People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 18

May 05, 2013




                                                                            Rusted Legacy of the Iron Lady


Yohannan Chemarapally


THE death of the longest serving British prime minister in the 20th century and the first woman to hold the post has led to an outpouring of tributes from various capitals. Heads of State and the titans of industry were magnanimous in their praise for the leadership qualities of the lady who they credited for arresting Britain’s post imperial decline and breaking the back of the working class movement. Margaret Thatcher was also extolled for her co-starring role with the American President, Ronald Reagan, in hastening the demise of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Socialist Bloc. In fact, the name “Iron Lady” was bestowed on her by the Soviet Union’s army newspaper Red Star in the eighties to highlight her uncompromising and rigid ideological posturing. She however got along well with Mikhail Gorbachev, the man who presided over the dissolution of the Soviet Union. “I like Gorbachev. I can do business with him”, she had said.


“The West won the Cold War without firing a shot”, she would say later. Alongside Reagan, she was responsible for the escalation of the cold war. The fact that both of them had threatened to introduce more nuclear weapons to better prepare for a possible “theatre nuclear war” was conveniently forgotten.  She had put Cruise nuclear capable missiles on British soil despite widespread protests. “A world without nuclear weapons would be less stable and more dangerous for all of us”, she had once casually observed.




But besides the praise, her demise has stirred negative emotions in Britain as well as in other countries that have suffered as a consequence of her actions. Many Labour MP’s have refused to re-assemble in parliament to pay formal tribute to the departed leader, despite summons from their leader, Ed Milliband to do so. A row has erupted in British politics about the cost to the public exchequer incurred by grandiose funeral for the former prime minister. The last British premier to receive a State sponsored funeral on this scale was Winston Churchill. Her funeral in the second week of April cost the State exchequer more than $8 million. In London and Glasgow, many people took to the streets to celebrate, toasting her death with champagne and cider. One Briton left a bottle of milk at the doorstep of the Thatcher residence. As education minister, Thatcher had scrapped free milk for schoolchildren. “Maggie Thatcher, Milk Snatcher” was a favourite refrain of protestors during her years in power. For many schoolchildren coming from a poor background, a glass of milk was equivalent to their morning breakfast. When Thatcher came to power, one in seven of Britain’s children lived in poverty. By the time she completed her reforms, the numbers had risen to 1 in 3.


Thatcher while undermining domestic British industry and de-regulating the country’s financial sector had made tens of thousands of ordinary Britons jobless.  She had first come to power with only 40 per cent of the vote. Her handling of the miners strike (1984-85), a defining event of her tenure, was particularly brutal. A former aide to Thatcher, Mathew Parris has said that the miners strike will be her abiding legacy. “It did seem as if half of Britain was taking up arms against another half of Britain. She would say that it was a necessary battle”, Parris said.


The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) had an entirely opposite view. “Margaret Hilda Thatcher is gone but the damage caused by her fatally flawed policies sadly lingers on. Good Riddance”, NUM said on its website after the announcement of Thatcher’s demise. George Galloway, MP, noted that Thatcher destroyed “more than a third of Britain’s manufacturing capacity, significantly more than Hitler’s Luftwaffe ever achieved”. The Labour Party rechristened as “New Labour” in the early nineties adopted similar policies abandoning its roots in the labour movement. Britain instead became a haven for oligarchs and trade union busting media magnates like Rupert Murdoch.  The city of London is now completely “free” of  “any meaningful anti-monopoly regulations". Many Britons have said that Thatcher’s “true legacy” was Tony Blair, who matched her propensity for neo-liberalism, total commitment to Washington and war.


Thatcher considered her suppression of the trade unions as an even more important victory than that she scored over the Argentine army two years earlier. Thatcher had successfully ordered the British army to expel the Argentine army which had re-established the country’s sovereignty over the Malvinas. The islands, which the British had named “the Falklands”, continue to be under the imperial stranglehold of the British, though they are situated thousands of miles away from England. She had drawn comparisons with the miners struggles and the war with Argentina, saying that the victory over the miners was more important. “We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We have always to be aware at the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty”, the former prime minister had observed.


Ken Loach, the iconic British filmmaker, described Thatcher as “the most divisive and destructive prime minister of modern times”. He said that she left behind a legacy “of mass unemployment, factory closures and destroyed communities”. Loach, maker of many international award winning films said that the right way to honour Thatcher was to “privatise” her funeral. “Put it out on competitive tender and accept the cheapest bid. It’s what she would have wanted”, Loach said.


