Coffee House

‘We insisted on making it easier for her’: How the Left helped Thatcher succeed

11 April 2013

10:17 AM

11 April 2013

10:17 AM

The eulogies and condemnation following Baroness Thatcher’s death are coalescing into two clear truths. The first is that her legacy will always be contested: the nationwide reaction to Margaret Thatcher’s death – if viewed honestly – is one of embittered polarisation.

The second is that the British Left must always recognise the pivotal role it played in enabling Thatcher to succeed and prosecute a political programme that damaged so many of the people that progressive politics exists to serve. The lessons of Labour’s failures during the dominant Thatcher period are as relevant today as they were during her time in office.

The British Left fostered, enabled and created Thatcher’s premiership. But since her death, nowhere in the admonition of her time in power from left-wing critics is there any acknowledgement of their own side’s failure immediately before and during the Thatcher years. Honesty is a two-way street.


This week, I spoke with a veteran of that period who served in the trenches of Walworth Road. ‘I’ll never forget how we insisted on making it easier for her,’ he told me. A press officer from the pre-spin days, he recalled spending days searching out officially-sanctioned Labour Party election posters calling for unilateral nuclear disarmament and gleefully ripping down and shredding every one he could find.

Equally when trade unionists – and I am proud to be one – recall the vituperative attacks upon them and all that then followed, they must also recognise the pivotal role of the trade unions in destroying the Callaghan government. Labour’s civil war ushered in a period of Conservative rule lasting almost two decades; during which the party became the political equivalent of Pavlov’s Dog.

The painful truth of that period is that both the Labour Party and the Labour Movement was a wretched, shambolic, incoherent wreck which guaranteed successive Thatcher victories. For so many of us on the centre-left of British politics, the rightful denunciation of the economic and social suffering causd by Margaret Thatcher to so many millions in so many parts of our country – both North and South – must be accompanied by this acknowledgement: an unelectable Labour Party allowed this to happen.

Never again. Margaret Thatcher is one of the principal reasons I chose to enter politics. Fear of the left’s amnesia in assessing the reasons for her electoral success is one of the principal reasons keeping me here.

Jamie Reed is Labour MP for Copeland.

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Show comments
  • John Dalton

    This leaves out one key aspect: the splitting of the “gang of four” to form the SDP. That split the labour vote and made victory impossible. The left provoked the split, but the right played into the hands of the media and the Tories. Plus ca change.

  • Terry Ross

    I would be more concerned whether Labour would reduce VAT, whether they would ensure the ring fencing of banks, whether they would introduce a transaction tax, whether thy would increase the size of tax office, whether they would introduce a mansion tax and how they would use any increased revenues to foster growth.

  • JP

    Always the victim, never their fault.

  • The Aged P

    The pseudo “revolutionary” who wants to dance on Thatcher’s
    grave – what would Erika have said If she was still alive in Hungary after

    • Simon Morgan

      -Hope you won’t mind – I had to post this on here. -Simon

      Those on the Left who still probably regard
      Thatcher as a hate-figure, have either forgotten the history of the Cold
      War or possibly never understood that Communism meant the virtual
      enslavement of millions of people in the East European countries, who
      loathed its ideology as much as Margaret Thatcher herself. It is simply
      not possible to imagine Thatcher visiting Russia in the 1930s, like
      certain Left-wing useful idiots from Britain, and being taken in by
      Stalin’s propaganda machine. Ordinary East Europeans took a different
      view of her to her critics in this country. For them she symbolised
      opposition to Communism; indeed she was given a tumultuous welcome by
      the shipyard workers in Gdansk when she visited them. She wept at the
      sight. The shipyard workers would have been puzzled to learn of the
      refusal of Oxford University, her old alma mater and one of the most
      prestigious universities in the world, to give her an honorary degree.

  • Kit Newton

    There were two sides to the civil war in the Labour movement. It was unleashed by the Wilson/Callaghan attack on workers/unions in the form of incomes policy. And Labour was rendered ‘unelectable’ by the disillusionment created by that attack, combined with the treachery of the SDP. The latter gave Thatcher two landslide victories, without which her second and third terms – if she’d won them – would have been very different.

