1980s and Margaret Thatcher

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The Eighties were a time of great change in all aspects of society. It was a time of money, confidence and greed. The Government had changed in 1976 to the Conservative Party led by Margaret Thatcher, the first woman Prime Minister this country had ever had, and her style of leadership left its mark upon society for a long time. It was a time of economic growth thanks to a stable economy and everyone was encouraged to 'own' something, houses, cars, invested income. This had an effect on all areas of society right down to the youth of the time. Where the Punk movement in the Seventies had been a reaction against the unemployment situation, young people in the 1980s were put on Youth Employment schemes which were run by the Government. This meant that the unemployment figures were considerably reduced and there was much less opportunity for the youth of the time to protest. Whilst this seemed like a good idea, for some people it was not popular and was phased out quickly. However it did leave an impression upon many young people, that there was more to life than a Government pay cheque (dole money) and in the increasingly stable economy, it was a good opportunity for the business minded people to start to make money. Everyone was buying or selling something and making more money, in some cases, more than they had ever dreamed possible. Young men and women left school at sixteen or eighteen and went into business and became millionaires by the time they were twenty. Margaret Thatcher encouraged this idea for the individual to take control. The Eighties were becoming a time of excess, fast cars, fast money and everyone trying to get as much as they could for themselves. This confident attitude extended beyond the business world and in 1982 England was involved in the first major conflict with another country for forty years. The Falklands War lasted for a very short time but it gave Great Britain something to think about and raised the spirits of the nation who had started to become dissatisfied with the government in particular Margaret Thatcher. After the success of her Falkland Islands policy however, her reputation was restored and she led the conservatives to a sweeping victory in the parliamentary elections of June 1983. All the money that was being made so quickly was also being spent quickly. The young upwardly-mobile professionals (or yuppies) spent money in a style as never before. Designer labels were the fashion in clothing, as more and more people could afford to spend the sort of money that had only been available to very few until now. It became important to wear the right labels, drive the right car, be seen in the right places and live in the right areas of town. Parents could afford to spend money on their children and children came to expect to get what they wanted. Everything became bigger and better than the last model and that included toys and games too. Gadgets were popular and toys went in and out of popularity almost overnight. Fashion became more conventional, style was dictated by the chosen few and it was not cool to be different. Musically little happened than in comparison to previous decades, the charts were dominated by middle of the road bands who played a good tune but who did not challenge anyone's ideas or come up with any new ideas of their own. There were few notable exceptions to this such as Culture Club, a group that seemed to take up where punk dressing left off and wore make-up and outrageous clothes. The lead singer Boy George was a fashion icon of the time and started a trend for make-up for men. In October 1988 the London Stock Market crashed and many people lost huge amounts of money overnight. The confident and aggressive eighties gave way to the caring, sharing nineties and a change in the way that we saw ourselves and each other. Margaret Thatcher and her Government Margaret Thatcher is the second daughter of a grocer and a dressmaker who became the first woman in European history to be elected prime minister. She then went on to become the first British prime minister in the twentieth century to win three consecutive terms and, at the time of her resignation in 1990, the nation's longest-serving prime minister since 1827. Some people have seen her as a true political revolutionary in that she broadened the base of the Conservative Party to include the middle class along with the wealthy aristocracy. Thatcher was born Margaret Hilda Roberts on October 13, 1925, in Grantham, Lincolnshire, England. A clever child whose father was an ardent worker in local politics, she decided early in life to become a member of Parliament. She was educated at Somerville College and at Oxford University, where she was the first woman president of the Oxford University Conservative Association. She earned a master of arts degree from Oxford in 1950 and worked briefly as a research chemist. In 1950 she ran unsuccessfully for Parliament, although she did increase the Conservative Party vote by 50 percent in her district. The following year she married Denis Thatcher, a director of a paint firm. After her marriage she read for the bar and specialised in tax law. On her second attempt, in 1959, Thatcher won a seat in Parliament. Analytical, articulate, and ambitious, she soon became prominent among other politicians. Because of her debating skills she was frequently called upon by fellow conservatives to respond to the policies of the Labour Party, their political opponents. She served as joint parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance from 1961 to 1964, then as secretary of state for education and science under Prime Minister Edmund Heath from 1970 to 1974. Thatcher's political career was not always well regarded, however. In 1972, when she was at the Ministry of Education, for instance, she was referred to in the Sun newspaper as "the most unpopular woman in Britain." Yet she continued to rise in the ranks, and after the Conservative Party lost