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Thatcher Day? No Thanks – Let’s Have a “Heroes Day” Late August Bank Holiday We Can ALL Support

British Heroes Day

British Heroes Day

Britain woke up on Wimbledon Men’s Semi-Final day to one of the dafter ideas of the year – the proposed re-naming of the late August bank holiday as “Margaret Thatcher Day” – shook its collective head incredulously and gaped in frank disbelief that anyone could suggest anything quite so stupidly divisive. Then it sighed with relief as it realised this was just another attention-seeking ploy by one Peter Bone – simply another of those tiresome so-called politicians who define their function by just how best they can publicise their tragically unremarkable careers – and fell instead to wondering whether to have toast or cornflakes for breakfast.

There was never anything to get really upset about, or to take too seriously.  Peter Bone MP has form for this sort of thing, after all.  His record reads a bit like a litany of gibbering lunacy and reactionary stances on issues such as abortion, gay marriage, the death penalty and conscription. He clearly subscribes to the maxim of “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”, and sallies forth on a regular basis, seemingly with one solitary thought in his head: how best to get Peter Bone MP in the news. He’s regularly one of the most enthusiastic expenses claimants, pays his wife top dollar for “secretarial duties” (so he’s big on nepotism too) and has a string of failed businesses and other ventures to his name. He also boasts a consistent record of losing supposedly safe seats in elections, sometimes bucking a national swing to the Tories by actually reducing their vote in the constituency he’s fighting.  All in all – not the sharpest or most useful tool in the box.

So those of us who do not inhabit the lunatic hinterland of the Tory Right can dispose of the latest Bone rant with a derisive sneer and a muffled chortle, and leave the Daily Heil readers to linger lovingly over what is a dead-in-the-water idea right from the start. But it does perhaps raise a legitimate question of the potential dedication of that anonymous late August holiday – many other countries use such occasions to pay tribute to their notable figures, so is it such a bad idea in principle?  Maybe not – so long as we manage to disregard the blithering of Bone and his ilk, and consider instead ideas from the saner end of the spectrum. The fact is that, whoever one might select as a deserving recipient of an honour such as becoming an eponymous bank holiday, the tribute is likely to be divisive to a greater or lesser degree. If you put forward the seemingly obvious name of Winston Churchill, you will hear voices raised by those with an awareness of his role in the General Strike in 1926. Those who espouse a free-market philosophy and howl in horror at the full-employment strategy that underpinned British politics until 1979 will not take kindly to any suggestion that Clement Attlee should be honoured by such a dedication. We’re a nation of many threads – and you can’t please all the people, all the time.

Why not then have a day when people of diverse views and differing affiliations can define their own tributes and make their own dedications – either singly or in smaller or larger groups?  It could be called “Heroes Day” and it would be an occasion for everyone to think of the person who means most to them personally, and commemorate that life and its achievements in the way they consider most fitting. Those who can gather like-minded people together could perhaps organise groups in tribute to a favourite hero or heroine. One group might have their Florence Nightingale Day, another might wish to raise a flag for Arthur Scargill.  Any or all of them could use their hero or heroine to create a local event, or maybe even something on a wider geographical scale.  They could raise funds for an allied cause, and generally do a lot of good.

Heroes Day.  It has a certain ring to it; the inclusive context tends towards the subjective nature of hero-worship, yet there is a patriotic flavour to it as well.  There might of course be a down-side: there will always be individuals or groups who will seek to ignite strife by seeking to glorify the names of those who most would feel are unfit to be remembered or revered.  That could be a knotty problem; the whole concept of a Heroes Day would be for self-expression to have its head and for people to be able to pay tribute as they see fit, and the introduction of any form of censorship would strike a jarringly flat note in that symphony of personal freedom.  It almost brings us back to the ridiculous idea which prompted this article.  Clearly, some careful thought would be needed.

