Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Margaret Thatcher would fail in Greece
I’ve heard it said that what Greece needs is a Margaret Thatcher, i.e. a leader with an ideological commitment to capitalism, reduced state spending and personal responsibility. Greece, the argument goes, is a socialist experiment gone wrong and the country to revive itself must now engage in wholesale privatisation, dismantle the overweening and unsustainable welfare state and replace it with a culture of free enterprise and individual endeavour. And just like Margaret Thatcher rarely wavered or doubted her vision – conviction was far more important than consensus to her – Greece has to acquire a prime minister unafraid of confrontation and willing to push through change, impervious to collateral damage.
Now, I don’t want to go into the merits or otherwise of Thatcher’s doctrinaire enthusiasm for capitalism; but I do want to point out a couple of things, which people often forget about her politics when they seek to apply it to Greece.
Thus, it should be stressed that Thatcher did not slash public expenditure or reduce the state across the board. In fact, spending on the police and on improving the pay and conditions of the police force was a priority for her, and this was not only because another important aspect of Thatcherism was law and order but also because Thatcher heavily relied on the police to repress opposition to her policies, most notably during the 1984 miners’ strike.
Indeed, the use of the police to enforce Thatcherism was part of a wider strategy that involved using the law and the courts to defeat opponents. This was particularly the case with trade union reform. Thatcherism had long identified the power and influence of trade unions in society as a key cause of Britain's economic decline and law after law was passed restricting their activities. Trade unions that sought to defy laws on strike ballots, picketing or closed shops were dragged before the courts, their funds sequestered, their leaders fined and jailed.
In other words, Thatcherism knew that to impose her brand of ‘people’s capitalism’ on the UK meant that the left, its culture and institutions, had to be confronted and dismantled and to do this she was prepared to use all the means at the state’s disposal. Now, regarding Greece, since there is no ideological commitment to the things being done at the moment – the reforms are the evil designs of the troika – and the Greek state is defunct, then it’s clear that Greece is not going to make the transition demanded of it. The tools Thatcher used to push through her agenda in the UK would not be available to her in Greece. Greece’s problems are far more intractable than the UK’s in 1979.
It’s also worth pointing out that in the first three years of her premiership, Thatcher was hugely unpopular, low in the polls, heading for certain defeat at the next general election; and then, in 1982, Argentina seized the Falkland Islands… Thatcher’s resort to nationalism is another overlooked aspect of her ideology.