Margaret Thatcher: the most useful of idiots

With his mixture of vaulting intellectual ambition and howling mediocrity of mind, Lenin is the MaGonagal of  philosophers. (Connoisseurs of intellectual incompetence and pretension should browse through Lenin’s ‘Materialism and  Empririo-Criticism’ for an especial treat). Nonetheless,  like Hitler, the man possessed a certain low animal cunning  and a complete absence of moral restraint, which qualities  permitted him to make a few acute psychological and  sociological observations. Amongst these is the concept of  the useful idiot.

For Lenin this was the role to be played primarily by  simpleminded bourgeois dupes who unwittingly aided the  movement towards the proletarian revolution, a revolution  utterly antipathetic to the ideals and aspiration of the simpleminded bourgeois dupes. But the concept is of general  political utility. The useful idiot is any person who acts  in a way which unwittingly promotes political interests  which are opposed to his own political ideals.

The best of all useful idiots are those in positions of the  greatest political advantage, both because they have power  and their  propensity to be  deluded by their egos  into believing that they are utterly beyond manipulation or mistaken in their policies. They also display a serious want of  understanding of the probable consequences of their actions.

It was this combination of circumstances and mentality which  made Margaret Thatcher so potent a useful idiot in the  liberal internationalist cause.  As I wrote that last sentence, I saw rising up before me the  opposing hordes of her admirers and haters, singularly  united in a ghastly embrace of disbelief. Was she not the  Iron Lady, the Hammer of the Left, the destroyer of union  power, the slayer of the socialist dragon? Did she not speak  of turning back the tide of immigrants? Was she not the rock  from which the European Leviathan rebounded? Did she not  ensure that Britain was respected in the world as she had not  been since Suez? Was she not a mover and shaker in the nationalist cause?

In her own rhetorical world Mrs T was all of these things,  a veritable Gloriana who enchanted some and banally persuaded  many more, but in practical achievement she was none of them. This discrepancy between fact and fancy made her an  extraordinarily potent tool for the soldiers of the  ascendant ideology of the post-war period, the sordid bigotry  that is liberal internationalism.

The hard truth is that she allowed the primary British  political corruptions of the post war period – immigration,  multiculturalism, “progressive” education, the social work  circus,  internationalism, the attachment to Europe – to not  merely continue but grow vastly in scope during her period in  power.

A harsh judgement? Well, at the end of her premiership what  did Britain have to show for her vaunted patriotism, her wish  to maintain Britain’s independence, her desire to drive back the state, her promise to end mass immigration? Precious  little is the answer.

Her enthusiastic promotion of the Single European Act, which  she ruthlessly drove through Parliament, allowed the  Eurofederalists to greatly advance their cause under the  guise of acting to produce a single market; her “triumph” in  reducing our subsidy to Europe left us paying  several billion  a year to our European competitors whilst France paid next to  nothing; our fishermen were sold down the river; farmers  placed in the absurd position of not being allowed to produce  even enough milk for British requirements; actual (as opposed to official) immigration increased; that monument to liberal  bigotry, the Race Relations Act was untouched, the  educational vandals were not only allowed to sabotage every  serious attempt to overturn the progressive disaster, but  were granted a great triumph in the ending of ‘O’ levels, a  liberal bigot success amplified by the contemptible bleating  of successive education secretaries that “rising examination  success means rising standards”; foreign aid continued to be  paid as an unforced Dangeld extracted from an unwilling electorate; major and strategically  important industries either ceased to be serious competitors  or ended in foreign hands; the armed forces were cut  suicidally; the cost of the Welfare State and local  government rose massively whilst the service provided both  declined and Ulster was sold down the river with the Anglo Irish Agreement. Most generally damaging, she promoted  internationalism through her fanatic pursuit of free trade.

At all points Britain was weakened as a nation. Such were  the fruits of more than a decade of Thatcherism. Even those things which are most emblematic of her – privatisation, the sale of council houses and the  subjection of the unions – have had effects which are  contrary to those intended. Privatisation merely accelerated  the loss of control which free trade engendered. We may as customers celebrate the liberation of British Telecom and BA,  but is it such a wonderful thing to have no major car  producer or shipbuilder? The trouble with the privatisation of major industries, which may be greatly reduced, go out  of business or be taken over by foreign buyers, is that it  ignores strategic and social welfare questions. Ditto free trade generally. Both assume that the world, or at least the  parts which contain our major trading partners , will remain  peaceful, stable and well disposed towards Britain for ever, an absurd assumption.