On the whole, though, the idea of a Heroes Day has much to recommend it, and is no more open to abuse than any other such suggestion might be.  To a certain degree, you just have to accept that grown-up people have to be given the latitude to express their views and celebrate their beliefs as they see fit, and the existing laws and by-laws are after all in place already to deal with any extreme manifestations which might crop up.  On the positive side, there could be great benefits which might arise out of the events which could be organised nationwide to celebrate a Heroes Day.  Fund-raising and education spring to mind, cultural events and perhaps even job-creation could be possibilities.  And in these times of gloom, with austerity piling up all about us and threatening to drown us all under it’s murky incoming tide, don’t we need something positive to focus our attention and creativity?  A national holiday, with thousands of individual events dedicated to the whole panoply of heroes, both past and present, a source of pride perhaps comparable to last year’s Olympics and Paralympics, a surge of national well-being in the recognition of who we are and who we have been.  Heroes Day.  I really do think it’s worth considering.  Who would your August Bank Holiday hero or heroine be?

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True Cost of Thatcher’s 1983 Election Win to be Revealed??

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Later today, figures on the number of suicides since the early eighties among British armed forces personnel who served in the Falklands Conflict are due to be revealed.  The headline figure on casualties of the fighting is clear cut: 649 on the Argentine side, 255 British and 3 Falkland Islanders for a total of 907 human souls lost over a rocky outcrop or two thousands of miles from the supposed “mother country” UK.  Arguments may well wax and wane over the correctness of Britain’s historical claims to the Falklands, or Malvinas as they are known in Argentina.  A rhetorical question often asked goes along the lines of: how would the British national psyche take it if Jersey or Guernsey, for instance, were to be claimed as sovereign territory by, say, Peru?  It’s a hypothesis that perhaps doesn’t get us far, other than maybe to provide an insight into the sensitivity of feeling over the Falklands/Malvinas issue for the citizens of Argentina.

Thatcher: In Command

Thatcher: In Command

Whatever the true cost in lives of the Falklands conflict, what seems indisputable is that the military operation and its success in terms of objective achieved certainly boosted a Tory administration that had seemed in terminal decline at the time of the Argentine invasion.  It has been alleged that the British Government had prior intelligence of a pending military operation  planned by General Leopoldo Galtieri‘s ruling junta, the implication being that Thatcher’s cabinet saw the political potential of a decision to war-war rather than jaw-jaw, and so elected not to nip the situation in the bud.  The extent of the mess that this government found itself in is difficult to over-state; had they successfully deflected any threat of invasion, or had they launched a diplomatic initiative in the wake of the Argentine occupation, it is doubtful whether the impact on the subsequent general election would have been as great.  Pragmatically, “war” (even an undeclared war) was a better option than “jaw” – or so the conspiracy theory goes.

On the Argentinean side too, there appeared to be significant political advantage to be gained from a successful re-acquisition of Las Malvinas.  The Argentine economy was in an even bigger hole than that of the UK, and the effect of the invasion was a major boost to patriotic sentiment and the consequent short-term popularity – or at least acceptance – of the previously despised junta.  The historical precedent of a convenient war, to arouse jingoistic feelings and a surge in national pride, is there for all to see.  Both sides will have been well aware of the stakes, and a certain amount of brinkmanship may well have been at play.  This was probably more the case on the Argentine side, where it seems likely their military operation was calculated on the basis that the British would have neither the will not the logistical capability to mount a response in kind over such a long distance with all the problems of cost, supply lines and communications.  In the UK, the swiftness with which that response actually materialised was a tell-tale sign that Thatcher’s government were not only willing, but eager to launch the most emphatic counter-strike possible, and the fervour with which the public hailed the departing task force was a massive encouragement to the hastily-assembled War Cabinet.

The Sun's Perspective

The Sun’s Perspective

The attitude on the part of the British forces seems throughout to have been one of belligerent determination and ruthlessness.  Despite the problems of distance (mitigated to a large extent by the availability of the strategically-located Ascension Island as a stopping-off point), the task force had the inestimable advantage of its professional make-up; the troops were regulars, hardened pros, and many feared for the fate of the Argentinean rag-bag of conscripts should they ever meet in direct combat.  In the event, the Argentine forces fought bravely and effectively, leading to unexpectedly bloody and costly land engagements such as the Battle of Goose Green.  The conflict as a whole was more a series of sharp engagements on land, at sea and in the air, than any drawn-out and attritional process.  British naval losses were significant – the attack on HMS Sheffield following hard on the heels of the notorious action to sink the ARA General Belgrano.  Both sides were being hard-pressed to hold their political nerve in the face of dramatic losses such as these.