two general elections in 1974 she succeeded Heath as party leader. When the conservatives won a decisive victory in the 1979 general elections Thatcher became prime minister. Upon entering office she advocated measures that would limit government control, such as giving individuals greater independence from the state, ending government interference in the economy, and reducing public expenditures. Although her conservative philosophy met with approval, during her first two terms unemployment nearly tripled, the number of poor people increased, and bankruptcies resulted from her efforts to curb inflation. Thatcher became known as the "Iron Lady" because of her strict control over her cabinet and the country's economic policies. Extending her firm approach into foreign relations, she helped Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) establish independence in 1980 and two years later she oversaw the successful British seizure of the Falkland Islands from Argentina. This victory led to her landslide re-election in 1983. During her third term Thatcher continued the "Thatcher revolution" by returning education, health care, and housing to private control. She also supported the campaign to keep Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, a position that could have been fatal: In 1984 terrorist bombers nearly succeeded in killing Thatcher and several members of her administration in Brighton, Sussex. The bombing was allegedly the work of members of the Irish Republican Army, a nationalist organisation devoted to uniting Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland. In 1990, when a split within the Conservative Party was costing Thatcher political support, she resigned from office. During her tenure as prime minister, however, she set historic precedents and, according to political observers, she brought long-needed changes to British government and society. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ "I am in politics because of the struggle between good and evil. I believe that in the end good will triumph." "If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing." (Random quotes from Margaret Thatcher) ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Throughout her time as Prime Minister and even now Margaret Thatcher has been faced with great opposition. Her decisions and policies have been praised by some and scorned by others. Her success by some is even considered to have been down to luck, her chosen "issues" were, although carefully decided upon brought about through luck. However, what can't be disputed is the fact that Thatcher had a large part to play in many useful and advantageous projects. Her governing was so admired that many countries supported and followed in her path. But Thatcher became a world figure for more than just her politics. She combined a flamboyant willpower with evident femininity. It attracted universal attention, especially after she led Britain to a spectacular military victory over Argentina in 1982. She understood that politicians had to give military people clear orders about ends, then leave them to get on with the means. Still, she could not bear to lose men, ships or planes. "That's why we have extra ships and planes," the admirals had to tell her, "to make good the losses." Fidelity, like courage, loyalty and perseverance, were cardinal virtues to her, which she possessed in the highest degree. People from all over the world began to look at her methods and achievements closely, and to seek to imitate them. One of her earliest admirers was Ronald Reagan, who achieved power 18 months after she did. He, like her began to reverse the Ratchet Effect in the U.S. by effective deregulation, tax cutting and opening up wider market opportunities for free enterprise. Reagan liked to listen to Thatcher's various lectures on the virtues of the market or the minimal state. They turned their mutual affection into a potent foreign policy partnership. With Reagan and Thatcher in power, the application of judicious pressure on the Soviet state to encourage it to reform or abolish itself, or to implode, became an admissible policy. Thatcher warmly encouraged Reagan to rearm and thereby bring Russia to the negotiating table. She shared his view that Moscow ruled an "evil empire," and the sooner it was dismantled the better. Together with Reagan she pushed Mikhail Gorbachev to pursue his perestroika policy to its limits and so fatally to undermine the self-confidence of the Soviet elite. Historians will argue about the precise role played by the various people who brought about the end of Soviet communism. But it is already clear that Thatcher has an important place in this huge event. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- "Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope." (Margaret Thatcher quoting from a prayer whilst entering No.10 for the first time) "The forces of error doubt and despair were so firmly entrenched in British Society, as the 'Winter of discontent' had just powerfully illustrated, that overcoming them would not be impossible without some measure of discord." ( Thatcher commenting on her words in her memoirs "The Downing Street Years" P.19) ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ One of the main arguments against the running of the Thatcher government was the high unemployment rate. In her first government she proposed a remedy for Britain's economic ill's; Monetarism. This was an economic philosophy based upon the teachings of Milton Friedman whereby governments keep a tight rein on the money supply (via the Bank of England) by using interest rates. The theory is based upon the premise of "too much" money chasing "too few" goods; the root cause of inflation. (Prices increase because of increased demand and low levels of supply). The Bank of England would raise interest rates so firms and individuals are forced to reduce their borrowings. Managers must therefore keep costs down (esp. wage costs) to make themselves more competitive. A by-product of