Monday, November 17, 2008

Margaret Thatcher was not the devil

There is something not quite right about this rant by Chris Dillow, linked by Jonathan Calder.
The death of Reg Varney has rightly led to many tributes. However, his largely pernicious - albeit inadvertent - contribution to economic and political history should not go unnoticed.
His portrayal of Stan Butler did much to perpetuate the image of the 1970s worker as a bone-idle work-dodger; we forget today just how enormously popular On the Buses was. And this in turn might subconsciously have contributed to the popularity of Thatcherism. How many of those who, when asked by Tories in 1979 whether the working class had become too big for its boots, conjured up a picture of Stan Butler and so voted for Thatcher?
Why exactly is this pernicious? Chris Dillow doesn't argue that the vision of the unionized working class presented by Varney is inaccurate. The only negative point is that it contributed to the political popularity of Thatcherism. Neither Dillow nor Calder feels the need to explain why this is a bad thing.

It isn't unreasonable to think that the success of the Tories and the failure of Labour in the early eighties was a bad thing. But to assume that it goes without saying that it was a bad thing only makes sense if you are a partisan of the Labour party, which neither Dillow nor Calder is.

Thatcher took over a country with double-digit inflation and increasingly dismal productivity, which was borderline ungovernable after the previous two elected governments had been driven out of office by the unions. She left a country that did not have these problems, and although it had been rendered temporarily ungovernable by a boneheaded local government finance policy, her successor could restore order relatively easily by promising a change of plan, and go on to win an election. You can argue that the cure was worse than the disease, but that is an argument that needs to be made.

Nobody who is seriously trying to win elections wants a return to the economic policies of the 1970's (nationalisation of large companies, wage and price controls, a 95% top rate of tax etc.) So if Reg Varney caused a social change, it was a social change that almost everyone (including a supermajority of the Labour Party, given the inability of the left to put a candidate up against Brown) agrees with hindsight was a good thing - including Dillow and Calder.

Yet otherwise intelligent people assume that anything which contributed to Thatcher's election victories must be regrettable because they have forgotten the difference between "right-wing" and "evil".


  • At 7:07 pm , Blogger Jonathan said...

    If you are going to use "Dillow" and "Calder" in this pompous way, why do you hide behind a silly name yourself?

  • At 5:52 am , Blogger Femme de Resistance said...

    He really is my pet cat, bred especially for condescending intelligence in a top-secret laboratory in Siberia!

  • At 7:40 pm , Blogger Jonathan said...

    I am not sure "On not privileging ideology over humour: A reply to Cat" sounds quite right.


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