In the end, of course, there could only be one winner and the likelihood all along was that the British forces, superior in training and equipment even though stretched logistically over such a vast distance, would succeed in re-taking the islands.  So it proved, but at a tragic cost on both sides in terms of lives lost.  The die had been cast right from the start in that the losing side would almost inevitably see political change in the wake of the conflict and many now view this, from the perspective of over thirty years, as a calculated risk on the part of both governments concerned.  The determination to press ahead with military action and the relative marginalisation of the United Nations in the matter speaks of a strong political resolve on either side, and the results are clear to see; Galtieri was removed from power in January 1983, whereas Thatcher received an immense boost in the polls, and this “Falklands Factor” saw her sweep to victory with a landslide later that same year.  The monetarist Tory government was not, after all, destined to be a one-term experiment as had seemed so likely prior to 1982.  The course was well and truly set and the old-style of government, with full employment at the root of all its thinking, was consigned to history.  Thatcher may have been the economic disciple of Keith Joseph, but she showed the survival instincts of a polecat to go with her determination to make Monetarism work and banish old-style Socialism.  From that perspective, the loss of a few hundred lives in the South Atlantic may well have been considered expedient against the probability of electoral defeat and a return to what she will have thought of as the economics of disaster.

Thatcher was the big winner in the Falklands conflict.  It has been posited since that a great saving, in terms of money and human lives, could have been effected by ceding the territory to Argentina and providing each islander with a bounty of £1 million and a villa in the South of France.  This is, of course, a simplistic hypothesis, but the numbers certainly add up.  The British government of the day could not contemplate what they would have seen as a craven climb-down, with a devastating effect on how the UK was seen in the eyes of the world.  To this day, pro-Thatcher apologists refer to the way she “made Britain great again” or similarly extravagant claims.

Simon Weston OBE

Simon Weston OBE

It is notable in this context that one of the most fulsome tributes paid to the late PM, after her death in April this year, was from Welsh Guards veteran Simon Weston OBE who famously suffered extensive burn injuries during the Falklands campaign in the attack on RMS Sir Galahad. Weston is now seen as an inspirational figure for his recovery from his injuries and his charity work, and his endorsement of Thatcher’s premiership was seen as a powerful vindication of her policies, particularly where the Falklands issue was concerned.

What appears absolutely certain is that Thatcher gained herself an extra seven years she would not otherwise have had, to advance her own agenda, and change the face of Britain forever.  Whether you regard the number of lives lost as a price worth paying for that will depend, naturally, on your own political convictions.  But it may be worth noting, later today, just how high that price was when those official Falklands-related suicide figures are finally released.  At a time when our government today is starting to pile up the body count as people take a drastically simple way out of the world being foisted on them, we may reflect on this depressing tendency of governments to view individuals as mere political pawns or economic units, rather than people imbued with a spark of life and the right to an existence outside of macro political considerations.  Life should be seen as far too precious to end up as a statistic of the battle to stay in power.

After Thatcher – What Does Her Death and Her Legacy Mean To Us Now?

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Thatcher: 1925 – 2013

I’ve left it nearly a week after the death of the former Leaderene to chip in with my two penn’orth on her demise, and on the legacy she’s left behind. In that time, I’ve read many and varied accounts of what Margaret Hilda Thatcher’s death means to us, here and now – given that her term of office ended nearly 23 years ago. Those accounts have encompassed widely varying points of view, and have ranged from vitriolic hatred with a joyous celebration of the fact that she’s gone, to real grief arising out of sheer adulation and an evident belief that she was some sort of Messiah for our country.

