Category Archives: New Series: Thatcher’s Legacy

If Margaret Thatcher is re-elected as prime minister on Thursday, I warn you.

I warn you that you will have pain–when healing and relief depend upon payment.

I warn you that you will have ignorance–when talents are untended and wits are wasted, when learning is a privilege and not a right.

I warn you that you will have poverty–when pensions slip and benefits are whittled away by a government that won’t pay in an economy that can’t pay.

I warn you that you will be cold–when fuel charges are used as a tax system that the rich don’t notice and the poor can’t afford.

I warn you that you must not expect work–when many cannot spend, more will not be able to earn. When they don’t earn, they don’t spend. When they don’t spend, work dies.

I warn you not to go into the streets alone after dark or into the streets in large crowds of protest in the light.

I warn you that you will be quiet–when the curfew of fear and the gibbet of unemployment make you obedient.

I warn you that you will have defence of a sort–with a risk and at a price that passes all understanding.

I warn you that you will be home-bound–when fares and transport bills kill leisure and lock you up.

I warn you that you will borrow less–when credit, loans, mortgages and easy payments are refused to people on your melting income.

If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday–
– I warn you not to be ordinary
– I warn you not to be young
– I warn you not to fall ill
– I warn you not to get old.

– Neil Kinnock, 1983

This series came out of our original intention to blog about Thatcher’s continuing legacy in the wake of her death. However, I was away at the time; and we felt that in the immediate aftermath of her death, so much had been said by others that we wanted to let the dust settle. (We CERTAINLY did not want to be in any way associated with the predictable and sickening jingoistic circle jerk surrounding her egregiously expensive and to our minds undeserved ceremonial funeral).

Yet she left us a world profoundly changed, and not for the better. Her legacy can be seen in the years long recession caused by the fallout of bank deregulation, the demonisation of the poor and vulnerable, the ideologically driven austerity policies, the chronic shortage of social housing, the concentration of wealth into a tiny minority of private pockets, the divide and rule tactics employed by the government to legitimise their assault on the poor, the casualisation and insecurity of what little employment exists, the transformation of education from a right to a privilege for those who can afford to pay, the ever widening gap between rich and poor, the attempted dismantling of the NHS, and in a myriad others, too many to list here. We quote Neil Kinnock’s 1983 speech because of its haunting quality of prophecy; it still rings so true, thirty years on.

This series seeks to not only examine her legacy, but to talk about how to take the fight forward in the hard and uncaring world she left us; and how to combat and debunk the neoliberal lies and policies first promoted by her, and still tyrannising our nation today via her ideological descendants, Cameron, Osborne et al.

We welcome contributions to the series, from anyone who either remembers growing up in Thatcher’s Britain or wishes to write about any aspect of Thatcherite policy and strategies for resistance. Contact us at radicaluniversity@hotmail.com or via the facebook page to contribute. Happy blogging!

The disenfranchised working class, Institutionalised crime breeding and British policing

By Anam Rahman

Growing up as a member of a working class ethnic minority, I was always interested in understanding why there is such hatred for policemen and women in my community. Why the police are seen as the enemy, why it feels like it’s ‘us’ against ‘them’, why it seems like war. I was perplexed as to how one could form such an opinion in spite of all the good work I saw the police do. Recently, however, I’ve had the pleasure of being stopped and searched twice and pulled over once in the last 4 days. Now I understand that the resentment stems from a feeling of gross injustice. Injustice which arose from a set of uncontrollable circumstances, which working class minorities are born into, and have no influence over. Now I see it’s the people versus the establishment.  It’s the individual versus the system, and the system setting out to breed crime within poor communities and to punish the poor.

