She certainly boosted home ownership, particularly with the sale of council houses to tenants at discounted prices heavily subsidised by the taxpayer. The increase in home ownership was also effectively achieved by making the alternatives either less attractive or less available. New council house building was restricted as much as possible so that cheap social housing to rent became steadily harder to obtain. Meanwhile, rent caps in the private sector were abolished and security of tenure for tenants seriously eroded. By discouraging the building of council houses, and building prosperity on a house price inflation bubble, her long term legacy is now housing that is utterly unaffordable to buy for many, massively inflated and often extortionate private rents, and ever scarcer social housing, with much more insecurity for tenants. Thus, whether we rent or buy, the cost of putting a roof over our heads is in real terms much higher than it was before she came to power, impoverishing many of us and further reinforcing welfare dependency by pushing the cost of housing beyond the means of low paid jobs.
Poverty at the bottom of society has increased enormously as a direct result of her policies, not only due to high housing costs and mass unemployment, but also due to the fact that insofar as the well paid manufacturing jobs that she destroyed were replaced, they were often replaced by low paid jobs in the retail and service sectors.
Her privatisations, trumpeted as major successes at the time, and a means of putting state industries into the hands of the people via “popular capitalism”, have actually resulted in most of our essential utilities being owned and run by foreigners, and in them fleecing the British public something rotten, apparently without restraint. More generally, Britain has come to be known as “rip off Britain” by many, and this, more than anything else, is the true legacy of Thatcher’s “greed is good” philosophy.
Enormous suffering was inflicted upon many parts of the country during her tenure, and upon the poorest third generally. This resulted in a massive increase in many social ills, from crime to drug addiction, from alcoholism to prostitution, from an increase in the numbers of dysfunctional families to much higher levels of gang violence, and from more mental health problems to the expansion of the black economy. We remain blighted by these problems today which, if not created by Thatcher, were undoubtedly made vastly worse by her.
In the world at large, the Falklands war was an undoubted personal triumph, though her own government had previously done much to appear to give the Argentines a green light. But her overly jingoistic sentiments at the time, fanned by much of the press, fed many ugly emotions, which she exploited brilliantly. The Falklands War did bring her much more popularity at home which allowed her to get away with many more damaging policies in other areas. But I definitely remember that success in that war restored to our nation a sense of national pride that had almost died before then. There was much gratitude for Thatcher as a result, which boosted her support electorally – the so-called “Falklands factor”. Elsewhere in the world, Thatcher was greatly admired in the USA and still is, being seen as a staunch ally, and a fierce enemy of communism. I also know from my discussions with many East Europeans on a history forum that I frequent, that Thatcher (along with Reagan) are widely admired in Eastern Europe as champions of freedom and enemies of their communist oppressors. But it is also true to say that in South Africa, feelings towards Thatcher are much colder. She was known to regard Nelson Mandela as a terrorist, thought the ANC was no better than the IRA, staunchly opposed any form of sanctions against the Apartheid regime, and was viewed as a supporter of it. Also, her support for vile and loathsome dictators just because it was those on the left that they tortured and murdered – eg General Pinochet – is also surely quite reprehensible and was widely regarded as such at the time. So abroad, Thatcher’s legacy is very different from one place to another.
Certainly, economically speaking, Thatcherism has been exported to the rest of the world with considerable success, if not always for the benefit of many of it’s recipients. Indeed, the Thatcher-Reagan consensus became the dominant economic model in the world – privatisation, deregulation, lower wealth taxes, less welfare, more inequality, higher housing costs – and thus to quite a considerable extent the world at large is suffering from her legacy, not just Britain. The banking crisis that has wrought so much economic devastation upon the world is in part one of her legacies.
Another of Thatcher’s legacies was the phenomenon of New Labour. This actually was in practice the most craven surrender to Thatcherism by a party that had previously always opposed it. Some within the party had convinced themselves that they could only win an election against the Thatcherites by imitating them, and they delivered the party to a charismatic Tory-inclined leader with the gift of the gab, and his accolytes. Thus, Thatcherism ceased to be challenged effectively, and a Labour party which included a substantial number of Thatcherite converts (albeit with a softer face), originally borne of defeatism, was itself an apparently lasting legacy of hers.
The weakness of our trade unions is of course also one of her legacies. Yes, before she came to power they were overmighty, and far too ready to strike. There needed to be some means of diminishing this. But her attacks went too far, to the extent that today the unions are virtually powerless to defennd the living standards of their ordinary members. In both public and private sectors, most workers are at best recieving pay rises well below the rate of inflation. Some are seeing their pay frozen, or even cut. Their bosses, meanwhile, continue to enjoy annual percentage pay increases well into double figures. Most working people are now getting poorer whilst their bosses get richer, because the unions are too weak to fight this, thus increasing inequality ever further. Thus, the gradual impoverishment of working people in order to enrich the managerial and shareholding classes, and the inability of unions to effectively fight this, is another lasting legacy of Thatcher.
Of course, a great many people did prosper under Thatcher, and some of these might well have risen up from poorer backgrounds. Thatcher did create opportunities for some with the right skills and abilities. And certainly, the wealthier half of the country, the upper third for sure, prospered under her to an extent that they could only ever have dreamed about before 1979. But this was bought at the cost of enormous suffering wrought upon millions of ordinary people who were mostly not that well off to begin with, and at the cost of severe damage to the moral and social fabric of society.The poor getting substantially poorer was the price that had to be paid for the rich getting richer. It was always a most obscene price to pay, but is the most enduring Thatcherite legacy of all.