC. A reliable and appropriately named toady, Marmaduke Hussey, was catapulted on to the BBC board as chairman. His first task was to sack director general Alasdair Milne for “leftwing bias” and ‘not being one of us.’ Thatcher was livid that the BBC had permitted her to be grilled on the Falklands war on a live programme by an ordinary woman viewer from Bristol who successfully demolished the prime minister’s arguments. Hussey appointed a pliable Director-General in the shape of John Birt, a dalek without instincts or qualities, who transformed the BBC into the top-heavy managerial monster that it has become. When New Labour won, a New BBC was already in place. Blair and his spin doctors Campbell and Mandelson turned out to be even worse control freaks than Thatcher. Together with their subordinates, they regularly harassed producers complaining about what they perceived to be anti-government bias. Radio 4′s Today programme became a favourite Blairite target. Simultaneously they were crawling to Murdoch at regular intervals, hobnobbing regularly with the editors and staff of the Sun and happily inhaling the stench of the Murdoch stables.
What do you consider her biggest achievement?
I can’t think of any, but the English establishment would see the destruction of union power and the opposition party (Blair and his coterie Thatcherised the Labour Party as is obvious to this day) as an prerequisite to the privatization and marketisation of the country, with private money enable to enter the hitherto hallowed domains of the public sector. This was their finest hour and just look at Britain today. The film-maker Ken Loach has suggested that her funeral should be privatised too and the highest corporate bid should take charge. Or, one could add, it could be sponsored by several firms with logos proudly displayed on the coffin.
What do you consider her biggest mistake?
Everything from neo-liberalism to wars. From her point of view she was supremely successful. Her legacy lives on, thanks to Blair and Brown, except insofar that she was a xenophobe and a racist as the Australian foreign minister reminded us this week. She told him don’t let Sydney become like Fiji. He was shocked since his Malaysian wife was standing next to him. Thatcher in her election campaigns used the phrase that she feared how ‘Britain was being swamped by immigrants’. This was when 2 percent of the population was non-white! Blair and Brown preached a bland multi-culturalism. But Cameron and Miliband have started off on immigration once again.
She proved to be as divisive in death as she had been in life. Has she permanently split British society in “haves” and “have-nots”, in winners and losers, in “wets” and “dries”, in “one of us” and “not one of us”?
She did not do so as an individual. A new course for British capitalism had already been agreed to by her party under Edward Heath. She implemented it and those who followed her went even further. British society is extremely divided but there is no reflection of this in the House of Commons. All three parties constitute the extreme-centre. The democratic process is under great strain and all over Europe and North America.
How do you view the street parties celebrating her passing away?
Inevitable, but also a sign of despair. Had she been defeated politically and her legacy reversed her death might have been ignored. But I always disliked the misogynism by sections of the left. ‘The Bitch is Dead’ makes one cringe.
Is the Britain we live in today “her” country in the sense that it is still shaped by her influence and legacy, and in the sense that she would recognise it as a country developing in a way and direction she would approve of?
Without any doubt, apart from Scotland. The Scots never voted for her, but whether they will have the courage to break from her successors and come out for an independent Scotland remains to be seen. I hope they do. It will shake up politics and open a new space in England as well.
Who is her true heir? Was it New Labour? Cameron’s Tories? UKIP?
Blair, Brown and Cameron make no secret of their admiration for her and her policies. If he’s in form, Blair might manage a few tears at the state funeral she is to be given next week. They’ll turn to millstones as they fall. I hope, second-rate actor that he is, he does. It will be very diverting.
What lessons can be drawn from her reign?
The 19th century poet, Shelley, expressed well what needs to be done. Then , as now, the country is without a serious opposition.
Children of a wiser day;
Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many, they are few.
Enoch Powell famously said that “all political careers end in failure”. Is this also true for Mrs Thatcher? How will she be remembered?
I always regretted that her career ended via a putsch within her own party. She was seen by some as a martyr. It would have been far better for the country had she been defeated by the electorate, but her personal humiliation should not be confused with her political successes on behalf of the class that she represented. They, and those in their thrall, will always remember her with affection. And her opponents should heed Spinoza’s words: ‘Don’t laugh or cry, but understand.’
Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).
