As pundits battle to make their mark in the tsunami of comment following the passing of Margaret Thatcher, some truly desperate measures are being taken in the effort to rewrite history. And Rupe’s downmarket troops at the Sun have already resorted to one of the most basic newspaper tactics: inventing a past that didn’t happen that way, in the expectation that their readers are too young or won’t remember.
“Unique PM of real courage” begins Sun Says, which is at least capable of being stood up by reality. But it goes downhill in short order: “SO how will The Sun remember Margaret Thatcher, the greatest peacetime Prime Minister in our history?” comes next. Walpole, Peel, Disraeli, Gladstone, Asquith, Lloyd George and Attlee (all have their own claims to the title) somehow got forgotten in the rush to gush.
But Mrs T had principles: “Personal freedom. Self reliance. Strong defences. Low taxes. No union tyranny. No nanny state. No EU meddling”. Ho yus? Personal freedom did not extend to anyone trying to exercise that pesky idea of freedom of movement or association in any area with a pit in the vicinity during the Miners’ Strike. That’s a typical London-centric view of the world.
“Strong defences”? The cuts in the armed services enacted after Mrs T came to power in 1979 almost prevented them retaking the Falkland Islands, the invasion of which had been provoked ... by the same cuts. So what about “Low taxes”? This, too, is a myth: the Tories jacked up the VAT rate from 8% to 15%. Where does the Sun think that early 80s spike in inflation came from?
Well, it also came from paying off the highly unionised public sector workers in the aftermath of the “Winter of Discontent” that helped bring her to power. The “union tyranny” that the Sun speaks of was initially indulged, including backing down from a confrontation with the miners. That initial humiliation, though, merely stoked Mrs T’s vindictive streak and effectively ensured the future confrontation.
But didn’t taxes come down? Not at first they didn’t: the personal tax burden actually rose for the first half of her Premiership. Only later, with the cushion of North Sea Oil revenue, could there be cuts. And the idea of “No EU meddling” from a Prime Minister who signed the Single European Act is jaw-droppingly dishonest. The opt-outs, including from the single currency, came under her successor.
Of course there were beneficiaries from the Thatcher years, as I noted yesterday. But it is this inability to understand the polarising effect of her Premiership that marks the Sun’s take as mere jingoistic claptrap. There was no miracle performed during the Thatcher years. Oil and gas revenues plus increased debt was not the application of rocket science. There were losers as well as winners.
No amount of sycophantic drooling and drivelling from the Sun will prove otherwise.