In Northern Ireland, her uncompromising policies led to unnecessary additional suffering. She withdrew the status of “political prisoners” for incarcerated Republican fighter and allowed 10 of them to starve to death when they demanded the restoration of their fundamental rights. Gerry Adams, the public spokesman for the Irish Republican Army (IRA) for three decades and the current leader of the Sinn Fein (Northern Ireland’s second biggest Party), has said that Thatcher’s Irish policy had failed miserably. “Her espousal of old draconian militaristic policies prolonged the war and caused great suffering”, Adams said in a statement following her demise.




There were demands that Thatcher should be tried for “war crimes” committed during the war with Argentina over the Malvinas in 1982. The charges mainly relate to the sinking of the Argentine naval cruiser “General Belgrano” by the British Navy. A British submarine targeted the ship as it was sailing away from the conflict zone. 323 Argentine sailors, most of them young cadets, died in the operation. When the Belgrano was sunk, it was well outside the 320 km exclusion zone that the British army had unilaterally declared around the disputed islands. The territorial dispute is now on the front burner, with Argentina mobilising international opinion to regain sovereignty over the Malvinas. Even Washington is now urging London to find a negotiated settlement to the dispute that has resulted from what American officials have described as “the de facto” occupation of the islands.


Giving a helping hand to Thatcher in the war against Argentina was her good friend, the Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet. Chile which shares a long border with Argentina provided Britain with a great deal of military intelligence during the 1982 war. Using its long range radar tracking facilities, the Chilean army was able to warn the British of impending Argentine air attacks. After his ouster from power in 1990, Pinochet was an annual visitor to London where he was regularly hosted by Thatcher. When Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998, Thatcher made a strong plea for his immediate release and visited him when he was under house arrest in 1999. She openly said at the time that Britain owed a debt to the fallen dictator for all the help he had provided during the Falklands war. Thousand of people in Chile were tortured and killed during the 17 year Pinochet era.


Thatcher however could not militarily arm twist China on the Hong Kong issue. Beijing refused to budge on the issue of sovereignty. Thatcher had to reluctantly hand over Hong Kong to the mainland. In 1984, Britain and China signed an agreement for the transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty in 1997. Britain duly adhered to the deadline. Thatcher had taken a tough stance initially during the two hour long meeting she had with the Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping to resolve the future of the British colony but was forced to accept the inevitable when Deng showed absolutely no signs of compromising.


The former British premier’s cozy relationship with the apartheid regime in South Africa has been well documented. When the rest of the world was calling for the release of Nelson Mandela and urging a speedy end to apartheid, Thatcher threw in her support behind the racist regime and its bid to stem the inevitable. She went to the extent of describing Mandela as a “terrorist” and the ANC as “a typical terrorist organisation”. Thatcher described those predicting the demise of apartheid as living in “cloud cuckoo land”. Thatcher along with Reagan provided financial aid and succour to rebel groups allied to the apartheid regime in Southern Africa like the UNITA in Angola and the Renamo in Mozambique. The civil wars in these two countries alone led to the deaths of more than a million people.


Thatcher also was a supporter of the Khmer Rouge and its leader, Pol Pot in the 1980’s despite strong evidence emerging about the massacres of Cambodian citizens. A Vietnamese led invasion force had ousted Pol Pot from the capital in 1979 but the West continued to recognise him as the legal head of the Cambodian State till the late eighties. The new moderate Communist government was seen in the West as being too close to Moscow and that was anathema when the cold war was at its height. Thatcher was also a great admirer of the Indonesian dictator, Gen. Suharto, who she described as “one of our best and most valuable friends”. Suharto had a key role to play in the bloody purges that had taken place in Indonesia. More than 500,000 Indonesian communists and sympathisers were killed.


Even after being pushed out of power, Thatcher continued to exert her baleful influence. Two months after leaving office, she was credited with influencing President George Bush the senior to start the first Gulf War after having a long meeting with him in Aspen, Colorado. Before that as PM, she had encouraged Saddam Hussein’s ill advised invasion of Iran in 1980. Secret files, recently revealed, show that Britain was trying to sell Hawk jet fighters to Iraq in 1981. Thatcher, along with Reagan was effusive in their welcome of the Afghan Mujahedin, the precursors of the Taliban and the al Qaeda, hailing them as “freedom fighters”. Through the good offices of another strongman, Gen. Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan, the Mujahedin and the Arab fighters were lavishly funded and trained. It is another story that British troops are now bleeding in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban, many of whom were once closely linked to British Intelligence agencies.