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Where to start…  Let’s begin with the boring fact, which everyone knows, that you are a little bit more likely to be stopped and searched if you’re an ethnic minority than if you’re white. I use ‘little bit’ loosely. The European Human Rights Commission found at the peak of stop and search that the British police were 28 times more likely to use section 60 to search a black person than a white person. Yes you read correctly, Two-Eight, 28. I can say this is disgraceful racial profiling, but that doesn’t go far enough. My grasp of English can’t articulate my anger at this strong enough, so I’ll leave it to you to form an opinion. This is the first basic layer of injustice that everyone can understand, that one’s skin colour determines the amount of times he/she is harassed by police. For anyone who thinks this is even a tiny bit acceptable, to assume ethnic minorities commit a higher percentage of crime and that therefore they should be searched more often – you are a mug. Anyone who has had the pleasure of being harassed by police regularly will tell you that there is a huge level of disproportionality involved.

The second layer of injustice is a little bit more complicated and not to do with ones skin colour but ones monetary wealth. British policing more importantly penalises individuals for being born poor. It’s a bold statement but I will show you where my logic comes from. Stop and searches do not take place in wealthy neighbourhoods; they take place in social housing estates. To maximise the effectiveness of S&S powers (even though they are not effective: less than 3% lead to an arrest) they should take place where crime rates are high. This is where the injustice and anger stems from.

There are two key issues which fuel hatred for the police and accentuate this sense of injustice. Firstly, individuals have no control over the monetary wealth they are born into; if they are born into working class families they will usually live in council estates (especially considering house and rent prices have rocketed in recent decades), and through the nature of policing, will be harassed significantly more often. If they have nothing to hide then there is no issue, I hear you say. But these individuals are surrounded by drugs, crime and poverty while simultaneously expected to stand on a moral high ground, expected to live as minorities in their communities and be good citizens. Not as easy as I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.

The original purpose of social housing was to create a diverse society, where both the doctor and the street cleaner would live as neighbours; a society where the sense of community trumped individualism. Where, should you have the misfortune of being born poor, this would perhaps not determine your life since you’d be surrounded by better role models. As the founder of social housing Aneurin Bevan said, ‘it is entirely undesirable that in modern housing estates only one type of citizen should live’. This now hopeful vision of society would however be destroyed by the Satan in disguise named Thatcher. Social housing was brought to its knees through her right to buy scheme and consequent housing shortages. With limited resources, only the poorest and most vulnerable were allocated housing, turning social housing into social dumping grounds.

They are our equivalent to ghettos in the US. Pockets of society, all over the country, characterised by lower life expectancy, high crime rates, social mobility falling through the floor, mass drug dealing and addiction, unstable family structures, poverty, high unemployment and welfare dependency.

What angers me more than anything is that this level of social segregation was an orchestrated act of government policy, that both Thatcher and Blair played their part in implementing. Great conquerors master the art of divide and rule, and this was Thatcher’s great vision; this is her legacy. Deprived pockets of society, where the poorest are swept aside from the rest, left to fend for themselves.

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The second issue to note is to do with social mobility and our society. Ask yourself realistically, what are the chances of an individual growing up in a council estate, surrounded by drugs, crime, living in poverty, usually from a dysfunctional family escaping poverty through the opportunities society offers. Yes, I bet you can name someone from a bad background who became hugely successful. The simple reality is that they are a tiny, tiny minority of people. And for society to expect all individuals to possess that ability (which boils down to luck in my opinion), to be able to make their way in life through the opportunities society offers, is wrong. Firstly, because it’s a very agency-based approach to the issue, and secondly, because the UK has some of the lowest levels of social mobility in the western world.

What if I told you there was a better chance of Thatcher becoming PM at the time she was born than after her time in office? That’s because inequality and social mobility negatively correlate.

To rephrase, in comparison to countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Japan, it is almost impossible to escape poverty in Britain. (And I’m not just making this stuff up, see Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s ‘Spirit Level’). Add together an insufficient welfare state, a consumerist driven world, a declining economy and an elitist society with the lowest levels of social mobility and what do you get? You get poor people committing crimes because there are not a lot of other options for them to turn to.