this is high unemployment which the Thatcher government thought was a "price worth paying". Furthermore they would not prop up any ailing businesses, particularly those nationalised giants; only competitive businesses would survive. British industry would contract but also be more efficient and competitive abroad. With purchasing power reduced as unemployment rose, inflation would be controlled and wage demands kept at moderate levels. Another outcome would be that union power would be curbed; people would be thankful to have a job and reluctant to strike. Thatcher and Howe (her Chancellor) stayed strong to this policy with base rates (core interest rates) peaking at 17% (1981). With massive spending cuts (forced reductions in local authority services & investment) inflation came down to 4% by 1983. Investment in Education and the National Health Service was curbed and unemployment peaked at 3 million, many businesses went bankrupt and there were riots in the streets. However, the Falklands war (April-June 1982) changed attitudes and despite unemployment levels of more than 3 million, the Thatcher government won a landslide victory at the 1983 general election and she was returned to power with a massive majority (397 conservative seats - v - 209 labour, 23 SDP & 21 "others"). Fortified by this huge majority, the government pushed ahead confidently with its programme of reform, which included Privatisation. Advocating improving efficiency and encouraging employees to be shareholders within their own firms, privatisation raised huge sums of cash (£2.5 billion between 1985/86) and a further £4.7 billion in the 3 years following. By 1987 Thatcher had sold off 17 major institutions to those in the general public who could afford to buy shares. This alienated millions who did not have the wherewithal to buy the shares, thus creating an underclass between the "haves" and the "have-nots" which still survives to this day. Lord Stockton, formerly Harold Macmillan referred to privatisation as "selling off the family silver". Thatcher then took on the unions, banning union membership from GCHQ where she implied union members were untrustworthy and in danger of compromising National Security. She refused to compromise in the Miners strike (February 1984 to March 1985) and she unleashed the army and police forces against the strikers. Her decision to press ahead with the introduction of the community charge, or 'poll tax' - which replaced the old rates system, in the face of widespread public hostility, severely damaged the Tories. On 31 March 1990, a huge anti-poll tax demonstration in Trafalgar Square, attended by many middle class voters as well as regular anti-Conservative protesters, ended in violent clashes. Ministers began to contemplate a reversal of the policy. However, as this was a flagship Thatcherite policy, such a U-turn was impossible whilst Thatcher remained at the helm. Prior to the poll tax riots she had already lost her Chancellor, Nigel Lawson, and was beginning to look increasingly out of touch with her party. On 26th October 1989, Lawson had resigned in protest at the over reliance on her economic adviser Sir Alan Walters. Sir Alan (standing in the coming election for the Referendum Party) strongly disagreed with the Chancellor's policy of shadowing the Deutschmark. Furthermore whilst the period 1985- 988 had been marked by strong growth, by 1990 the economy was heading for a severe recession. As the party headed into the autumn of 1990 trailing badly in the opinion polls Mrs Thatcher was increasingly viewed by many of her colleagues as a liability. A public conflict had occurred between two senior cabinet colleagues (Heseltine and Brittain) over the future of the Westland Helicopter Company. This led to the resignation of both ministers and called into question Thatcher's integrity and political judgement. Her apparent invincibility was beginning to weaken but the issue, that was to finally seal her fate, and provide her parliamentary colleagues with the opportunity to elect a new leader, was the issue, which still dominates debate in the Conservative Party today - Europe. At Prime Minister's Questions at the end of October 1990, on her return from a European Council meeting in Rome, Mrs Thatcher made it clear to the Commons that she was entirely opposed to the idea of a European single currency and the development of a federal Europe. The sight of Mrs Thatcher so strongly adverse to the idea of closer European integration proved too much for Sir Geoffrey Howe, an ardent pro-European and loyal Tory. Although they had been close allies in the early Thatcher years, the Prime Minister had removed Sir Geoffrey from his post as Foreign Secretary in the July 1989 cabinet reshuffle, replacing him with the up and coming John Major. Howe was offered the post of Leader of the House, an offer that he clearly interpreted as a demotion, and although Mrs Thatcher sweetened the deal by also giving him the title of Deputy Prime Minister, he resigned. In a dramatic resignation speech in the Commons on 13 November, he attacked Mrs Thatcher's anti-European stance and called on others to consider their own response to it. This was widely interpreted as an invitation to Michael Heseltine, Mrs Thatcher's long-time colleague and adversary who had walked out of her Cabinet in 1986 over the Westland Affair, to force a leadership election. A contest for the leadership followed. Although Mrs Thatcher beat Heseltine on the first round, there were enough votes against her to prevent an outright victory. She withdrew from the second round and offered her support to John Major - who saw off the challenges from Douglas Hurd and Michael Heseltine to become the new leader on 28th November 1990. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- "The younger generation doesn't want equality and regimentation, but opportunity to shape their world while showing compassion to those in real need" (Margaret Thatcher) ----------------------

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