To P-Noy gov’t: Beware of ruinous Thatcher policies

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

With her death last Monday at 87, Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s only woman prime minister in office for a record 11 years (1979-1990) has re-stoked the debate over her legacy, both positive and negative, that continues to divide British society.

Thatcher’s death “is mourned by half of the nation, and celebrated by the other half,” commented veteran journalist Paul Routledge, who had reported for The Times and The Observer on “all the major industrial, political and social upheavals of her rule.”

Within moments of the announcement of Thatcher’s passing, Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister David Cameron paid tributes to her, noted an International Herald Tribune news analysis. Cameron hailed her as “a great leader, a great prime minister, a great Briton.” His office announced she would be interred with military honors on April 17.

But, “the commemorations were accompanied by more acerbic, even vitriolic remembrances from those who saw her as a destructive figure who had ruptured the economic and social fabric of postwar Britain and left a country that was more divided, more selfish and, for the have-nots, more resentful than at any time in its recent history,” the IHT also noted.

Across the world, it added, “the response to Mrs. Thatcher’s death appeared to oscillate between similar poles.” US President Obama cited her as “one of the great champions of freedom and liberty.” Other leaders, particularly on the political left, bitterly assailed Thatcherism’s global spread that “consigned millions without recourse to the rewards of free enterprise to lives of unrelieved poverty.”

The IHT elaborated:“Along with President Ronald Reagan, with whom she helped define modern conservatism, Mrs. Thatcher propagated a faith in the redemptive power of capitalism that became dominant around the world and hastened the fall of Communism. But she also helped to unleash market forces, and unravel social compacts, in ways that many societies have yet to resolve.”

In its April 10 editorial, the IHT pointed out:

“The capitalist revival she sparked did not slow the over-financialization and deindustrialization of the economy, with clear and negative consequences in the 2008 financial crash. Her weakening of the unions also led to a regressively skewed distribution of wealth and, her critics said, a widening gap between the rich and poor.”

Added A. C. Grayling, headmaster of the New College of Humanities, in another piece:

“(Thatcher) began the deregulation of banking that led ultimately to Britain’s contribution to the global financial crisis of 2008. She reversed the trend of greater social integration and diminishing of the wealth gap that had characterized Britain in the three decades after 1945. Postwar convergences in class and wealth disappeared and former divisions resurfaced as consumerism and social incivility followed quickly on her brusque reorganization of British society.”

For his part, Routledge has drawn up a bill of particulars for what he calls a “necessary inquest into her life and influence.” Among others, he claims that Thatcher:

1. Decimated Britain’s basic industries of coal and steel. Shipbuilding disappeared along with much of heavy engineering.

2. Tried to destroy free trade unions through repressive legislation, and nearly succeeded. She branded miners fighting for their jobs as “the enemy within.”

3. Made mass unemployment “respectable” and used it as a tool of government. She created a new underclass of jobless men, took away their status as family breadwinners and forced millions of women into the workplaces to enable their families to survive.

4. Sold (privatized) Britain’s basic utilities — gas, water, electricity, telephone — and prices soared. She privatized the public buses and railways, and fares shot through the roof.

5. Enthroned the profit motive, unleashed the speculators in London, and surrendered economic policy to the “mysterious dark forces of ‘the market’.” These contributed to the current prolonged British recession and global economic crisis.

6. Tied Britain’s foreign policy to that of the US, opposed United Nations sanctions against South Africa for its apartheid policy, and dismissed Nelson Mandela (now that nation’s revered national leader and hero) as a “commie terrorist”.

The social-cultural impact of Thatcher’s long rule has created a generation of leaders who largely accepted her legacy and built on it, Routledge concludes. “It is still with us today,” he laments, “in the cuts strategy (harsh austerity policy) of the Tory-led government and its relentless attacks on women, working people, and the poor.”

Over here, the P-Noy government — before implementing its expanded privatization program under the Philippine Development Plan — also needs to study and learn from the debacle wrought on the British economy and the people’s lives by Thatcher’s privatization policies.

The government is on that very same path to ruin.

Take the case of water systems. The 1997 privatization of the Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System has resulted, according to IBON Foundation, in an average 1000% increase in water rates. Yet hundreds of thousands of families still do not enjoy continuous safe water supply. And the government wants more water districts to be privatized across the country.

The same is happening in the “corporatization” of government hospitals, with recent steep rises in laboratory charges. And with mass-rail transport rates. Etc., etc., etc.!

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April 13, 2013

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