The gross sense of injustice that ethnic and white working class individuals feel stems from this: an institutionalised system which breeds crime within the poorest communities, and policing which simultaneously punishes them for it. Stop and searches do nothing but perpetuate this hatred and feeling of injustice toward the police. We live in a right wing country with individualism at the centre of most public policy, from policing, to housing, to the judicial system. This has to change.

The heroin ghost towns still haunted by Thatcher

by Michelle La Guilla

Note: This post is part of our series on the continuing legacy of Thatcher.

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The early 1980s saw the nascent Tory government, led by Margaret Thatcher, introduce the “Right to Buy” council house scheme.  Championed as the democratization of property ownership, empowering the deserving poor to achieve security and social mobility, it was nonetheless widely seen as counterproductive, a cynical back-door boost to government coffers and an incitement to debt.  The consequences of the shortage of social housing left behind can be clearly seen today in the furore over the Bedroom Tax, whereby those deemed to be underoccupying have literally nowhere to go.

Thatcher had also set out her stall regarding the miners early on in her premiership.  In 1984 the government announced its intention to close 20 “uneconomical” pits.  This was the catalyst for the miners’ strike of 1984-85.  Thatcher declared the miners “the enemy within” and with the rabidly Thatcherite tabloid press on side the government went all out to crush the miners, denying them benefits and employing the police as a political army.  Police brutality was endemic but rarely reported while violence by the miners was exaggerated in attempts to demonise and discredit them.  The government wanted to destroy the political power of the unions once and for all as they were seen as anachronistic and a threat to the party’s free market ideals.

So it came to be that in the early 1980s there was a backdrop of civil unrest, mass unemployment and job insecurity, deprivation and in the former mining communities, a sense of rejection, anxiety and a complete loss of community identity.  Into this vacuum, increasingly, flooded heroin, with reports that heroin use in ex mining communities exceeded the national average by 27%.

The epidemic was gathering pace all over Britain, concentrated in areas of high unemployment and deprivation.  Parker et al concentrated their investigations in the Wirral, where hopelessly poor areas sit cheek-by-jowl with middle class, “respectable” neighbourhoods.  This was also an area, following the Toxteth riots of 1981, slated for ‘managed decline’ under Thatcher; ‘let it burn’, she was urged.  Parker et al clearly link heroin use and social deprivation: “. . . they shared with ‘new’ users throughout the country the characteristics of unemployment and relative poverty. Therefore, assuming that the supply of heroin remains strong, it is reasonable to predict that future levels of heroin use will continue to mirror any increases in unemployment or poverty.” (Parker et al, 1988, p.25.)

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Pearson et al (citing 1981 Census Small Area Statistics,1987, p.62) compared “target areas” where heroin use was at its highest density against four indicators of deprivation – unemployment, unemployment amongst under-25s, one-parent families and having no access to a car.  So for example, in the “target area” in Merseyside’s Docktown ward, unemployment was at 53% and 60% for the under-25s (as compared to 34% and 40% for the ward overall), one-parent families accounted for 38% and 92% had no access to a car (compared to 24% and 78%.)  Their statistics for four other wards in the North of England similarly reflect this sharp increase in deprivation markers in areas where heroin use is at its highest, supporting the hypothesis that heroin addiction and deprivation are often close bedfellows.

It is important to note that in the 1980s there was no cohesive drugs strategy, and first responses to the problem tended to go down the criminal justice route, in contrast to the British System in place until 1968 whereby doctors could prescribe heroin to known addicts, with the ethos of the system summed up thus:  “Doctors should be allowed to prescribe narcotics to wean patients off such drugs, to relieve pain after a prolonged cure had failed and in cases where small doses enabled otherwise helpless patients to perform ‘useful tasks’ and lead relatively normal lives.” (Rolleston, cited in Durlacher, 2000, p.65.)

