It was announced earlier today that Margaret Thatcher has passed away from a stroke. I suppose it’s not much of a surprise, given her health decline in recent years. Another nail gets hammered into the coffin of the ‘Decade Of Greed’. She was the last of the big-name 1980s politicians to leave the planet.
I don’t want to re-hash her entire career – her main achievement was being elected Britain’s first female Prime Minister. If only it wasn’t her – but she seized her moment and ran with it. It’s true that Britain seemed in a pretty dire spot in 1979, due to inflation and some union leaders being in it for themselves and not for the good of the union members. Still, her changes cut far too deep and her closure of the mines and other industries caused widespread unemployment and disillusion.
She remains divisive to this day and a symbol of the greed and corruption of the 1980s. Now, I was living in the U.S. at the time and while I didn’t experience Thatcher’s policies directly – her counterpart in the U.S., Ronald Reagan, was playing funny games with the economy – deregulating the banks, sky-high spending on the military and other not-so-legal adventures. His theory was that by giving the very wealthy tax cuts, they would create more wealth and it would ‘trickle down’ to everyone. Of course, it didn’t work like that – the wealthy made more money and hoarded it – so nothing ever trickled down.
Thatcher also staved off negative criticism by going ahead with the Falkland Islands conflict, which, when the British forces were victors, boosted her popularity. Reagan did the same with the Grenada action (he needed it after the killing of 240 U.S. Marines in Beirut, following an attack on the U.S. compound in that city). It’s said both Thatcher and Reagan brought the Soviet Union down – but I’ll tell you, I was never more frightened of nuclear war than in the early 80s. Of course, films like The Day After didn’t help my paranoia.
I suspect that for all Reagan and Thatcher’s rhetoric, it was more of the relaxing of the Soviet leadership that allowed the break-up of “The Iron Curtain” and the Berlin Wall to collapse. Yes, the U.S.S.R. was bankrupt, but the UK and U.S. were heavily in debt from their own weapons programs.
In the end, Thatcher was ousted by her own party over the Poll Tax and for not regarding opinions of her cabinet. She became a feeble and withered old woman and it seems likely she would not have lasted long in the 1990s, even if she hadn’t been booted from Downing Street. Of course, her legacy lived on as the Labour Party practically adopted her policies in an effort to win elections. They were successful in 1997 with their leader, Tony Blair, who brought the party further to the right, ideologically and dubbing the party “New Labour”. Blair also followed Thatcher’s way of getting into conflict and partnering up with the U.S., committing UK troops to both Afghanistan and Iraq. Reagan served two terms, but his image was tarnished by the Iran-Contra scandal and despite claims to the contrary, never fully recovered from it. It was revealed that he had Alzheimer’s Disease in the early 1990s and he passed away in the late 1990s.
We all know what happened in 2000/2001, after George W. Bush was elected. He’s the son of George H.W. Bush, who was Reagan’s vice-president and was elected to the presidency in 1988. G.W.B. and Blair engineered the invasion of Iraq (Bush’s father had forces invade in 1990, after Iraqi forces crossed the border into Kuwait) and allegedly, Bush’s advisors were impressed with the way Thatcher handled the Falklands campaign. They modelled their action, which happened in 2003, on the Falklands conflict.
Maggie Thatcher remains a divisive figure – despised and pronounced a failure by one contingent and lionised and canonised by another. I must admit I’m far more in the ‘despised’ camp – the 1980s, to me, was a dismal time and I am glad they’re over. Now with Thatcher’s death, I hope we can all say goodbye to that decade. Not forget, mind – but lay it to rest.