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The legacy of Mrs. Thatcher’s for Liberal Democrats?

April 10, 2013 11:17 PM
By George Smid - Chair of Corby Liberal Democrats
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

George Smid 2The legacy of Mrs. Thatcher's for Liberal Democrats must surely be one of the missed opportunity: we are not militant unions; we are not tax cutting Tories: how is it that we did not manage to offer an alternative before the rise of Thatcherism? How is it that when Thatcherism was in decline and Labour could not offer an alternative we did not manage to fill the void? And can we learn now how to offer a real alternative to either the Tories or Labour?

I listened to the past interviews with Mrs Thatcher and was reminded of what she saw as her biggest achievements: Home Ownership, Share Ownership, and Savings in a Building Society.

Home ownership led to massive property boom and bust, to a credit crunch as the result of speculation with mortgages, to dire lack of suitable housing. Consequently, the young generation is anything but able to buy 'their own home'. Commercial housing is expensive, social housing is none.

Share ownership among the masses was real - and short lived. Most who bought their 200 shares allocation sold it shortly afterwards. And on back of the 'liberalisation' of share ownership, the stock market deregulation took place leading to various bubbles and busts - the latest still with us in force.

Saving in building societies? There are no building societies and a lot of us lost our savings recently through the loss of our pensions' funds value, through inflation and through artificially low interest rates.

Looking from today's perspective Thatcherism succeeded only in re-defining 'public goods' (the 'commons') and dismantling and privatising most of it. But without providing any social alternative to the deified 'market' which was supposed to provide self-salvation for all and any. With hindsight we know that 'market' on its own does not work and leads to extremes, deprivations and dispossessions.

I still think we can learn from her, though: She had a conviction, and so should we; she advocated personal responsibility - we should also emphasise 'rights & responsibilities'. (It is an irony that her drive for responsibility has metamorphosed into the current culture, where the personal 'rights' are so in prominence without the corresponding 'responsibilities'). She was prepared to compromise - but only up to a point. We should also define how far we are prepared to go with our prospective partners. (Is negotiating with UKIP going too far?)

But most of all, we should learn from our own history. We did not manage to fill the void created by the polarisation of the society and the helplessness of that time political elite. Will we learn in the present day?

In 1970 Britain's inflation rate was three times of (West) Germany's (UK 13%, Germany 5%). Our rate of unemployment was twice as much (UK 4%, Germany 2%). Our debt was massive, IMF had to bail us in 1975 with £2,3 billion.

And today? UK deficit is 10 times bigger than Germany's: 8% of GDP for UK, 0,8% for Germany. Germany grew 0,7% in 2012, UK a third of that - 0,2%. The pound is losing value against a currency in crises. Déjà vu?

In the 1970's major new thinking was required, a paradigm shift was necessary - and the Lib Dems did not provide that. Will we now?