My own position lies at neither extreme, but somewhere in between – though I will freely admit that I lean significantly towards that end of the scale where people do not have much positive to say about the late former Prime Minister. For what it’s worth, I feel that she was a divisive and damaging influence on the country; indeed such a massive effect did she have on the political and economic landscape, that we simply no longer have the options – in terms of achieving increased fairness in society – that we potentially had before she entered Number 10. She greatly reduced – in fact almost destroyed – the manufacturing industry in this country, advancing the cause of financial services and speculative banking to take its place as the main means of wealth creation. She sold off a large proportion of the social housing stock and failed to invest in construction to replenish it, thus creating a shortage of homes for the less well-off at reasonable rent levels, and forcing a greater reliance on private landlords, with rent levels being set by the market. The long term consequence of THAT was an exponential growth in the Housing Benefits bill, which has led in turn (in these times of austerity) to the perceived need for the Government’s unpopular “Bedroom Tax”. Even though it’s nearly 23 years since Thatcher left Number 10 for the last time as PM, tear-stained but defiant, her legacy affects us to this day, regardless of what they might say who would defend her with the specious “Well, it was all a long time ago.”

Those who still idolise her seem to do so for reasons which would appear not unadjacent to self-interest. Former footballer Paul Parker has blogged:

“Personally, I don’t see why football shouldn’t pay respect to Thatcher. She should be given a minute’s silence at football grounds because without Margaret Thatcher my mum and dad would have never been able to buy a house.”

Presumably, Parker is including in his rationale thousands of others besides his mum and dad, who were also given the opportunity to buy their council houses, many at hefty discounts. But the theme of “well, she was wonderful because, hey – look what she did for me” is a recurrent one among those who remember her most fondly. Parker goes on to say:

“At the end of the day, she was the Primer (sic) Minister of Great Britain so there should be a minute’s silence as far as I’m concerned.”

He doesn’t elaborate on his views as to whether or not Heath, Wilson or Callaghan should have been so honoured (they weren’t) – but I suspect his devotion is to The Lady alone – and good defender though he might have been, Parker is clearly not a cerebral heavyweight.

The other end of the scale is represented (at its extreme) by people who felt moved to dance in the streets in celebration, and contribute to a surge up the music charts for “Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead” by Judy Garland. Yes, I bought it too. Sue me. Rather than simply bemoaning human nature for these displays of jubilation at the death of a bewildered old woman, it would perhaps serve us better to re-examine some other factors lying behind such hatred.

Quite apart from the policies I’ve referred to above, it’s also possible to find fault in what might be termed Thatcher’s unfortunate personal style. Early in her long stint as leader of the Tories, she was taking elocution lessons to modulate her slightly shrill voice, but the effect was of suburban faux gentility, with a teeth-grindingly patronising edge, rather than anything persuasive or statesmanlike. She was ironically at her most effective when she became strident, as she often did when faced with anything other than unquestioning agreement and obedience; then, she simply blew everything but the most determined opposition clear out of the water, terrifying male colleagues with smaller, less hairy balls than hers, and encouraging cowed Soviets to dub her the “Iron Lady”. She was also referred to as “The Iron Chicken” and “Attila the Hen”.

Still others who remember her less than fondly will recall that she was in very real danger of becoming just another one-term PM, and the least popular ever at that, when an opportune military conflict with Argentina cropped up in 1982. The summer of ’81 had seen a wave of riots as her policies saw unemployment rise sharply, seemingly a price her government was willing to pay for the economic direction it was so rigidly set on. Thatcher was in trouble at this point, trailing massively in the polls, but as a result of the “Falklands Factor” she won a landslide in 1983. Then the miners were unwise enough to take her on in the middle of the decade, pronouncing themselves determined to bring her government down. But Thatcher was wise to them; she had learned from Edward Heath’s mistakes in the early 70’s and had stockpiled enough coal to, in effect, starve the pit-men back to work – albeit with much human suffering and collateral damage, not least on the picket-lines at Orgreave and elsewhere. It was a humiliating defeat for miners’ leader Arthur Scargill, but – whatever you may think about him – his prediction that the Tories were out to kill the mining industry, along with its close-knit and long-standing communities, proved to be spot-on. Relatively fresh from subduing Scargill and his followers, Thatcher won again in 1987, and would eventually occupy the office of PM for over eleven years. In the end, it took her own colleagues to remove her in a coup that she ever after thought of as the basest treachery. But the fact remains that she clung on to power despite profound levels of unpopularity, aided in her latter two election victories by what many still see as naked opportunism and the survival instincts of a mongoose.

