Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Criticisms of Thatcher - My Opinions Are From Experience!

I had one obviously geriatric commentator in a short but interesting queue of those to be read ( usually spam so I ignore or block comments on blogs but not this one)

The patronising old git or Ada, said I didn't know what I was talking (blogging) about in a "young man "tone. I know very much what I was talking about because I lived through the times and those years influenced my life of course. In fact some of "thatcherism" had a positive influence directly, and some had a pretty negative influence.

I paid a lot of attention to the news and the Rhetoric at the time. Back then political fights could be won and losers could be really hit hard. Wars of course too, could still be won. The Argies got rightly kicked out and they should be grateful that the UK precipitated the fall of fascism there. We had a feeling that things could be achieved and that Britain was somewhat transparent or tangeable in power and economics. Not like today with all the "funny money" and diffuse politics and lobbying, not to mention the castration of Strasbourg in favour of the trichotomy of the three biggest powers, with England as the unruly and impertinent would-be actor for reform. (which is maybe not a bad position, but being out of  Europe would be a bad thing IMHO)

I began life in a pretty well to do middle class family, in fact a crossing of the ways of my Father's side which had been some old quite rich and bourgeois family and my Mother's side who had apparently been steel workers in the Clyde valley, landing in Riddrie and then edging up into the Scottish middle classes. My Dad worked in the technical department of the most famous shipyard of them all, John Brown's.

There was nothing hugely egalitarian in me as a primary school child and I was both shy and a bit snobby with some of my rather dull class mates from working class backgrounds.

The first big change in my life was when I developed two best friends over a period who were both working class. Their parents I remember had a rather lackluster view on life and work, but set a price on their kids having friends and thoughtful, expansive hobbies. I had always loved travelling by train and seeing loco hauled trains in particular as a wee laddie. On a school visit to St Rollox railway works I got really hooked on railway engineering of loco's and rolling stock and after dabbeling and getting thoroughly bored with train spotting, travelled instead to experience railway lines across Scotland and eventually further a field in the UK. I was interested in the different diesel electric locomotives and the technology in their "power units" vis a vis engines, and power delivery and control, a life long on-off obsession. In my travels I soon met a band of "super train spotters" who chased favourite locomotive types around to "score" them when they hauled trains. I then became said type of rather ecletic railway buff and wasted many a happy hour on the West Highland Line, the routes north of Inverness and also on forays to Bristol and the Midlands.

Anyway to elongate a long story made long there, i met a lot of people from different backgrounds and young railwaymen, indeed also some women, who were married to the railway more or less. Bus man's holidays for them on  a "Freedom of Scotland" ticket. I learnt a lot of respect for their camaraderie and candor of their banter on their lives outside the hobby.

1984 we middle class peoples saw down our noses at what were portrayed as drunken secondary pickets, clashing with police and trying to stop blacklegs or "scabs" getting into collieries in particular.  I did however become disgusted at the scenes of police on horse back charging miners who seemed to be a bit rowdy and like Scots at Wembley reallyl. It looked like a civil war and that in fact is what it was: the last English Civil War, 1984.

It struck me that Scargil was a nut but he was fighting for his people. Also it was our own experience that the clyde valley in the 1970s had suffered and housing estates had become ghettos of high unemployment following the large scale collapse of several private industries in the late 60s and early 70s, somethign I attribute to chronic under-investment.

I realised that for these communities  in the coal mining areas there would be nothing. I saw the heartlessness of Thatcher aiding and abetting George McGregor at British Steel to close one of the most productive steel mills in Europe in favour of the German capacity, which the UK had so much helped modernise in the early post war years, just 30 years previously.

It was cynical and the press in Scotland knew this: Gartcosh the strip mill plant in the same vale was closed to deny Ravenscraig one route to a profitable market and allow the Consett works to take that. My godmother lived pretty much under the shadow of Ravenscraig by some strange coincidence, she being a very lovely working class nurse with a fruity clyde accent.

That was it: entire communities on the dole having dedicated their lives to these industries with their peculiar skill sets, un wanted in the general labour market. Unemployment  figures were  massaged.

So I became pretty quickly a left winger. As did the whole of Scotland, decimating the number of Tory seats in 1987 election. Also finding my self on one hand moving in social circles of teenagers from really bourgeious families who went to fee paying schools and looked down their nose often or patronised me. I felt no right after all this to be a snob or to be a victim of snobbery! I became very egalitarian in my views, but also I was very much a person who strived for the individual in society and found achievement of many of my goals a real struggle due to my variable concentration, nagging self doubt  and bouts of depression ( like a lot of teenagers only it took me 30 years to grow out of it!!)

So there is where the lines of thought between Thatcherism, and my own view on a kind of spiritual existentialism with reincarnation of the soul. Really what Jesus also meant- live a good life now and you will enter heaven: taken as obey and show homage to the church, rather than live as an individual who carries out kind acts, respects others and spreads the word of this: he was a humanist and an existentialist.