The end of the British System had the effect of criminalising heroin use, creating a huge black market in the drug and pushing up acquisitive crime as users struggled to raise cash to feed their habits.  This was certainly true in the Wirral, where the crime rate soared in parallel with the heroin explosion there; at twice the rate of other areas in the region since 1979.

Wirral between 1984 -86 is a useful microcosm of wider responses to the epidemic, with policing and sentencing being employed unusually heavily.  The borough saw an unprecedented clampdown, a major police exercise in arresting users and dealers.  The cycle that we still see today, of addiction born of high youth unemployment and hopelessness, and young people criminalised and labelled by the very system that has impoverished them, was signalled by dawn raids and doors kicked in by police boots.

However, this route proved both costly and ineffective – the campaign in Wirral did produce a localised drought, but new trading sites simply emerged elsewhere and addicts found no bar to their habits in prison.  As Parker et al point out: “What it has done is criminalise and imprison a large population of predominantly young men and women and, by the police’s own admission driven the whole drugs scene underground.” (Parker et al, 1988, p.110.)

Meanwhile, the response of many G.P.s to the flood of new cases was to refuse to treat them, understandable given that most had been given no special training.  Of those who did, the options were methadone maintenance or benzodiazepines to relieve withdrawals.  Methadone, then as now, deeply divided opinion and addicts were ambivalent:  “The availability of methadone had undoubtedly enabled a small circle of heroin users in this town to stabilise their lives to some extent, and some had eventually become abstinent.  But for others this was rather a listless sort of accomplishment, and there was little evident motivation to become opiate free other than a fitful lip service to reducing their methadone dosage.”  (Pearson et al, 1987, p.25.)

Methadone was part of harm reduction, seen by many as a more realistic approach than prohibitionism and draconian policing.  It involved three categories: safer methods of drug use, alternative methods of altering mental states, and recognition of and response to drug related problems.  It included needle exchange schemes and education about the dangers of sharing needles resulted in a substantial decrease in the spread of blood-borne viruses amongst users.

It is interesting to examine implications today.  Many mining towns have never recovered – Worksop, a once thriving community, is now the subject of an inquiry into official failures regarding the town, which counts 1 in 3 unemployed and is home to widespread heroin addiction (Worksop Guardian, 2010).  Deprivation and the legacy of right-to-buy linger on marginalised, ghettoised council estates where many are now second or third generation addicts, with no experience of anything different and no opportunities: “The Thatcher government took our working class life away from us but they didn’t replace it with anything . . . unless we solve this, we’re going to finish up with ghettos controlled by an underclass unable to imagine a better life.” (Observer, 2003).  In these ‘geographies of deprivation’ (Parker, 2010) the coal board was often previously the sole employer; now there is nothing left.  Additionally, in smaller urban and rural areas, there is often no specialist provision, no support for families of addicts; generic health services with little or no specialist knowledge of addiction bear the brunt.  In the case of Worksop, an enquiry by MP John Mann concluded that treatment services were a ‘shambles’.  (BBC, 2000).

Addiction, of course, keeps the poor and forgotten docile.  Those who might rise up are instead chasing the next fix before they are hit by withdrawals.  It is politically convenient in other ways too: it means that those failed by the brave new world of free markets (a world which, ironically, keeps so many enslaved, whether in workfare schemes or zero hours contracts,  sweatshops or working poverty due to sub living wages; or to the needle or the bottle) can be conveniently labelled and demonised: divide and rule at its best.  As Wacquant (2009) says: “The law and order merry go round is to criminality what pornography is to amorous relations: a mirror deforming reality to the point of the grotesque that artificially extracts delinquent behaviours from the fabric of social relations in which they take root and make sense, deliberately ignores their causes and meanings, and reduces their treatment to a series of conspicuous position takings.”

