By George Galloway MP
The old saw that one shouldn’t speak ill of the recently dead cannot possibly apply to controversial figures in public life. It certainly didn’t apply to President Hugo Chavez who predeceased Margaret Thatcher amidst a blizzard of abuse.
The main reason it must not preclude entering the lists amidst a wave of hagiographic sycophantic tosh of the kind that has engulfed Britain these last hours is that otherwise the hagiographers will have the field to themselves.
Every controversial divisive deadly thing that Thatcher did will be placed in soft focus, bathed in a rose-coloured light, and provide a first draft of history that will be, simply, wrong.
As is now well-known, I refused to do that today on the demise of a wicked woman who tore apart what remained good about my country, and set an agenda which has been followed, more or less, by all of her successors. I certainly wasn’t prepared to leave the obituaries to those who profited from her rule or those who have aped her ever since.
So here is my own memory of Thatcher and what she did in her time on this earth.
On one of my first political demonstrations – against the Conservative government of Edward Heath (1970-74) the slogan of the day was “Margaret Thatcher- Milk snatcher”. It was the first but not the last time I spat out her name in distaste.
Before Thatcher, every primary school pupil received 1/3 of a pint of milk every morning. For some it was the difference between breakfast and no breakfast. I was sometimes one of those. I grew up in a brief period of social democracy in Britain, being dosed by the state with free cod-liver oil, orange juice and malt to build up my strength. Having been born in a slum tenement into a one-room attic in an Irish immigrant area, I needed all of that and more. And like millions I got it, until Thatcher took it away.
She became the Conservative leader after Heath’s two electoral defeats in 1974 and his subsequent resignation.
She was a new type of Tory leader, entirely lacking in anything resembling “noblesse oblige”. She was nasty, brutish and short of the class previously thought obligatory in Britain amongst leaders of the ruling elite. She was vulgar, money-worshipping, and blasphemous. She believed the important part of the Biblical story of the “Good Samaritan” was not that he refused to pass by the suffering on the other side of the road but that he had “loadsamoney”.
In the infamous sermon on the Mound in Edinburgh addressing the Church of Scotland she opined that there was “no such thing as society”…”only individuals”
As the Labour leader Neil Kinnock, in one of his better efforts, retorted: “No such thing as society? Only individuals? No such thing as honouring other people’s parents? No such thing as cherishing other people’s children? No such thing as us and always? Just ME and NOW? ME and NOW?”
She was the living embodiment of Marx’s prediction that under capitalism “all that is solid will melt into air… all that is sacred will be profaned”
Upon her election as prime minister (with just 40% of the vote, her position ensured by the treacherous defection from the Labour cause of the rats now squirming on the Liberal-Democrat ship) she set about “transforming” Britain allright. She privatised Britain’s key industries, enriching her friends, and robbing the public of their birthright. When she took over “Financial Services” represented 3% of the British economy; when she left office it was 40%.
She destroyed the coal industry, the steel, car, bus and motor-cycle manufacturing, truck and bus-making, ship-building and print-industry, the railway workshops… she destroyed more than a third of Britain’s manufacturing capacity, significantly more than Hitler’s Luftwaffe ever achieved.
She did this not just because she prefered the spivs and gamblers in the city -they were her kind of people. But because above all, she hated trades unionism, and was determined to destroy it.
I was a leading member of the Scottish Labour Party at the time she came into office, and a full-time Labour organiser. Scotland was to become an industrial wasteland in the first years of her rule.
I was also, from 1973, a member of the then Transport and General Workers Union, one of her key targets – especially our Docks section.
Importantly, for me, I was an honorary member of the National Union of Mineworkers too.
In all of these capacities I was a front-line short-sword fighter in the rearguard action against Thatcherism.
I fought her at Bathgate, at Linwood, when she was sacking the automotive industry. I fought her at Wapping – every Saturday night when she destroyed the Print workers on behalf of her friend, the organised crime firm owner, Rupert Murdoch. I fought every day of the Miners strike when she destroyed the Miners Union and the communities they represented. I fought her at Timex in Dundee at Massey Ferguson in Kilmarnock, and at the aluminium smelter in Invergordon.
I fought against her poll tax – imposed first in Scotland – as a refusenik of the most iniquitous tax in Britain since mediaeval times, the tax which ended in flames – literally – whilst I was on the platform at Trafalgar Square. And which finally produced her political demise.
And I toured – as a political activist – the desolation in Britain’s post-industrial distressed areas which she left behind. The City of London – deregulated by her – boomed whilst the coalfields and steel areas sank into penury. I saw the rusted factories the flooded mines the idle shipyards and the devilish results of millions of newly and enforced idle hands.
I faced her in parliament from 1987 as well, on these and other issues.
You see it wasn’t just Britain that Thatcher made bleed.
Her withdrawal of political status from Irish republican prisoners and her brutal, securocratic, militarisation of the situation in the north led to much additional suffering in Ireland.
State collusion in the murder of Catholics became endemic during her rule. And ten young men were starved to death for the restoration of political status, before our eyes in her dungeons. She finally died on the anniversary of their leader, Bobby Sands, being elected to parliament as he lay on his death-bed.
During the Falklands War, she sent hundreds of young Argentinian conscripts to a watery grave when she shot the Argentine warship the Belgrano in the back – as it was speeding away from the conflict. She mercilessly exploited the sacrifice of them, and our own soldiers sailors and airmen, to save her own political skin. A lot of brave men had to leave their guts on Goose Green to keep Thatcher in power.
She pushed her alter ego – the semi-imbecilic US president Ronald Reagan – into Cold War fanaticism and burgeoning expenditure on more and more terrifying weapons – many of them stationed on our soil.
She pushed his successor George Bush Sen into the first Iraq War.
I was there, I saw her lips move, when she described Nelson Mandela as a “common terrorist”.
She continued to recognise the genocidal and deposed Pol Pot regime in Cambodia – insisting that Pol Pot was the real and recognised leader of the Cambodians, even as they counted his victims in millions.
And she was the author of the policy of military, political, diplomatic and media support of the Afghan obscurantists who became the Taliban and Al Qaeda. She even produced them on the platform of the Tory Party conference, hailing them as “freedom-fighters”.
I was one of the last men standing in parliament opposing this immoral policy of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”.
On the eve of the triumph of these “freedom Fighters” I told Thatcher to her face; “You have opened the gates for the barbarians….and a long dark night will now descend upon the people of Afghanistan”. I never said a truer word.
I hated Margaret Thatcher for what seems like all my life. I hated her more than I hated anyone – until the mass murderer Tony Blair came along.
It would have been utter hypocrisy for me to have remained silent about her crimes today whilst the political class – including New Labour – poured honeyed words, lies actually, over her blood-spattered record.
I could not do it. I believe I spoke for millions. The wicked witch is dead. Tramp the dirt down.
George Galloway MP
House of Commons