What are the implications for the US if the hunger strike in Guantanamo Bay result in death?
The result will be widespread rioting in the Muslim world. The deaths will further fuel the resolve and enhance the aims of Muslim terrorists. A possible fragmentation of what friends the US has left in the Middle East is also a possible outcome
On May 5, 1981, imprisoned Irish Catholic militant Bobby Sands dies after refusing food for 66 days in protest of his treatment as a criminal rather than a political prisoner by British authorities. His death immediately kicked-off widespread rioting in Belfast, as young Irish-Catholic militants clashed with police and British Army patrols and started fires. Bobby Sands was born into a Catholic family in a Protestant area of Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1954. In 1972, sectarian violence forced his family to move to public housing in a Catholic area, where Sands was recruited by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). The Provisional IRA, formed in 1969 after a break with the Official IRA, advocated violence and terrorism as a means of winning independence for Northern Ireland from Britain. (The Provisional IRA, the dominant branch, is generally referred to as simply the IRA.) After independence, according to the IRA, Northern Ireland would be united with the Republic of Ireland in a socialist Irish republic. In 1972, Sands was arrested and convicted of taking part in several IRA robberies. Because he was convicted for IRA activities, he was given “special category status” and sent to a prison that was more akin to a prisoner of war camp because it allowed freedom of dress and freedom of movement within the prison grounds. He spent four years there. After less than a year back on the streets, Sands was arrested in 1977 for gun possession near the scene of an IRA bombing and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Because the British government had enacted a policy of “criminalization” of Irish terrorists in 1976, Sands was imprisoned as a dangerous criminal in the Maze Prison south of Belfast. During the next few years, from his cell in the Maze, he joined other imprisoned IRA terrorists in protests demanding restoration of the freedoms they had previously enjoyed under special category status. In 1980, a hunger strike lasted 53 days before it was called off when one of the protesters fell into a coma. In response, the British government offered a few concessions to the prisoners, but they failed to deliver all they had promised and protests resumed. Sands did not take a direct part in the 1980 strike, but he acted as the IRA-appointed leader and spokesperson of the protesting prisoners. On March 1, 1981 (the fifth anniversary of the British policy of criminalization) Bobby Sands launched a new hunger strike. He took only water and salt, and his weight dropped from 70 to 40 kilos. After two weeks, another protester joined the strike, and six days after that, two more. On April 9, in the midst of the strike, Sands was elected to a vacant seat in the British Parliament from Fermanagh and South Tyrone in Northern Ireland. Parliament subsequently introduced legislation to disqualify convicts serving prison sentences for eligibility for Parliament. His election and fears of violence after his death drew international attention to Sands’ protest. In the final week of his life, Pope John Paul II sent a personal envoy to urge Sands to give up the strike. He refused. On May 3, he fell into a coma, and in the early morning of May 5 he died. Fighting raged for days in Belfast, and tens of thousands attended his funeral on May 7. After Sands’ death, the hunger strike continued, and nine more men perished before it was called off on October 3, 1981, under pressure from Catholic Church leaders and the prisoners’ families. In the aftermath of the strike, the administration of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher agreed to give in to several of the protesters’ demands, including the right to wear civilian clothing and the right to receive mail and visits. Prisoners were also allowed to move more freely and no longer were subject to harsh penalties for refusing prison work. Official recognition of their political status, however, was not granted.
The hunger strike by prisoners held at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo, Cuba, is growing, as their fight against abusive conditions and open-ended detention gains international attention.
The number of prisoners reported on hunger strike increased sharply following an April 13 raid by U.S. soldiers that put nearly every detainee into solitary lockdown.
The hunger strike began Feb. 6 after guards went through prisoners’ Korans, supposedly in search of contraband. Soldiers also seized “comfort items” such as family pictures and mail.
By April 27 some 100 of the 166 remaining Guantánamo prisoners were refusing to eat, according to U.S. officials. Attorneys for some detainees say the figure is actually closer to 130. The military is currently force-feeding 23 prisoners through their nostrils. Five of them have been hospitalized.
American Medical Association President Dr. Jeremy Lazarus stated in an April 25 letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that “force feeding of detainees violates core ethical values of the medical profession,” according to the Miami Herald.