Margaret Thatcher also engaged in behaviour which led to a corruption of public life which undermined and continues to  undermine her intended ends. Politicians should always think of what precedent they are setting when they act for bad  precedents will be invariably seized upon by later  governments. She  consistently failed to  address this concern. Take her attitude to privatisation and  the unions. In the former case she displayed a contempt for  ownership: in the latter she engaged in authoritarian actions  which were simply inappropriate to a democracy. Such legally  and politically cavalier behaviour has undoubtedly  influenced Blair and New Labour, vide the contempt with which  parliament is now treated, constitutional change wrought and incessant restrictions on liberty enacted.

There is a profound ethical question connected to  privatisation which was never properly answered by Tories:  what right does the state have to dispose by sale of assets  which are held in trust on behalf of the general public and  whose existence has been in large part guaranteed by  taxpayer’s money? This is a question which should be as  readily asked by a conservative as by a socialist for it  touches upon a central point of democratic political  morality, the custodianship of public property. The same ends  – the diminution of the state and the freeing of the public from seemingly perpetual losses – could have been achieved by  an equitable distribution of shares free of charge to the  general public. This would have had, from a Thatcherite standpoint, the additional benefit of greatly increasing share ownership. By selling that which the government did not  meaningfully own, she engaged in behaviour which if it had  been engaged in by any private individual or company would  have been described as fraud or theft.

The breaking of union power was overdone. As someone who is  old enough to remember the Wilson, Heath and Callaghan years,  I have no illusion of exactly how awful the unions were when they had real power. But her means of breaking their abusive  ways, particularly during the miners’ strike, were simply  inappropriate in a supposed democracy. Passing laws restricting picketing and making unions liable for material  losses suffered when they broke the rules were one thing: the  using of the police in an unambiguously authoritarian manner in circumstances of dubious legality such as the blanket  prevention of free movement of miners, quite another.

The Falklands War displays another side of her weakness in  matching actions to rhetoric. Admirable as the military action was, the terrible truth is that the war need never  have been fought if the government had taken their intelligence reports seriously and retained a naval presence  in the area. The lesson went unlearnt, for within a few years  of the recovery of the Falklands, her government massively  reduced defence expenditure.

But what of her clients, the Liberal Ascendency? Would they  not be dismayed by much of what she did? Well, by the time  Margaret Thatcher came to power liberals had really lost whatever interest they had ever had in state ownership or the  genuine improvement of the worker’s lot. What they really  cared about was promoting their internationalist vision and  doctrine of spurious natural rights. They had new clients;  the vast numbers of coloured immigrants and their children,  women, homosexuals, the disabled. In short, all those who were dysfunctional, or could be made to feel dysfunctional, in terms of British society. They had new areas of power and  distinction, social work, education, the civil service ,the  mass media to which they added, after securing the  ideological high ground, the ancient delights of politics.

Although the liberal left distrusted and hated Margaret  Thatcher (and did not understand at the time how effective  her commitment to free trade was in promoting  internationalism), they nonetheless had the belief throughout  her time in office that Britain’s involvement in the EU and  the Liberal Ascendency’s control of education, the media, the  civil service and bodies such as the Commission for Racial  Equality would thwart those of her plans which were most dangerous and obnoxious to the liberal.

Margaret Thatcher greatly added to this wall of opposition  by her choice of ministers. Think of her major cabinet  appointments. She ensured that the Foreign Office remained in the hands of men (Howe and Hurd) who were both ardent  Europhiles and willing tools of the FO Quisling culture, the  Chancellorship was entrusted to first Howe and then Lawson who was also firmly committed to Europe. The Home Office sat  in the laps of the social liberals Whitelaw, Hurd and Baker,  Education was given to Baker and Clarke. Those appointments  alone ensured that little would be done to attack the things  which liberals held sacred, for they were men who broadly  shared the liberal values and who were opposed to  Thatcherite policies other than those on the economy, which  of course was the one Thatcherite policy guaranteed to  assist liberal internationalism. By the end, she was so weak  that she was unable to prevent the effective sacking of a  favourite cabinet minister, Nicholas Ridley, by the German  Chancellor.

The constant cry of Margaret Thatcher after  she left office  is that she did not understand the consequences of her acts.  Of course she does not put it in that way, but that is what  it amounts to. She blames Brussels and the Foreign Office for  the unwelcome consequences of the Single European Act. She  readily admits that this minister or that in her government proved unreliable or treacherous, but does not conclude that  her judgement in choosing them was at fault. She blames the  Foreign Office for the Falklands War. But nowhere does she acknowledge her fault.

In her heart of hearts, has  the second longest serving and most  ideological prime minister in modern British history ever comprehended, however imperfectly, that she was a prime mover  in the Liberal Internationalist cause? I doubt it, because  self deception is at the heart of what makes a useful idiot.

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