Without Thatcher I may not have got into University actually because she had a round of forcing universities to teach more students and actually expanding access to grants along side that. By that time the son of a widow, I fell into a lucky place of having a full grant and housing benefit which made life really live-able and enabled me to immerse myself in what University should be about: hard work, hard play, intellectual stimulation beyond your course work, social leadership and of course drinking and sex if you are Scottish. I could have been a day commuter actually at a push, but I had a fantastic time courtesay of the Government. Now I doubt I would be able to afford to complete my course of study and I may have chosen a less stimulating, more career oriented course.

Finishing Uni' in 1990, I then fell into the great pit of unemployed and partially unemployable lower middle class graduates in Scotland. We learnt in the early to mid nineties that the old school tie did mean something: the little bourgeois bastards got whangled jobs by their bloody parents.  It really took the internet revolution, a lot of public money, call centres, rising oil prices, the house price boom and high tech industries to actually make Scotland at least prosperous for the skilled working class, their offsrping and the educated middle class.  In the course of the 90s too then, Scotland became far more middle class. I remember many working class students and mostly they and their families had the same work ethic and hopes for their children : some inverted snob commentators like Irvine Welsh (who's dad is an accountant btw) bemoan the vast expansion of the middle class and their value set over the old "Hard" working class in Scotland. In truth it was a process of social mobility which started with scholarships for soldiers after WWII and a generation then who did go to night school to better themselves and keep up with the pace of industry. By the 70s there were many "working class tories" in Scotland, who had a work ethic and ambitions to better themselves, and many lower middle class socialists who had parents who had either risen or fallen to the level and often worked in public service or the more modernised industries or higher tech / skill careers in the traditional industries.

The Scottish Middle Class defied the allure of Thatcherism in 1987  because they,  amongst other things, remember their roots, are often nearer to working class communities and are just plain not as darn snobby as the English.

Now in Scotland we seem to have an expansive home owning lower middle class, a traditional public sector management middle middle class and a bunch of funny money types in Edinbra' and MBA types all over, who earn a heck of a lot more than they deserve and are kind of a coddled elite who live prettty much lives separated from the rest of the Scottish public, trying to mingle with old money, or being from old families who have found new ways to extract more money from property and proffessional services than ever before. In some parts of Edina' you can barely hear anything but that bland accent of fee-paying school ( which now public school types also use so as not to stand out too much with their plumby tongue) Sometimes a wiff of a rolled R or a " wee hamish has got to go in the back of the Range Rover" which maybe connects them to actually being Scottish.

Funny money which has bankrupted the US and Europe by in large, and playing monopoly so everyone struggles to get more than a semi detached or a button ben' despite high education and double incomes makes me sick: a parasitic, inflationary legacy of the old money in Scotland and the back room planning restrictions and cosey builder-councillor relationships. Kind of like the Tory party in London but affecting everyone's lives in Scotland: wake up and free up some of that bloody over subsidised farm land and set standards for building homes which make houses last generations!!

I say this all there partly as a little of the Thatcherite in me, not a jealous socialist: these people are like the old-old school tie crowd who as much as the unions, stagnated the British economy and allowed industry to fall into uncompetitiveness by the early 1970s.  Much of their wealth is being held up by socialist policies: Bank Bail Outs, i say again akin to the BL and UCS subsidies of the 70s. Housing Benefit, a massive loosely controlled subsidy to private landlords with no capping and no link to improvement in housing stock; finally the labour party laws on repossession of homes, which keeps the whole thing on hold when in fact there is a need for an "adjustment" which returns average house prices to a relationship to three or maximum four times household average income. Capital gains on some types of properties or areas is always going to happen, but the restrictions in the planning process and the high value of land which is freed up is a clear obstruction to market mechanisms correcting the housing market to being in this relationship of average income to average house price. The objective really is that the housing stock becomes more diverse and the average house becomes larger and of a higher value.

Market mechanisms: well  you would think Thatcher and Reagan had invented them if you believed David Mellor and Lord Young. The neo socialist condition of the UK was MORE a result of the old money and years of under-investment in industry than the labour parties' doing. The 60s wilson government conducted a regernation plan and did nationalise aluminium and so on, but this was an established way to approach post war modernisation, and to which consequence abroad, Britain was lagging behind.

However I am thanks partly to clause 4 of the Labour party, somewhat due to the Thatcher era, and partly due my own exposure to companies in high and low technology manufacturing and services through my employment career from small start ups to billion dollar stake multi nationals. I am in a way the new, new labour man. A student of history and amateur economist by pure raw experiences and being awake to the rhetoric, the policies and the effects of governance and management, and of people's efforts.

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