“There is a growing problem of more and more detainees on a hunger strike,” Dianne Feinstein, Democratic senator and chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote in an April 25 letter to President Barack Obama’s national security director. Feinstein requested the administration review the status of the 86 detainees cleared for release or transfer in the past, to find “suitable places to continue to hold or resettle these detainees either in their home countries or third countries.”
The International Red Cross also sent a delegation to the Guantánamo prison at the end of April for an “assessment visit.”
Some media coverage of the Guantánamo hunger strike has recalled the worldwide attention and political embarrassment for the U.K. created by the 1981 hunger strike by Bobby Sands and other Irish prisoners, 10 of whom died. Imprisoned in northern Ireland, they refused food to press their demand to be treated as political prisoners by the government of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
At an April 30 White House news conference Obama said he thinks the Guantánamo prison should be closed. “It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing,” he said. “I don’t want these people to die.”
A total of 779 detainees have spent time in Guantánamo since January 2002, when then President George W. Bush opened the prison camp following the Sept. 11, 2001, bombings of the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Some 613 of these have been released or transferred, most under the Bush administration, and nine have died.
Despite a January 2009 presidential executive order pledging to close the prison within a year, it has remained open. In May 2009, Obama ordered the resumption of military tribunals for some prisoners, after initially suspending their use, and affirmed that certain detainees would be held indefinitely without charges.
In November 2009 the administration made a short-lived attempt to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators in federal court for the Sept. 11 attacks. The five prisoners are now being tried by a military commission in Guantánamo, along with a sixth, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, charged in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen.
A month later Obama halted the transfer of further Guantánamo prisoners to Yemen, following an attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner that was traced to al-Qaeda’s branch in that country.
“There are 86 prisoners approved by Obama’s own task force for transfer. But until the hunger strike started, Obama was sitting back and doing nothing,” Andy Worthington, a British journalist who has written extensively on Guantánamo, said in a phone interview.
Supporters of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident still imprisoned in Guantánamo, demonstrated April 24 outside Parliament in London, to demand his release. More than 117,000 people signed an online petition calling on the British government to take “new initiatives to achieve the immediate transfer of Shaker Aamer to the U.K.,” which prompted a parliamentary debate on his detention. Families and other supporters of the Yemeni detainees have also held protests demanding their freedom.
“It was definitely murder – they clearly offed her with a pillow over her face because she knew too much about the Jimmy Savile scandal,” Rudolf Hambone has claimed on his daily internet radio show. Right On. “I mean, does anyone really believe that nonsense about an eighty seven year old woman with her life ahead of her dying from natural causes, completely out of the blue?” As the world reels from the news of the passing of the sainted former Prime Minister, celebrated conspiracy theorist and right-wing commentator Hambone is asking the question: who killed Maggie Thatcher? Rejecting the official story that she died peacefully in her sleep, Hambone has used his daily political discussion show to speculate, to the consternation of many of his fellow right-wing nut jobs, that Lady Thatcher was actually the victim of a high level conspiracy hell-bent on covering up the true extent of the establishment’s involvement with disgraced former Radio One DJ Jimmy Savile’s sex crimes. “If it wasn’t murder, then why were they so secretive about the removal of her body, putting all those black screens up around the Ritz Hotel and taking her out in an unmarked van?” he demaned in yesterday’s broadcast. “In fact, why was she at the Ritz in the first place? I don’t buy this nonsense about her recuperating there after hospital treatment – why didn’t she just go home like everyone else does?” He has also cast doubt on claims that, toward the end of her life, Mrs Thatcher was suffering dementia. “If she really was gaga, why was she at the Ritz? I didn’t know that room service there extended to geriatric nursing care!” he observed. “She was fooling no one, wandering around her house with a flowerpot on her head doing seagull impressions – it was all an act designed to convince ‘them’ that she remembered nothing about the Savile conspiracy!”
