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The Darker Side of Margaret Thatcher: From Austerity to Apartheid

Thatcher became synonymous with austerity economics as she dealt a major blow to the union movement and ushered in a wave of privatization.
 
 
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AMY GOODMAN: We turn to the  news of the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at the age of 87. She was Britain’s first female prime minister, serving three terms in office. Known as the "Iron Lady," Margaret Thatcher became synonymous with austerity economics as a close ally of President Ronald Reagan. She famously declared to critics of neoliberal capitalism that, quote, "There is no alternative." Her long-running battle with striking British miners dealt a major blow to the union movement in Britain and ushered in a wave of privatizations. On foreign policy, Thatcher presided over the Falklands War with Argentina and provided critical support to the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

To discuss Margaret Thatcher’s legacy, we go now to London, where we’re joined by Tariq Ali, British-Pakistani political commentator, writer, activist and editor of the New Left Review.

In these last minutes we have, Tariq, talk about the legacy of, talk about the tenure of the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

TARIQ ALI: Amy, there’s no doubt about it. She transformed British politics. She basically won over the opposition. Her legacy is still very much in force, so she’s not at all dead in terms of what is going on in this country. Her policies are being carried out by the coalition government. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, New Labour prime ministers, were completely enthralled to her. She was the first person invited by Blair to 10 Downing Street when he became prime minister, to show how much he owed her, and Gordon Brown did exactly the same thing. So we have had a continuum, that the process Margaret Thatcher started off was carried on by Blair, who used rhetoric on the Iraq, Kosovo and Afghan wars very similar to the rhetoric she used on the Falklands. And this policy has continued. So her legacy is effectively to have wrecked Britain economically and to have made it a total vassal state of the American empire.

AMY GOODMAN: Tariq, can you talk about the legacy of Thatcherism for the working class in Britain?

TARIQ ALI: Well, basically, she took on the workers’ movement, which had become very strong. Trade unions were very powerful in this country, and they were effectively challenging capital by demanding a share of the take, and being quite successful. The miners’ union, one of the most respected unions in the country, challenged her. She organized the state, the use of the police, use of the secret services, to defeat them. And she did it, and she referred to union militancy as "the enemy within." She was very hot on enemies, either abroad or at home. And that phrase, "the enemy within," has been used subsequently against dissidents of other sorts by her successors.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about her foreign policy, from the Falklands War—and we only have a minute—to her support of the apartheid regime, calling Nelson Mandela a terrorist?

TARIQ ALI: Well, she did call Nelson Mandela a terrorist, but one should remember that the Western governments as a whole were not at all friendly to the ANC, sustained and maintained apartheid, with a few exceptions in Scandinavia, throughout it. And Thatcher was upfront about it. Her foreign policy was deeply conservative and reactionary, and that foreign policy has not changed since she was forced out on Europe. Europe is still a big, big divisive issue in the country and within the Conservative Party as a whole.

And so, on every level, Amy, domestic level, international level, Thatcherism continues. One shouldn’t imagine that it’s over. And I hate to say this, but the fact that we haven’t come up, or no one has—neither the center-left or anyone else has managed to come up with an alternative to the Wall Street crash of 2008, does indicate that there was some truth in her statement that there is no alternative, at least as far as the mainstream is concerned.

AMY GOODMAN: Tariq Ali, I want to thank you for being with us, British-Pakistani political commentator, historian, activist, filmmaker, novelist and editor of the New Left Review, joining us from London on this late breaking news that the former prime minister of Britain, Margaret Thatcher, has died at the age of 87.

That does it for our show. Tune in tomorrow. Will Potter of Green is the New Red will be on to talk about how over a dozen state legislatures have introduced bills to target people who go undercover to expose farm animal abuse.

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