We have a cycle of boom and bust, mass unemployment, a years old recession that shows no sign of going anywhere.  We have a Thatcherite politician – George Osborne – making savage cuts and holding fast to utterly discredited and failing austerity policies, at the cost of thousands of human lives; and another, Iain Duncan Smith, whose mania to find the sick or disabled ‘fit for work’ has no answer to the problem of where that work is going to come from.  Addicts on sickness benefit make his job easier, of course; always a convenient scapegoat, the Daily Mail can scream about how reform (meaning cuts) is overdue when thieving scroungers are rolling in taxpayers’ money and spending it on heroin.  (It’s too much to hope that the rabidly right wing British media would take a nuanced or empathic view and ask where that addiction came from, how it grew, how people become so hopeless and desperate that they end up losing limbs from injecting).  Social exclusion and heroin addiction are on the march again, and it seems likely that those cemeteries in ex mining towns, full of the headstones of teenagers and young adults which bear witness to pain and waste, the senseless loss of young lives and potential, will be joined by many thousands and millions of others.

Further reading: http:// libcom.org/library/notes_on_the_miners_strike_1984_1985.

Punishing the Poor: the Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity (2009) by Loic Wacquant.

Living with Heroin (1988) by Howard Parker, Keith Bakx and Russell Newcombe.

Young People and Heroin: An Examination of Heroin Use in the North of England (1987) by Geoffrey Pearson, Mark Gilman and Shirley McIver.

Mentor UK Coastal and Ex Mining Areas Project: A Review of the Literature (2005) by Doctor Simon Parker.

Neoliberalism, Political Wars and the Construction of Consent in Thatcher’s Britain

by Michelle La Guilla

Note: This piece is part of Radical University’s new series examining Thatcher’s continuing legacy and how we can take the fight forward in the hard world she left us.  The piece was first published in Erudition magazine: http://www.eruditiononline.co.uk/

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To us children of the 80s, who grew up living under the dark cloud of Thatcherism, it’s hard to imagine now that at the end of her first term in office, Thatcher looked certain to lose the election.  For most of us in the North of England at least, by the end of the decade, she seemed more like the Teflon lady than the Iron Lady; we regarded her as something universally loathed and deeply unpleasant but a fact of life, like syphilis in the Middle Ages.  Yet back in 1982, employment and inflation had exploded and a disillusioned public looked set to kick Maggie out the door of Number Ten.

That all changed when the Argentine invasion of the Falklands sent the Tories down the time honoured route of war as opportunity, and Argentina was playing the same game.  The leader of the Argentine junta, Leopold Galtieri, sought to quash dissent against the repressive regime by playing the “heroic stance against British imperialism” card – Thatcher smelled redemption, and despite previously cutting the Navy presence around the islands, the Falklands suddenly became a symbol of Britain not backing down.  Thus cynical manoeuvring and pseudo-patriotic posturing on both sides birthed a war of political convenience.

Patriotism is a dangerous and slippery concept, and one that has been turned to dark purposes repeatedly and throughout history.  The feverish nationalism and xenophobia whipped up by the conflict, which claimed heavy loss of life on both sides, was perhaps most sickeningly exemplified by the Sun’s notorious front page depiction of the sinking of the Argentine battleship Belgrano (which claimed 323 lives) under the headline “Gotcha!”   The Belgrano, incidentally, was not even sailing within the British exclusion zone round the islands, leading some to claim its sinking was a war crime.  Meanwhile, “Up your Junta” t-shirts sold like hot cakes, and Thatcher’s premiership was rescued.

Fast forward twenty years to the era defining events of 9/11, and the Bush administration’s “War on Terror”.  At first glance, the connecting thread to the Falklands War seems hard to grasp, and yet what it claims in common is how the politicians involved turned tragic events to their advantage, using the rhetoric of patriotism to push through a particular right wing, repressive, militaristic agenda faithful to the free marketeering neoliberal principles which both Bush and Thatcher embraced with the ideological fervour of true fanatics.