According to Hambone, the then Mrs Thatcher, a close confidant of Jimmy Savile in the 1980s, used her position as Prime Minister to prevent the police from pursuing complaints of sexual assault against the late TV personality. “She also got the Security Service, MI5, to ensure that stories about Savile’s conduct were never published by the press,” Hambone asserted on his programme. “The fact was that Savile was the centre of a paedophile ring involving numerous members of the British establishment, including at least one member of the royal family and several Tory cabinet ministers!” Thatcher, he claimed, engaged in the conspiracy after becoming besotted with Savile. “She was always susceptible to silver tongued bastards with a plausible line in patter – if it wasn’t Savile making her go weak at the knees, it was Reagan, PW Botha or General Pinochet,” Hambone explained. “Savile knew exactly how to butter her up with well-placed flattery – he even persuaded her to lend him the Prime Minister’s official country residence at Chequers for one of his notorious sex parties!” With Savile’s death in 2011 and the subsequent revelations about his activities, other members of the paedophile ring naturally began to worry that they, too, could be exposed. “They began to worry that Lady Thatcher could be the weak link,” claimed the broadcaster. “In fact, her ploy of pretending to be gaga backfired, as they became so worried that she might let something slip in her demented ramblings, that they decided they had to silence her!”
Hambone’s theories have been met with hostility from both left and right on the political spectrum. “It’s ludicrous and, frankly, insulting to suggest that Thatcher could have been the victim of some phantom conspiracy of the rich and privileged,” commented Labour MP Ron Smidghurst in the his column in the Daily Norks. “The list of good honest working class people who could happily have killed her is practically endless. But obviously, the right could never accept that someone from the lower orders might be able to successfully ‘off’ their precious Iron Lady! Oh no, it could only have been some toff!” However, right-wingers are equally appalled by Hambone’s allegations. “These claims, linking Lady Thatcher with something as sordid as a sex scandal, before she’s even cold really are despicable. It is clearly just a crude attempt by some publicity-seeker to boost listening figures for his obscure internet broadcast by capitalising on the demise of this poor woman,” said Norbert Clenchingthorpe, deputy editor of the vDaily Excess, which included a thirty page full colour glossy supplement celebrating the life of Lady Thatcher in its latest issue, along with an editorial calling for her canonisation. “I suppose we should be thankful that he isn’t claiming that her children, Mark and Carole, smothered the old lady for their inheritance, I mean, that Mark Thatcher was always getting into scrapes wasn’t he, and Carole must need the money since she was dropped by the BBC. Not they would have done such a thing, obviously.”
The Excess has its own theories as to the untimely demise of Lady Thatcher. “If she was murdered – and that is a very big if, despite all those stories about her health, we believe she was still fit enough to best any attacker in hand-to-hand combat – we believe that it would have been a politically motivated assassination,” Clenchingthorpe has claimed. “Indded, our money is on it being linked to her support for the apartheid regime in South Africa – we’ve had several reports of a black man having been seen hanging around the back of the Ritz. Obviously, they are far too upmarket an establishment to be employing that sort. Moreover, was it just coincidence that Nelson Mandela was released from hospital just a few days before her death? Is his supposed infirmity just a cover? Does he have an alibi for the night of Lady Thatcher’s death?”
Hambone is adamant that his version of events is true. “If she wasn’t murdered, then why will there be no lying in state for Lady Thatcher? Why can’t we see the body?” he asked on his latest show. “Is it because it shows the marks of violence? Ligature marks around her throat, perhaps? Or maybe a gaping bullet wound?” He has also queried the levels of security which will surround Lady Thatcher’s funeral, with troops guarding the route. “Just what are they worried about?” he asked. “Are they afraid that someone might try to break open the coffin and expose the fact she was murdered?” Ron Smidgehurst has another explanation for the security precautions. “They’re more worried that some of the poor bastards who suffered under her diabolical policies will try and drive a stake through her heart, just to make sure she’s dead, if they have her lying in state,” he claimed in his newspaper column. “It’s the same with the security on the funeral route – they’re afraid the coffin will be hijacked and her body disinterred and beheaded by an angry mob. I just hope that nobody chants ‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Out, out, out!’ while the hearse is passing by, otherwise the evil old bat will come crawling out of her coffin to blight our lives all over again!”
Even in death, Thatcher’s zombie ideology that “there is no alternative” will continue to feed on our imagination. The time has come to prove her wrong.