  • Smithersjones2013

    I think there s a greater truth. Thatcher proved the futility of soci@lism and the danger that it presents to the nation. Just look at the left’s response to Thatcherism. Dishonesty corruption and the most idiotic and profligate economic policy contrived since before the war. The rotten government of Blair and Brown was a disgrace. Brownomics was a disaster and yet they hand their party to the sons of Brown even after he led them to their worst electoral defeat suffered in Government since 1931.

    Thatcher broke the back of the Labour Movement and pretend as they like that its not the case the Labour Party is now nothing more than a cynical empty shell of disigenuous spin, vacuous propaganda and malevolent deceit as a result. Its believes in nothing other than its self promotion and the promotion of its paymasters. One only has to look at that political pygmy Miliband to realise what an pointless waste of space the contemporary Labour Party is and its high time it was discarded in the dustbin of political history.

    Barry Sheerman was right yesterday there is and has been for many years a need for a new conviction politics in this country and a new conviction politics without the malevolence of the Labour Party!

    • Span Ows

      So true: “the Labour Party is now nothing more than a cynical empty shell of disigenuous spin, vacuous propaganda and malevolent deceit as a result.

      Blair, Mandy, Blair: get power and keep it by whatever means possible.

  • chan chan

    I went to see ‘Jaws 2’ at the Empire Leicester Sq, and I remember the square was a total rubbish tip, as illustrated in this picture. Coming again to Leicester Sq sometime between ’15 and ’20…

  • Paddy

    I’m surprised the Unions couldn’t organise a general strike for Wednesday.

    That really would put the icing on the cake!

  • Paddy

    It’s absolutely wonderful to have two weeks of tributes to Margaret Thatcher.

    The Left just does not know how to handle it. Even Alastair Campbell was lost for words.

    It won’t do any harm for the younger generation to see the bile and hatred and ugly face of the Labour party.

  • Hookeslaw

    It was the left who fostered ‘a political programme that damaged so many of the people that progressive politics exists to serve’
    They did it again in 1997-2010.
    The trade unions played a pivotal role in destroying British Industry.

    The left’s amnesia is indeed rampant.

  • TRAV1S

    Lets face it Labour and the left of that era were being controlled by the Kremlin. And if it were not for Maggie this country would have ended up like North Korea. With all of us worshipping a giant poster of Arthur Scargill.

    • dmitri the impostor

      Heartfelt, graphic and hilarious. Post o’ the day.

    • Billie

      Or we might have ended up like Norway or Denmark, invested the proceeds of North Sea Oil for future generations, and got on quietly with our lives. I’ve come to the conclusion from the posts on here that the people who really admire Maggie are the ones who enjoy confrontation, jeering, slinging insults and name-calling, backed up with a bit of Govesque history. Trouble is, Thatcherism is simple, but building a happy unified society is quite complicated.

  • Terry Crow

    Given Jamie Reed, the Labour MP who wrote this, was only born in August 1973, and given he is ‘centre Left’ (read right wing), his viewpoint carries a credibility rating approaching zero.

    The right wing media stirred up a Militant witch-hunt, day in, day out, for years, and Kinnock (centre Left) not only went along with it, but led it.

    This is self-evidently divisive for the Labour movement.

    We need Labour MP’s who stand up to be counted, not stand up to bow to the right wing press.

    • Russell

      We just need less (preferably none) Labour MP’s!

    • Barakzai

      You mean impose Trotskyite inclusivity in the Labour Party led by latter-day Taaffes, Fields and Nellists? Yes, please, let’s have a such an approach from Labour: a Militant Tendency agenda will surely make the Tories unelectable.

    • Hookeslaw

      ‘We need Labour MP’s who stand up to be counted, not stand up to bow to the right wing press.’
      All power to their elbow…

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Mr Reed, shall I tell you what your ‘progressive’ politics did to me and my contemporaries in 1979? It meant continual disruption in my state school where being ‘bog standard’ was already an unattainable dream. It meant spasmodic education in my final year and no time to do practice exams.

