It seems as if someone has hit the replay button in Britain. Strikes, austerity measures, tax increases for the underprivileged with a hint of the Falklands creeping back to the surface. No, it isn’t the 1980s’ with Thatcher holding the reins. It is 2012 and David Cameron is the driving force behind the wheel. The Liberal Democrats are skirting around the Tory’s coalition government, anxious to keep a smidgen of power and a Royal has been sent to the Falklands in the uniform of a ‘conqueror‘.
With the highest rate of unemployment in 17 years, affecting a staggering 2.67 million people, and welfare being reduced to only those already in poverty; capitalism is at its most discriminatory, as the middle-classes are sectioned off with the rest of the population under the breadline. And though the working class may have changed in appearance, they still bear the sign of a disgruntled mob with the police being the government’s own army of soldiers.
When Thatcher came to power in 1979, the economy was generally considered to be facing severe structural problems, paralleling current issues. Unemployment reached an unprecedented level of 3 million by 1984, a post war record, and the country faced a crippling recession. Thatcher was heavily influenced by the idea of Monetarism and free market economics, (partially inherited from the previous Labour government), the belief of controlling inflation by controlling the money supply. Reducing the government deficit became the principal factor in managing the supply of money.
Therefore, extreme deflationary policies were implemented. Firstly taxes were raised and government spending cut. Interest rates were also increased, as the government sought to reduce inflation. In the middle of 1980, the economy had been plunged into full scale recession, but the government still pursued its deflationary policies. During 1981, in a famous letter to the Times, 365 economists signed a letter calling on the government to alter its economic policy and put an end to the recession.
On the one hand, inflation was reduced, but arguably it could have been done with much less pain. In seeking to meet spurious money supply targets they caused an unprecedented level of unemployment. This unemployment caused not only personal loss but widespread social problems. The mass unemployment, associated with inner cities, was very closely responsible for the riots which sparked across Britain in 1981, comparable to the London riots seen last year.
Apart from the hideous fashion-sense from the 80s’, it seems we have adopted far too many Conservative quirks from the Thatcher era. Fresh aggravation from the tiny South Atlantic islands suggests another colonial war brewing, in true sense of the British Empire. And a feeling of desperation to devolve connections with the European Union and deny proposals from the European community; only reiterates Britain’s need to be ‘Great’ again. But clearly, now is not the time for stuffed shirts and pomp with the country facing a debilitating recession.
Are the Falklands really our priority right now? Sending envoys to the archipelago seems rather futile, with people camped out in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral, desperate to get basic human rights. But in a sense, the Argentinean government may have hit the nail on its head stating that Britain was ‘distracting’ itself from the gravity of the economic situation.
With £1 million bonuses being given out left, right and centre to bailed out bank’s chief executives such as the Royal Bank of Scotland and now Barclays Capital; I have to ask how it even came about that the Government are prioritising profits over their population? The Bank of England recently announced a further £50 billion is going to be injected into the economy, as part of their quantitative easing programme, without taking into consideration the long-term effects on retirees, who will be the victims of recession. This money isn’t being injected into the welfare system, rather the bankers who are part and parcel of gambling the country’s wealth away.
The policy of privatisation has been called “a crucial ingredient of Thatcherism”. After the 1983 election, the sale of state utilities accelerated; more than £29 billion was raised from the sale of nationalised industries, and another £18 billion from the sale of council houses. Although Thatcher never put QE in place, she increased interest rates to slow the growth of the money supply and thereby lower inflation, introduced cash limits on public spending, and reduced expenditures on social services such as education and housing.
Thatcher’s cuts in higher education spending resulted in her being the first Oxford-educated post-war Prime Minister not to be awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Oxford, after a 738 to 319 vote of the governing assembly and a student petition. Her new centrally-funded City Technology Colleges did not enjoy much success, and the Funding Agency for Schools was set up to control expenditure by opening and closing schools. They now come in the form of ‘Academies’, in which schools are independent of local authority control, and part-funded by private business sponsors.
David Cameron, on the same spectrum, has been accused of bringing in ‘privatisation by the back door’ for many public services including the National Health Service as well as higher education.
An equally massive backlash has been seen under the Prime Minister’s term in power. An unparalleled increase in tuition fees in 2010, initiated one of the largest student protests in Britain since the Labour government first proposed the Teaching and Higher Education Act in 1998. Students were seen to be holding banners that read Don’t Put the Kettle On, Mr Cameron and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Thatcher.
So is Cameron repeating the same mistakes that Thatcher’s government made? Undoubtedly. However, the Conservative coalition government have had an opportunity to look back in hindsight and learn that wearing a humanitarian mask may keep the public at bay.