As Naomi Klein has documented in her excellent (and terrifying) book The Shock Doctrine, neoliberalism’s high prophet, Milton Friedman, has openly spoken of the tactic of using catastrophic events to push through hyper capitalist policy whilst the traumatised populace is still regrouping.  Bush and Thatcher did this in significantly different ways, but they both did it.  Even Thatcher, in correspondence with Friedman, had balked at the enforcement of these painful economic policies – Friedman’s holy triumvirate of deregulation, privatisation, and slashing social spending – by similar means to Chile, where they had been forced on an unwilling public by dictatorship under Pinochet, torture and the “disappearing” of dissidents.  (That said, Pinochet and Thatcher remained close personal friends until his death, our erstwhile premier apparently finding his record of raping women with dogs amongst numerous other horrors in Chile’s torture camps unproblematic.)  The jingoistic nationalism whipped up by the Falklands War and taken to truly unpleasant levels by the tabloid press gave her the means to construct consent to an agenda previously unthinkable.

Thus Maggie rode the crest of a wave to storm back to power, where she set about breaking the unions with a vicious lack of mercy, characterising them as the enemy within to the Falklands’ enemy without.  She dismantled social housing and set neighbour against neighbour with the “Right to Buy” scheme; she privatised industry after industry; she tore Britain’s manufacturing heart apart and left whole communities broken and without hope.  Those ex mining communities are riven with heroin today: exclusion zones missing a purpose, an identity, any future at all.  “Greed is Good”, said Thatcher, cheered on by the Sun and the City; whilst on the picket lines the miners and their families starved.

Bush, on the other hand, turned the post 9/11 climate of shock and fear to his advantage.  A fearful public is a malleable public; not only that, but Bush and his uber-right wing cronies saw off any dissent to his programme of privatising the “War on Terror” and turning the US economy into a war machine by smearing opposition with the catch all charge of being “unpatriotic”.  Indeed, the sociologist Douglas Kellner has noted that Lynne Cheney, wife of the aptly named Dick, took to sending out texts “outing” unpatriotic statements by professors and intellectuals.  Aided and abetted by a media so rabidly right wing as to make the Daily Mail look like the Socialist Worker, Bush unleashed an agenda shaped by the wet dreams of neoliberals whilst indulging in a series of gung ho and xenophobic rants which spoke dramatically of unleashing the dogs of war on evil doers and barbarians.  Bush repeatedly invoked not only patriotism but freedom; but his brand of freedom meant corporate deregulation, a freedom that benefited the tiny minority of the super rich and powerful whilst oppressing the majority.  His complete dehumanisation of the enemy, meanwhile, conveniently ignored the role of US hegemony and cultural imperialism and ducked any culpability.

Bush was the engineer of a new kind of war: he legitimised the use of pre emptive strikes anywhere in the world, all justified by the politics of fear he so ruthlessly exploited.  Not only that, but Kellner documents that a whole raft of extreme right wing measures went along with it: deep cuts to social spending whilst giving tax incentives to the wealthy, mounting the most sustained attack on civil liberties almost in living memory with the Patriot Act, a programme of militarisation which informed not only the war machine but responses to subsequent domestic disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, and ultimately the Iraq War.  So much for freedom.

As with Thatcher before him, the media served as Bush’s co-conspirators, going into a deeply distasteful frenzy of military fetishism and right wing zealotry and whipping up the twin narratives of panic and patriotism, Bush’s chief propaganda tools to manipulate a shell shocked public.  No stone was left unturned, no dirty trick too low.  The ultra conservative legacy of Bush’s office remains today, as does Thatcher’s: the latest budget still cuts the poorest till they bleed whilst featherbedding the wealthy.  The War on Terror and the Falklands stand as deeply disturbing historical documents of war as a weapon in the arsenal of capitalism; repressive agendas, antithetical to democracy and infinitely widening the gap between rich and poor, thrive in a climate of fear; and there is no easier way to crush opposition than to construct your enemy as unpatriotic in a time of national crisis.  As Bush himself neatly put it: “You’re either with us, or against us.”