Thatcher is dead — and I am in a state of mourning. I am mourning because she got away with it. Just like that disgusting dictatorial friend of hers, General Pinochet, when the mass-murdering monster peacefully died in his sleep in 2006. They both got away with it. And worse: each left behind an ideological legacy so politically and culturally pervasive that we are still beating our heads into the wall just to try and erase it. Like some kind of zombie ideology preying on our collective imagination, the undying spirit of Pinochet and Thatcher lingers on into the 21st century. We protest, we write, we riot — but nothing ever seems to change. For these are the undead. They cannot die.
“Liberalize, privatize, stabilize!” The austerity mantra is repeated by bland and lifeless technocrats from Mexico to Greece, while teenage students lock themselves up in high schools and go on hunger strike in Santiago de Chile. Others run riot in the street, dragging policemen off their horses and beating them up with sticks. In London, the disaffected youth rise up in riotous fury, attacking police, looting shops and burning down their neighbor’s homes. “There is no alternative,” Thatcher said. In this neoliberal era of cynicism, the only alternative left for Generation Playstation has become the emulation of the effigies of consumerism; or burning down its symbols of authority.
The traditional Left still has good reason to hate Thatcher, and perhaps to organize some kind of public party on her state-funded grave. I don’t blame them. But I also don’t think the celebration of her long-awaited death will do the cause of the Left much good. The traditional Left — based as it is on defunct political parties and dysfunctional trade unions that toppled over the moment the Big Bad Wolf huffed and puffed and blew a whiff of its neoliberal hot air at them — is clearly moribund and destined for the dustbin of history. Partly, the ferocity with which Thatcher pursued her state-based class war was responsible for its demise; but for the most part the decline of state-oriented labor activism is simply the result of a process of structural change that goes far beyond the actions of an individual woman.
In an otherwise profoundly misguided article, Slavoj Zizek once rightly observed that the greatest achievement of Thatcherism was not the 11-year rule of Thatcher herself, but the premiership of Tony Blair. There is a truth in these words that should weigh heavily on the conscience of all those who remain committed to social change today. The great triumph of Thatcher’s neoliberal project resides not in the many confrontational ways in which she sought to weaken Labour, but rather in the subversive ways in which her polarizing rhetoric actually ended up strengthening Labour — eventually turning it into the most powerful weapon of the capitalist class. If anything, Tony Blair proved that it was never really Thatcher who ruled Britain, but the financial interests in the City of London all along.
From the very beginning it was clear that Thatcher was really just the bitch of financial capital — who did not mind biting ordinary citizens in the face on its behalf. She deregulated the financial sector with a religious ferocity that would make even an inquisition-era Pope blush; but she was by no means single-handedly responsible for the financialization and de-industrialization of the British economy. Indeed, the seeds of that process go back way further, at least to the late 1950s, when a combination of structural pressures and deliberate state actions helped to establish the so-called Eurodollar markets in London, which effectively served to re-establish the City as a major international financial center. And, of course, Thatcher’s deregulation of the City continued with equally dogmatic conviction under Tony Blair.
In this sense, Thatcher is hated not because she assaulted labor and destroyed the British welfare state — but because she did it with such religious zeal and such extreme determination. She was hated, in other words, not for the policies and ideas she pursued but for the ugly face she put on them, and the extremely obnoxious squeaking voice with which she barked at her opponents. Ultimately, Thatcher was hated because she personified the naked logic of class warfare operating underneath the technocratic surface of her neoliberal project. She was hated because she made “there is no alternative” sound like there really was no alternative; and because her version of class warfare seemed to veer on the same blunt brutality that had marked the profoundly dehumanizing logic of laissez-faire capitalism in the Victorian era.
For this, we should actually be grateful to Thatcher: at least she made it very obvious where she stood. From the extreme police brutality at the Battle of Orgreaves to the highly symbolic milk snatching from school children, Thatcher’s approach to class struggle was straightforward and in-your-face: “my job is to stop Britain going red”, she once proudly boasted. Under Thatcher, as under Reagan and George W. Bush, the battle-lines were clearly drawn: you were either with her or against her. Things were so simple then. What are we to do today, with the Orwellian ideological apparatus of the neoliberal project firing on all cylinders? Thatcher’s dictum that “there is no such thing as society” became Cameron’s “Big Society”. The policies and social outcomes are still the same, but many people just don’t see it anymore.
