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Friday, 7 July 2017

The Iron Lady Cast in Bronze?

In this blog a few weeks ago, I welcomed the report that a statute to Millicent Fawcett was to be erected in Parliament Square; the first woman so to be honoured. She was not a parliamentarian: her husband was, as a Liberal he was the Postmaster-General who made many innovations. The range and depth of Millicent's contributions to economic and social improvement, particularly during her long widowhood, more than justifies her place beside the Mother of Parliaments and Westminster Abbey.

It is now reported that the management of the Royal Parks, who manage the square, is minded not to allow the erection there of a larger-than-life bronze statue of Margaret Thatcher; on the grounds that Mrs Thatcher's family has not supported the project.

It is also  matter of open discussion as to whether the statue would become a favourite target for vandalism. Margaret Thatcher remains a highly contentious figure almost three decades after she tearfully quit the office of Prime Minister, after holding it for a decade during which her government had radically redirected politics and restructured the economy.

It will be obvious to anyone who has looked at this blog in the past [or who does a word-search on it at any time in the future] that I am of the view that Mrs Thatcher had no serious grasp of economic theory or reality, beyond the corner shop mentality of keeping the books balanced that she imbibed from her parents.

What was blindingly obvious when she became leader of the Conservative Party at the height of the inflationary crisis of the mid-nineteen-seventies was that the status quo was unsustainable. A Labour government that was dependent on votes in the Commons from minor parties went cap in hand to borrow a large sum of money from the International Monetary Fund in order to have a hope of stabilising the external payments position: and the conditions that were set on that loan would radically change the direction on national policy from that which had - generally - been followed by both Labour and Conservative governments for a quarter of a century.

Through the 'fifties and 'sixties a generation of Economists who could broadly be classified as neo-Keynesian had promised to be able to deliver policies that would give the country pretty-well continuous economic growth. When the politicians applied the policy, after twenty years it became a recipe for inflation of prices that stimulated increasingly vociferous demands for matching pay increases.

The International Monetary Fund's conditions on the loan required the British government [of whichever party was in power] to introduce Monetarist policies. In the 1979 general election the Labour Party was riven between those who felt obliged to impose the policies required by the IMF and the mass of trade unionists who hated that policy. The Conservatives accepted the policy, and some of them embraced it. The consequences of the Thatcher 'revolution; in the economy were immense. Unprecedented wealth came to those who operated in the financial services, especially in the south-east; while whole swathes of the country faced mass unemployment and dereliction as long-established industries and their underpinning assets of coalmines, steelworks, shipyards and railways were shut down. Many areas still have not recovered from the devastation that the Thatcher pack caused, and the whole economy has been set back by the crisis measures that were taken in 2007-9 to save the overblown financial institutions that emerged from the 'big bang' of 1986.

Even in 2020 there is a strong likelihood that a larger-than-life-sized bronze image of Mrs Thatcher could indeed be the much-painted target of expressions of hostility to the entire policy direction that 'Mrs T' embodied. The family and the Royal Parks are right to have reservations. The first woman prime minister should be honoured, as should Mrs Fawcett; but felings are such that the statue could well have a very mixed reception.

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