    What fun! Despised by Mrs T and fckd over by your union chums.

    Oh – sorry Spec staff – I’m forgetting the tragedy of bin liners in Leicester Square.

    • Billie

      And the heaps of unburied dead piling up on Clapham Common.

  • aberoth

    An important Thatcher legacy will be the boost she gave to the independence movement in Scotland.When Scotland votes Yes in 2014 her contribution must not be forgotten.God bless her [imported] cotton socks.

    • Latimer Alder

      Double bubble!

      Not only freed us from the union yoke, but also contributed greatly to getting rid of the Scots.

      Great woman!

  • Shazza

    Margaret Thatcher put the ‘Great’ back into Britain – it took only 13 years of Labour mis-rule to take it out again.

    • Augustus

      Agreed. We seem to be back in much the same place as we were in 1979, unsure of our place in the world, and trapped by the poisonous economic legacy of the Labour party. Making choices and having conviction are largely out of fashion in much of Western politics today. Until we recover those we will be missing the greatest part of Lady Thatcher’s legacy.

      • jack mustard

        Given that we’ve had a Tory-led government since 2010 , shouldn’t we be back at 1982 by now?

        • Span Ows

          We have a Coalition and it’s not Tory led. Also the situation and ‘hockey-stick’ debt is far more difficult than sticking it to a few dozen dumb leftards.

    • Hookeslaw

      The solution therefore is obvious.

    • TRAV1S

      How true. Homes for heroes Labour promised us, not homes for bearded hate preachers who scream Allahu Ackbar and death to the West.

  • McRobbie

    It always amuses me when I read a leftie article that starts pontificating about “progressive politics” being their position. The most regressive politics are from the luddite, odious, left. Luddite because progress is obstructed when it is contrary to trade union positions..and it always, always is. And odious because the left pretend to be in support of the minority but oppose the individuals rights, apparently in order to protect the minority of their choice, and even more odious as they are now proposing dancing on the grave of someone who showed them up to be what they are, self serving and bigoted people.

    • Tim Reed

      True…and there’s nothing ‘progressive’ about lumbering future generations with massive debt, knowing full well you’ll be gone when the bills start to come in.

    • Simon Morgan

      The Wizard of Oz is at number 4 in the charts. This is firstly a reflection on the cretins who vote for it, and secondly more proof, if any were needed, that Thatcher won the war of ideas. We should be happier the more effort they make to embarass themselves.

  • UlyssesReturns

    I note the excessive use by leftards, the Beeb, Sky, Guardian, and all the other wishy-washy unintelligent commentators, of the word ‘divisive’ when describing Britain’s finest postwar Prime Minister. They talk about families, communities, areas and regions damaged and destroyed by her actions. I won’t go into a denunciation of all their tedious and inaccurate, schoolboy marxist untruths because for them it is a matter of a received litany of a dogma by which they shroud themselves in the righteousness of their lost cause. The reality is, without Margaret Thatcher, Britain would have been in a worse state in the 1980s than Greece today, and today we would be an also ran on the European and world stage. Without the absolutely essential cathartic changes Margaret Thatcher enabled, far more families, communities, areas and regions would have suffered and the cost to this nation would have been incalculable. Mr Reed is a follower of a fantasy political world that did not exist and his ramblings are no more than what we have come to expect from adolescent student politicians who do not deserve to represent their constituents.

    • Russell

      Similarly to the downright misrepresentation of a reduction in housing benefit to people living in accommodation that isn’t warranted to be paid for by others and labelled a ‘bedroom tax’! Repeated so many times by labour MP’s that the incorrect term was eventually used on almost every bbc news broadcast, and Sky news, and even by some Tory MP’s when being asked about a ‘bedroom tax’. Disgraceful National Socialist behavior indoctrinating the gullible as in Germany many years ago, it is labours style, in their DNA, and should never be allowed into power again in this country.

