The late Margaret Thatcher had an enormous impact on Britain and the world, but her legacy has been a more unequal, less prosperous Britain and world. She championed the wealthy and threw the national income to them; she systematically undermined the poor and middle classes. She championed neo-militarism and refusal to compromise in world affairs, undermining diplomacy.
1. In some part because of Margaret Thatcher’s policies, the share of British income of the top 1% had increased from 7.1% in 1970 to 14.3% in 2005. That is, the wealthiest 620,000 Britons take home twice as much of the national income every year as they did before Thatcher. The share of the working and middle classes plummeted in the same period.
2. In 2008, the top .1 percent, 62,000 Britons, received 5 percent of the country’s income, constituting a new aristocracy of wealth and privilege.
3. Half of the increase in income inequality at the top has gone to professionals in financial services, even though moving money around isn’t all that helpful to the economy compared to actually making something of value, and even though the financial sector was enabled by deregulation to engage in vast fraud and unsound investment practices, destroying the world’s economies in 2008. It was Thatcherite deregulation that laid the basis for this rise of the finance oligarchs. People celebrating that she kept the British pound and declined to enter the Eurozone, thus saving Britain from the current continental malaise ignore that the adoption of Thatcher-like policies on the continent is what produced that malaise!
4. At the same time, tax rates on the wealthy have plummeted, which means that the government cannot mitigate the consequences of the inequality, and has been forced to cut services for the poor and middle classes.
5. Current British government plans, following in the Thatcherite neoliberal direction, “would . . . lead to public sector job cuts of 710,000, more child poverty and a hike in university fees.”
6. In 1980 14% of the UK was in poverty. Today some 33% suffer multiple forms of financial insecurity.
“Over 30 million people (almost half the population) are suffering some degree of financial insecurity; Almost 18 million people cannot afford adequate housing conditions; Roughly 14 million cannot afford one or more essential household goods; Almost 12 million people are too poor to engage in common social activities considered necessary by the majority of the population; About 5.5 million adults go without essential clothing; Around 4 million children and adults are not properly fed by today’s standards… Around 1.5 million children live in households that cannot afford to heat their home.”
7. In 1980, five percent of households could not afford to heat the living areas of their homes. Last winter, 29 percent had to turn the heating down or heat only one or two rooms. Thatcherism has literally made them cold!
8. By selling off the one-third British government stake in BP, the oil giant, Thatcher’s privatization policies made the company unaccountable to any public and allowed it to pursue naked profit-seeking and disregard of the environment. The Gulf oil spill would have looked different and perhaps had a different outcome if the company had still been in part publicly owned. As it is, it is complaining about paying reparations to Gulf residents whose livelihoods it ruined! And, public ownership would have made it more open to pursuing green energy (as the governments of the UK and Scotland increasingly are) instead of doubling down on deadly hydrocarbons.
9. Thatcher’s absolute refusal to negotiate or compromise over the Northern Ireland issue undoubtedly worsened and prolonged that conflict. Only when she was out of office did George Mitchell demonstrate that a settlement was possible, in the mid-1990s.
10. Thatcher denied that there was any Palestine and her refusal to accept the Palestine Liberation Organization as a negotiating partner (at the time it represented almost all Palestinians) helped derail any peace process, allowing the Israelis to go ahead with the colonization of the Occupied Territories and the expropriation of Palestinian property.