Some would seek to defend her place in history as the first – and to date only – female Prime Minister. Even I might be tempted to support a historical achievement such as that – if she had done more for women whilst in power. But she didn’t. Her Cabinet composition remained predominantly male, and you can search throughout her record for anything of note to ameliorate the lot of women in society, but you will search in vain. Glenda Jackson, speaking in the so-called “Tribute Debate” two days after Thatcher’s death, conceded the fact that Thatcher was Britain’s first female Premier but added: ‘A woman? Not on my terms.’

When push comes to shove, I would argue that Thatcher’s legacy is an almost wholly negative one; her Premiership saw a massive rise in unemployment, the decimation of manufacturing industry, a bizarre promotion of greed and acquisitiveness as hideously acceptable virtues, a decrease in growth relative to the previous thirty-four years since Clement Attlee became Prime Minister in 1945, a widening of the gap between richest and poorest where that gap had been narrowing somewhat and of course the selling-off of “the family jewels” in the shape of any nationalised industry she could lay her hands on, without sufficient regard to what would happen come the next rainy day. And there have been many rainy days since, but none rainier than the one we’re living through right now, and nothing to fall back on.

Against that, we have the perceived rise in the stock of the UK in the eyes of the rest of the world; she “made Britain great again” – some say. This presumably refers to her determination in recovering a few large pebbles in the South Atlantic at the cost of many young lives, including those of conscript Argentinians who drowned when the General Belgrano was torpedoed as it sailed away from the combat zone. “Gotcha!” crowed the Sun, while mothers of sons on both sides wept. I have to say, I don’t value an enhanced international reputation or the approval of jingoistic nations like the USA – not at that price.

And now we have to pay the cost of her funeral, having already shelled out many thousands in expenses for a one-off recall of Parliament only five days before a new session was due to start anyway. Funeral cost estimates vary between £8m and £14m depending on who you listen to, and how much her successful arms-dealer son Mark is prepared to stump up. He should really be generous – she helped him a hell of a lot. All this furore over money, at a time also when we hear her £6m London town house will not incur any inheritance duty as its actual ownership appears to be vested in an offshore company. Companies, of course, don’t die – and so don’t pay inheritance tax. These are murky waters, and it becomes ever easier to see exactly why so many regard her, and the goings-on around her in life and afterwards, with feelings of antipathy amounting to loathing.

For myself, I’ll be glad when her funeral is over and paid for, and we can all move on – and refocus on the urgent need to get rid of the current shoddy lot. Thatcher is dead; but we’re still living with a society that, in a lot of its negative characteristics can be traced back to the sea-changes she ushered in post-1979. It’s no defence against vilification to say that she left office in 1990, and can’t be blamed for what’s happened since. She created the conditions whereby what has happened since could happen, and she took away a lot of the more benign possibilities that a more sympathetic and caring attitude to investment, social care and collective responsibility in society might have realised. For that, I blame her and her alone.

Ding dong.

Fox In The Running?

Q: When is a Fox not a fox?

A: When it’s a sacrificial lamb.

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Liam Fox

The Fox in question – Liam of that ilk – is due to make a speech containing radical proposals exceeding in scope and intent anything the Coalition Government has so far contemplated. His true motives for this are unclear. He may just possibly be unaware of his potential status as patsy-in-waiting for the Tory Party’s increasingly Machiavellian convolutions, as it attempts to portray itself as a party of government beyond the next election. Then again, perhaps the cunning Fox genuinely feels that he really can rally the Conservative right wing with a view to becoming the anointed leader if and when David Cameron falls on his sword, or is stabbed in the back by the Men in Grey Suits, depending on how the last scene of the Coalition melodrama plays out.