      • AlexJ

        I think the BBC is more responsible for this. Labour invented it and the BBC promotes it as “What everyone is calling it” (i.e: them)

      • Shazza

        Housing shortage mainly caused by mass immigration and Labour’s neglect to build more social housing during their 13 year misrule.

    • Gaverne

      Much more divise than anything Margaret Thatcher might have done has been the mass immigration of the Blair/Brown years, coupled with the welfare/rights for all culture and sub standard schools. What has destroyed more northern communities-these things, or an inevitable restructuring of clapped out industries? In addition, the left, BBC etc successfully created a climate in which any opposition to what was going on became a thought-crime.

      • Simon Morgan

        Our wonderful Labor government also dismantled effective border controls suggesting there was no reason to expect a deluge of asylum seekers here because of more humane controls. 40,000 ‘asylum seekers’ and 3 boat capsizes later they are still desperately trying to plug the holes. Too stupid, too late.

  • salieri

    The arrogation of that word “progressive”, denoting something self-evidently correct and desirable but obviously socialist, is unpleasant but it is also mindless.

    What you cannot, will not, bring yourself to acknowledge is that Margaret Thatcher took on the hard left and beat it. In your world it is inconceivable that this should be the result of her qualities, and therefore an excuse has to be sought elsewhere: in the weakness, misjudgement or ‘incoherence’ of her opposition. In other words, you pretend that Labour was “progressive” without being organised. Yes, the Labour Party was unelectable but no, it didn’t allow this to happen: it made it happen.

    Yours is a rare example of history being rewritten by losers.

    • Kumar Patel

      Is it forbidden to lose? Who has not?

      • Nicholas chuzzlewit

        Margaret Thatcher never ‘lost’ an election for one.

      • Steve R

        Kumar – this is your 3rd posting on this thread, and each has been more incoherent, juvenile and ill-evidenced than the last – although this latest one could be an observation by Eric Cantona, I suppose?
        You assert that “The Scots will likely break away soon”. Have you seen the opinion polls on this issue? The Scottish people are anything but stupid, despite what Alec Salmond and his bunch might assume.
        Time for your medication, I suspect.

  • Russell

    And what about now Miliband?
    Would you Nationalise the railways?
    Would you open uneconomic dangerous pits?
    Would you scrap successful free schools?
    Would you increase the size of the public sector?
    Would you reverse the benefit reforms currently taking place?
    Would you increase the size of the regular army?
    Would you increase the higher rate of Income Tax?
    Would you increase Corporation tax?
    Would you reduce or scrap graduation fees?

    Miliband and labour I suggest would not change any of the above, and a whole lot more. They are hypocrits of the highest order and will lie, spin,smear and misrepresent all and everthing to get back in power. Just look at Glenda Jackson. Prescott and Bob Crowe to see the face of labour, they are evil, the real nasty party.

    Anyone can see what they have produced in what was the teaching profession by the disgusting teachers organising ‘death celebration parties’, and these people are ‘educating’ (indoctrinating) our children.
    Look at the age of the scum celebrating Mrs Thatchers death and remember whose education system these people were ‘educated’ in.

    • Kumar Patel

      Thatcher a giant? Well……every era has its heroes and if it lacks them it invents them.

      Thatcher was to politics what Jeffrey Archer, her favourite novelist, is to literature.

      There was nothing in her except a certain lower middle class English provincial spitefulness, and a mediocrity of mind and spirit so absolute that it seemed a kind of genius in itself. She knew virtually nothing and made a virtue of it. After all, knowledge would merely have weakened her resolve in pursuing her mind-numbingly banal project of imposing middle class Archerite mediocrity as the final aribiter of the world’s fate.

      Her crazed and simplistic supporters thought she was great because the Labour Party had fallen into the hands of sucidal fools like Michael Foot (what an apt name for a clown!) and shot itself in the foot with its idiotic idea of unilateral British nuclear disarmament. She had an easy win when she should have been roundly defeated.

      The Soviet Union fell in her time and her crazed and idiotic followers thought it was her doing. This fantasy was like Idi Amin claiming to have conquered the British empire in his after dinner rants.