In the global class war of the 21st century, Thatcher’s blunt upper-class sneers have been replaced with the seemingly progressive reason of the embarrassingly subservient Nick Clegg; Pinochet’s murderous role in suppressing the Left became Piñera’s heroic role in saving trapped Chilean miners; Reagan’s cowboy attitude to CIA-sponsored coups and US invasions in Latin America has long since made way for Obama’s friendly smiles and silent drone strikes. In the process, the dehumanizing logic of global capitalism and neoliberal ideology is obscured with a gentle layer of good-intent. This is capitalism with a human face; a blend of market fundamentalism specifically tailored to making you believe it is in your best interest to obey.
But the financial meltdown of 2008 and the deluge of public debt that followed in its wake have made it clear that the financial sector still pulls the strings everywhere, and that the political puppet-show and democratic dress-rehearsal repeated every four years or so are just that: superficial changes to cover up a terrifying process of structural change towards ever greater capitalist control over our lives. Coming on the heels of the collapse of the corporatist Keynesian compromise that had marked the post-war decades, Thatcher’s relentless assault on the working class came to embody that structural change — it came to represent it. But it remains crucially important to make a distinction here: it was not Thatcher who systematically erased our dignity and destroyed our society. It was the capitalist system she sought to defend.
If there is one thing that captures Thatcherism as an ideology and sets it apart from the naked logic of capitalism as Thatcher otherwise expounded it, it must be the immensely effective mantra that “there is no alternative.” In this respect, Thatcher helped to bring about one of the most dramatic and most successful suppressions of humanity’s collective imagination since the invention of the Catholic Church. Indeed, the mantra was so powerful that it continues to be repeated ad nauseam by the right today — in the proclamations of Troika representatives, for instance, when they claim that “there is no alternative” to dramatic budget cuts, impossible tax hikes and a mass firesale privatization of state assets in Greece or Spain. This is surely the most powerful way to repress change and avoid any democratic debate.
And yet the mantra’s most destructive and subversive legacy resides not in its dogmatic appropriation by the right, but in the many subversive ways in which it managed to undermine the collective imagination of the Left. For instance, when reviewing David Graeber’s new book on democracy, John Kampfner argues that “Graeber’s unwillingness to set out credible economic and political alternatives is curious.” But did not Graeber, by helping to set up the New York General Assembly and by explicitly mentioning Occupy Wall Street’s anarchist roots and its emphasis on direct democracy, provide precisely such an already-existing alternative? Was not the prefigurative politics of the Occupy movement precisely the type of real-world alternative we have all been longing for? By just refusing to see it, Kampfner indirectly helps to perpetuate Thatcher’s dictum that there is, indeed, no alternative.
Either way, regardless of how successful her ideological mantras may have been, Thatcher was never really the prophet her supporters made her out to be. In the 1980s, she unapologetically defended the Apartheid regime in South Africa, stating that Mandela’s ANC “is a typical terrorist organisation” and “anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land.” For Thatcher, there was apparently no alternative to white racist rule in South Africa. Luckily, it only took a few years for the Iron Lady to be proven wrong. Now that global capitalism and neoliberal ideology are running on their last legs, the time has come for us — those anti-capitalists living in “cloud-cuckoo land” — to prove her wrong once more.
A COMPROMISE has been reached to help Britain solve its Ding Dong the Witch is Dead problem.(THATCHER)
A spokesman said: “The composers of ‘Ding Dong’ intended it to be triumphalist and optimistic. A witch was dead. A wicked witch.
“But while Margaret Thatcher left a divisive legacy, there is no evidence the Wicked Witch of the East took what she felt were the necessary though difficult steps to liberalise the Oz economy.
“She was just horrible and the Munchkins were right to dance around in the way they did.”
He added: “In order to reflect the true nature of Britain’s relationship with Lady Thatcher, a Leonard Cohen version would reflect great joy while at the same time being utterly depressing.
The corporation said it could also offer a double speed version that would make Cohen sound like an old, wise Munchkin. Like the mayor, or the one with the glasses.