Whatever the case, the scenario of an increasingly unpopular political party showing determination to plough its chosen furrow – despite a radical call-to-arms from the loony fringes – is hardly new. Labour gave us a glimpse of a few left-wing skeletons in their briefly-opened closet of horrors in the early eighties, and some feel that this paved the way for that party’s subsequent re-branding of itself as New Labour and the eventual Blair-Brown axis. Liam Fox might of course be entirely serious about making an early move to be seen as prospective leader material – if the reaction of the Tories, post coalition break-up, were to be a lurch to the Right. But it’s also tiresomely probable that he’s simply providing the necessary scare story, which can then be shot down by the incumbent PM, so that Cameron’s rigid position on his chosen course of austerity might be seen as more palatable relative to What Might Have Been.

Fox has in fact found it necessary to push back the boundaries of what is really credible, in his attempts to find depths of draconian savagery which even the Tory party might not plumb. Against a background of the demonisation of a whole sector of society – encompassing the poor, low-paid workers and the disabled – with swingeing cuts to the disposable income of all these people justified by portraying them as society-sapping freeloaders, it’s not easy to contemplate even more vindictive measures. Add to that the fact that tax changes in April will see a group of previously impoverished millionaires benefiting from tax reductions of £100,000 a year, and one can easily understand how difficult it is these days to appear truly loony in the context of all things Conservative. But Liam, bless him, appears to have managed it.

In point of fact, Mr Fox’s speech to the Institute of Economic Affairs next Monday is likely to break new ground right in the heart of right wing Tory dreamland “Rob the Poor to Feed the Rich” territory. Voicing what other extreme Conservatives hardly dare think – save only in their most secret and grandiose fantasies – Fox is tipped to call for a five year freeze on public spending, with no protective ring-fencing for schools, foreign aid or the NHS. That’s the poor robbed, but on an even more lavish scale than the current government are managing. And Fox will, according to the Times, also propose that there should be a thorough rethink of earnings and savings taxation, including a Capital Gains Tax holiday “to breathe life into the ailing economy”. The Times also reports that the former Defence secretary will say:

“I believe that in leaving money in people’s pockets, economic activity will follow. People will buy houses, invest for their future or just go shopping.

“Whichever is the case, it’s creating a society that is sustainable for the future in the way that our current – welfare-dependent and debt-ridden – economy is not.

“We should gradually move towards the reduction – or even abolition – of the taxes where the state not only taxes the same money on multiple occasions but discourages the very behaviour that would lead to a more responsible society.”

So that’s the rich fed, and there is likely to be much salivating in the Tory Shires at the prospect – however unlikely it is to actually materialise – of such a juicy package. It is of course a fact that, in order to leave money in people’s pockets, that money has to be there in the first place. But the poor are incidental to this speech, whether it’s a serious attempt to influence policy, or just a scare tactic to deflect criticism of the current programme. The poor are unlikely to vote Tory (although it’s increasingly probable they might vote UKIP), and they are perceived, as a body, to be more of an unwanted expense than any potential source of economic growth. It is the already rich to whom Liam Fox is seeking to appeal; those on the right of the parliamentary party and of the Conservative movement nationally. It is there that he will find his natural support if any ambitions of leadership are ever to come to fruition.

Whatever the thinking behind Fox’s forthcoming speech, he is not the only predatory scavenger circling the beleaguered Prime Minister. MP Sarah Wollaston has warned the Premier, in a series of tweets, about the need to tackle problems with his inner circle of immediate colleagues, consisting as it does of the “posh, male & white”. Wollaston is a known Cameron acolyte, but her words will be encouraging to Home Secretary Theresa May, who has recently broken cover with her own finely-drafted proposals covering a number of governmental departments, and – again – tailored to appeal to the Tory right.

Most worrying of all perhaps, is a vote of confidence from Baroness Warsi, who stated that Cameron has the support of “large parts” of his party, and that “he is doing a very difficult job in very difficult circumstances.” Such a very qualified endorsement is likely to be cold comfort to the Prime Minister as he studies the minute details of the Liam Fox speech, and Cameron may well reflect on the experience of football managers since time immemorial; that the vote of confidence is frequently a precursor to a frogmarch up the scaffold steps and the ceremonial fall of the axe. Unless, of course, friend Liam does the merciful thing, and slides the knife into his ribs before any organised coup.

Et tu, Foxy.