      The whole sad Thatcher business was a cruel, vulgar farce, with the British rich using the folly of the left and the gullibility of the masses to rake in money like never before and push the balance of power in their lardy favour.

      The Scots will likely break away soon and Britain will end.

      So much for this provincial harridan saving Britain

      • Russell

        And what would Miliband/labour change from the few examples I quoted? Answer came there none from that ‘Giant’ of intellect Kumar Patel, presumably one of the adolescents celebrating someones death and doing a bit of damage and looting like the other idiots/criminals!

      • Nicholas chuzzlewit

        Well speaking as one of her “crazed and simplistic” supporters, you are entitled to your view but perhaps you could express them without resorting to such intolerable rudeness and witless arrogance. I am not going to bother to dissect your views because there is nothing sensible to comment upon. Suffice to say they are a perfect example of the hyperbolic infantilism that so perfectly characterises the left with it’s intolerance and mind numbing dedication to mediocrity.

      • Simon Morgan

        Stop embarrasing yourself man.

      • Hookeslaw

        There is only on crazed simplistic person here mate and it aint me.

        You give a brilliant exposition of the thickness of the left. A good advert for voting tory and the urgent need to keep labour out of power.

      • Stephen Brooks

        Well, Kumar, I’ll need to know more about your own intellectual and spiritual achievements before I can fully appreciate your criticism of Thatcher’s mediocrity. After all, Margaret Thatcher was a state-educated girl who gained a BSc in Chemistry from Oxford. She had a short but successful career as a research chemist, although she did rather blot her copybook by becoming a barrister after that. Many of her political contemporaries, national and international, have acknowledged her formidable preparedness and understanding in all of the dealings she had with them. I suspect that both her knowledge and mental agility were vastly superior to that of the pygmies who lead us now: all of them products of a privileged education with pointless PPE degrees and no experience of the world outside Westminster.

        As an MP, Thatcher overcame the prejudices of the time to become an influential world leader and the architect of lasting change in British politics. She did so in spite of a rotten political and economic inheritance; a near-total loss of confidence among the British ruling classes; internal Conservative party opposition; visceral left-wing loathing; belligerent, self-serving trade unionism; and the machinations of an aggressive, imperialist enemy in the USSR. For heaven’s sake, you can dislike the woman and her legacy, but questioning her spirit is ridiculous.

        As you seem to admit, the then Labour Party was practically unelectable, but Thatcher’s win still wasn’t easy. Let’s not forget that vast legions of the brain-dead continued to vote for their destructive policies, as they still do. Moreover, most of today’s Labour MPs lived through those times. They’ve seen the stupidity first-hand, and they’ve decided it makes sense.

        Like many with conservative inclinations, I share your distaste for the increasing gap between rich and poor. Unfortunately, history shows that when a society becomes richer, some always do very much better than others. Even more unfortunately, history also shows that socialism is not the answer to this problem: socialists just prevent the society from becoming richer in the first place, and then try to brainwash everybody into believing we’re better off for it.

        On the subject of Scotland, I think it unlikely that the Scots will have the courage to break away from Britain. If they do, however, I’ll be sad to see them go; and I’ll lament the passing of Great Britain, one of the most brilliant and successful advancers of progress and development in history. On the other hand, it might just be the saving of England, since the Labour party will have to change enormously to become electable.

        Finally, your clear disdain for the ‘lower middle class’, the ‘English’ and ‘provincial’ values isn’t terribly liberal or tolerant, is it? It’s rather telling: one might almost think that you think yourself superior and your views more worthy. As a conservative reactionary, I’m quite comfortable with such opinions, but aren’t you lefties supposed to be a bit more inclusive?

        • HJ777

          Well said.

          And yes, PPE was the ‘Media Studies’ of its day.

        • Simon Morgan

          And vast legions of the brain dead are jumping up and down to the sounds of the Wizard of Oz. It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry.

      • SimonToo

        What intense, blind, snobbery !

        The enoblement of the real person as Lady Thatcher left Thatcher/Maggie Thatcher/Margaret Thatcher free as the name of an extraordinary mythical creature. Some are moved by the death of the person to contemplte the remarkable, human, life of Lady Thatcher. Many use it to embroider an ever denser tapestry about that mythical creature.