Thatcher opponents have driven the song ‘Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead’ to the top of Britain’s pop charts. Was the ‘retaliatory’ promotion of a 1979 punk song fanned by fans – or a good capitalist moment?
Two songs are battling to the top of the British music charts in memory of Margret Thatcher. One is, her supporters say, in bad taste, but the one adopted by fans of the late Conservative prime minister isn’t quite what it seems, either.
Opponents of Thatcher have campaigned successfully to have “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead”, a song from the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz” composed by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, to reach the top spot Britain’s official charts.
The response from Conservative Party supporters was swift, with newspapers including The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph demanding that the BBC refuse to play the song. The BBC has said it will play a five-second clip of the song along with a news item explaining why during its official chart rundown on Radio One, Sunday.
RECOMMENDED: Keep calm and answer on: Take our United Kingdom quiz.
Equally irritated, though less outraged, Tories had another plan: counter Ding Dong with a song of their own. They chose the little-known 1979 punk number “I’m in Love with Margaret Thatcher” by the Notsensibles.
The British press loved it — and why not? It’s a good story, in a silly sort of way: a bit of political argy-bargy in a fun and digestible package.
The media didn’t exactly work hard to uncover the truth of the story, such as it is. A phone call to the band’s former frontman, Michael Hargreaves, was all it took to discover that the campaign predated the Tories’ adoption of it.
Hargreaves himself started the campaign with a Facebook page on Wednesday that soon garnered 8,000 likes. Surprisingly, though, by Friday it had been adopted by Conservative Party supporters as a counter to “Ding Dong.” Facebook, Twitter and Tory blogs lit-up with requests that people buy the song in order to keep the anti-Thatcher song from reaching the top spot in the hit parade.
Would Maggie be proud?
In some press interviews, Hargreaves has implied, rather unconvincingly, that he is a supporter of Mrs. Thatcher. But if the song is a hit, the royalty checks may represent some private enterprise Margaret Thatcher would approve of.
Hargreaves, an ex-punk rocker who now works with adults with learning disabilities, is an unlikely figure for adoption by Conservative Party members, though he did say “Ding Dong” was disrespectful. (Read a in-depth profile of Margaret Thatcher here.)
“My grandfather was [both] a Christian and a communist. I’m a fat, 50-year-old punk. You make your mind up about my political sensibilities,” he says.
Hargreaves, who is due to perform with his old band on BBC television news in Manchester on Monday, says he doesn’t really mind how high the song charts in the end, but that the experience has been fun. “We dunked a pebble in the lake and there seems to be a few ripples.”
Eighty-five seconds of the song were previously featured in the 2011 biopic movie “The Iron Lady,” starring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher.
“I find it hilarious that Tories have adopted it,” he says. “The song is a sort-of tribute and sort-of not.”
Her head will be used for dog meat.
Mrs Thatcher (archive)
The statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square declared: ’Never in the field of human governance was so little done for so many by one mad old bat. This idea will get a big bronze V-sign from me.’
Even Cleopatra’s Needle, Victoria Embankment, London, was observed to wilt for several hours at the thought of a Thatcher statue, while the smiles disappeared from the faces of the statues of Morecambe and Wise on Morecambe promenade.
Londoner and living statue Stewart Lansbury once tried a stint as a Thatcher statue but gave up after an hour because, even though silent and motionless, it scared the shit out of small children and pensioners who were ‘there at the time’. Lansbury said he’d heard that Lord Nelson was seen to vomit marbles from his plinth in Trafalgar Square, causing a number of minor injuries to tourists below.
Despite Baroness Thatcher’s antipathy to the arts, some sculptors have expressed a cautious welcome to the idea of a statue in her name.
‘I don’t want to knock holes in the idea,’ said Jacob Bernstein, ‘but when Thatcher was prime minister she was always chipping away at the arts budgets. So now maybe we can do the same to her.’
The only stone-hewn effigy reported to approve of a Thatcher statue is that of Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris in the Strand. ‘But the motive for Harris’ support is unclear,’ said an RAF spokesman, ‘but it may have something to do with Dresden.’
‘Some people have expressed surprise at the reaction of the statues to a Thatcher statue,’ said Mr Lansbury, ‘But they have feelings, too, just like the people they are statues of. Do you think they’re made of marble or something?’