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Raffique Shah


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Margaret Thatcher: Sinner or Saint

By Raffique Shah
April 14, 2013

Speak no ill of the dead, they say. It is an Omertá-like Mafiosi code that binds hypocrites international, that global brotherhood sworn to covering up the dastardly sins of leaders like Margaret Thatcher, who are lionised in life and eulogised in death, thus distorting history to the extent that the truth be buried forever.

Not I. Paraphrasing and misquoting Shakespeare's Mark Antony, I intend neither to bury Thatcher nor to praise her. The evil that the woman did may well be interred with her bones, while the good, such as it was, might last forever. Like some of my daring peers who boldly swim against the tsunami of accolades that have been heaped on Thatcher, I state the facts. Let readers draw their conclusions.

When Thatcher came to power in 1979, Britain was indeed in poor shape economically. Without doubt, part of the problem was the bloated, unproductive and unprofitable State sector, many of which ought never to have been State-owned (Jaguar, for heaven's sake!).

But that was not Britain's main problem; it could not be; they amounted to only ten per cent of GDP with eight per cent of the work force. However, having adopted the mantra of privatisation that effectively started in her second term of office, Thatcher set about selling off enterprises—BP, BAE, Cable & Wireless, BG, BA, to name a few—in a mad frenzy that brought £50 billion to the Treasury.

The price that ordinary Britons paid for this load-shedding, from which mainly the wealthy benefitted, was huge. More than a million workers lost their jobs in the process, and the middle class that initially welcomed the measures, soon fell victims to stagnation of incomes, rise in the cost of living, and a reversal of their earlier fortunes.

In all, more than 50 companies were privatised under Thatcher. The exercise resulted in a widening of the rich-poor gap. In 1979, 13 per cent of Britons lived below the poverty line; by 1990, that had grown to 22 per cent. In the Thatcher years, millions went unemployed, State housing was all but terminated, average house prices quadrupled, and the pay gap between men and women widened.

But most Britons loved her, so who am I, an alien, to criticise her policies that, at the end of the day, did not save the country from the financial crisis of 2007? Former London mayor Ken Livingstone told Sky News, "She created today's housing crisis. She created the banking crisis. And she created the benefits crisis."

I need note that contrary to popular belief, Thatcher did not invent privatisation: Adolf Hitler did, back in the 1930s. Buckling under the dual millstones of the Great Depression and the punitive terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the Nazi Party introduced "reprivatisierung". They sold off huge publicly owned enterprises in mining, steel, banking, shipyards, shipping lines and railways.

Maybe another common twist was that Hitler ensured that the new owners of these enterprises were strong supporters of the Nazi Party, and later, its war effort.

If Thatcher's domestic policies were punishing towards her own people, her foreign policies were insulting towards decent human beings across the world. Since she died last week, much has been said about her branding Nelson Mandela and the ANC "terrorists" as they fought the brutal apartheid system in South Africa.

What is hardly known is that in 1985, Trinidad and Tobago had co-sponsored a motion before the UN that sought to impose rigid sanctions against South Africa for its refusal to conform to an earlier UN resolution that compelled it to give independence to what is today known as Namibia.

Britain and the USA used their veto powers to abort the motion, which otherwise won universal support (France abstained).

For all her protestations that she opposed apartheid but not blanket sanctions, Thatcher came across as a racist. That she would later welcome Mandela to No 10 Downing Street had more to do with the man's magnanimity than with her contrition.

Maybe not so ironically, in 2004, her son, Mark, was arrested in Cape Town and charged under anti-mercenary laws. He was said to have been involved in a plot to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea, along with notorious mercenary Simon Mann. Thatcher (M) plea-bargained in a South Africa court and was fined and given a suspended jail sentence.

But back to Mama Maggie: she who pontificated to the world about morals and standards and democracy, cultivated some very curious company. For instance, she described General Suharto of Indonesia as "a very valuable friend".

Now, Suharto, who seized power by coup in 1965, was a mass murderer without peer. Under his brutal dictatorship, his troops arrested, tortured and slaughtered more than a million mainly young Indonesians. His insatiable thirst for blood led him to invade East Timor in 1975, and decimate one-third the population, killing more than 200,000 men, women and children. He was also very corrupt, salting away hundreds of millions of dollars.

General Augusto Pinochet, the notorious dictator who murdered Chile's elected president, Salvador Allende, in 1973, and brutally tortured and murdered tens of thousands of Chileans during his rule, was Thatcher's lifelong friend.

He, too, was corrupt in the extreme, charged for money laundering and tax evasion in the UK and USA, and for human rights abuses in Spain. Thatcher stoutly defended Pinochet till his death.

At Christmas 1981, her personal papers revealed, she sent cards to Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, warmly addressed "To the Leader of the Great First of September Revolution", and to Saddam Hussein. Under her watch, the UK sold some £1 billion in arms to Iraq as Saddam waged war against Iran—the reason he won support from both the US and the UK.

There's more to Maggie, but no space to recount them: sinner or saint—you be the judge.

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