  • Simon Morgan

    You’re overlooking the fact that Thatcher appealed to both Blue and White collar workers because she recognized that people aspire to improve their lot. Labor has never recognized this simple fact, even now. The ‘pain’ caused by the failure of big industry, such as the shipyards, mining and British Leyland, was an inevitable consequence of not being competitive and the only thing thatcher did was to bring home that reality. Labour’s policy was to subsidize jobs that were just not there. In the real world, if no one is buying your products, you go out of business. So, while Labour may have contributed to it’s own undoing, it’s far from true to say Labour ‘enabled’ Thatcher.It would be more accurate to say the unions destroyed Labour, not Thatcher.

    • Kumar Patel

      You bray:

      “You’re overlooking the fact that Thatcher appealed to both Blue and White collar workers because she recognized that people aspire to improve their lot. Labor has never recognized this simple fact, even now.”
      How did the working class fare in all the decades of unchallenged Tory and Liberal rule before 1945? Have you read Dickens or Orwell?

      • Simon Morgan

        Yes, I have. Wonderful writers both. I wouldn’t argue that the unions were a necessity at some point in history. But they had definitely outlived their usefullness by the 1970’s -if that’s your point.

        • Nicholas chuzzlewit

          I agree with your sentiments Simon but believe that the unions have also forgotten their purpose which is is simply to look after the interests of their members. Somewhere along the line they decided that they were an alternative to duly elected governments and the final arbiters of government policy on education, health, industry, welfare etc. mrs Thatcher did much to curtail this behaviour but more needs to be done.

          • Simon Morgan

            Yes – agreed. They also thought they could blackmail us into giving them what they wanted, and Mrs. Thatcher told them where to to stick that idea!

      • HJ777

        They got progressively richer.

        • jack mustard

          But relatively poorer.

          • HJ777

            Actually, and certainly by the time of Orwell, the gap between the rich and poor was narrowing.

            Neither did Dickens exactly describe typical scenarios of his time, otherwise they would have attracted little interest.

            But the most important think is that poor people were getting richer – which is what really mattered to them.

            • jack mustard

              But under Thatcher, “inequality rose dramatically”.

              • HJ777

                That wasn’t the question. It was about how the working classes fared up to 1945.

                It also depends on how you measure ‘inequality’.

  • Colonel Mustard

    “…the British Left must always recognise the pivotal role it played in enabling Thatcher to succeed and prosecute a political programme that damaged so many of the people that progressive politics exists to serve.”

    Pity you don’t demand the same recognition for the role it played in prosecuting its own political programmes that have damaged so many of the people and the whole country as well.

    Still your admission that “progressive” politics exists to serve only some people rather than everyone speaks volumes about you, the militant left-wing unions and the Labour party.

    • Nicholas chuzzlewit

      Agreed. All so drearily predictable that Thatcher was created by the failures of the left. The fact that the left’s philosophy of mediocrity and failure for all was so ruthlessly and honestly exposed by Thatcher is the truth that can never be owned by the likes of Mr Reed. There is never an acknowledgement that hardworking individuals with ambition and purpose were actually given a platform from which they could succeed and prosper under Thatcher. Heaven forbid, we were also allowed to keep the majority of whatever we earned!

      • telemachus

        And of course big bang gave us the Bankers, the Bonuses and the Goodwin’s that made Britain great again

        • Nicholas chuzzlewit

          Thatcher presided over ‘big bang’ and a properly regulated ‘City’. Gordon Brown replaced that regulatory regime for one of his own which gave us the first ‘bank run’ in a 146 years (Northern Rock), a regulatory climate that permitted inaccurately rated securitisation investments, a consumer credit boom and it was he, not Mrs Thatcher, who recommended Fred Goodwin for his knighthood. No doubt you will find a other ways to distort history but not on this occasion.

        • Colonel Mustard

          Another telemachus comment dangling under the top post again like an ugly and irritating haemorrhoid.