Hey, dumb American question here. Every UK person I have ever met hates Margaret Thatcher. Why? What terrible thing did she do to piss off that many people for so long?
Where do I fucking start?
So, Thatcher was the bane of the working classes, and much of what she did still has repercussions to this day. So, in no particular order, just in the order I remember them, here are some things she did that pissed us off -
• In 1989 she introduced this thing called the “Community Charge” but which everyone calls the “Poll Tax” which replaced an older system in which your tax payment was based on the rental value of your home. This new tax meant that people living in one bedroom flats would pay the same as a billionaire living in a mansion. Obviously, the rich loved it, everyone else… not so much. So there were riots (video of news about the riots) - There were lots of riots in the Thatcher years, and they were all notable for the extreme levels of police brutality.
(photo, poll tax protest in Trafalgar Square, 1990)
• Then there was her war on industry. There was a lot of inflation when she came to power, so she instituted anti-inflationary measures. All well and good… except not the way she did it. She closed many government controlled industries, most famously steel and coal. The amount spent on public industries dropped by 38% under Thatcher. The coal miners went on strike, for almost a year, but in the end, the pits were still closed, and 64,000 people lost their jobs. Unemployment rates soared in industrial areas, and inequality between these (generally northern or welsh) areas and the rest of the UK is still there. During the strike there were numerous violent clashes with the police at picket lines which were widely televised. As a memoir from one miner attests: “ I saw a police officer with a fire extinguisher in his hand, bashing a lad in the back. I tried to get closer to note down the officer’s number but they were wearing black boilersuits with no numbers. The next thing I knew, a police officer struck me from behind. I was coming in and out of consciousness as I was dragged across the road into an alleyway. They blocked off the alley and beat another lad and me with sticks until I was unconscious.” (I can’t post the whole thing it’s too long, but read it in the Guardian) Images such as this swept the country, turning many people against Thatcher -
And after it was all over people felt Thatcher had lied, saying she wanted to close only 20 pits, when in the end, 75 were closed down.
• Inequality soared whilst she was prime minister. There is a thing called the gini coefficient, it is the most common method of measuring inequality. Under gini, a score of one would be a completely unequal society; zero would be completely equal. Britain’s gini score went up from 0.253 to 0.339 by the time Thatcher resigned.
• During her time as prime minister the notorious ‘Section 28′ was published. It stated: A local authority shall not (a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality; (b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship. - Section 28 wasn’t repealed until 2003.
• She introduced the Right To Buy scheme, which allowed people to buy their council houses for a very low price, which, at first glance, seems like a great idea, allowing people who normally wouldn’t be able to afford their own home to have one - however, loads of people have entered the scheme and now we have far too little social housing, meaning there has been a sharp rise in homelessness.
• The Battle of the Beanfield was a clash between hippies and police near Stonehenge in 1985. 1300 police officers converged on a convoy of 600 new age travellers who were heading to Stonehenge to set up a free festival in violation of a high court order. Again, there was an insane amount of police brutality, and 16 travellers were hospitalised, 573 people were arrested (one of the biggest mass arrests in UK history) - “Pregnant women were clubbed with truncheons, as were those holding babies. The journalist Nick Davies, then working for The Observer, saw the violence. ‘They were like flies around rotten meat,’ he wrote, ‘and there was no question of trying to make a lawful arrest. They crawled all over, truncheons flailing, hitting anybody they could reach. It was extremely violent and very sickening.’” (source) - Once everyone was arrested, the empty vehicles, which were in many cases the only homes the travellers had “were then systematically smashed to pieces and several were set on fire. Seven healthy dogs belonging to the Travellers were put down by officers from the RSPCA.” (source same as above)
Most of the charges were dismissed in court after Lord Cardigan, who had tagged along with them to see what would happen, testified on behalf of the travellers against the police.
• Her removal of Irish dissidents right to be placed in a category that essentially made them political prisoners instead of merely criminals led to a hunger strike that ended in 10 deaths, including that of Bobby Sands, who was elected from his prison cell, reflecting the immense national, and international support for Irish nationalists. Thatchers lack of sympathy, or even empathy led to her becoming even more of a hate figure.
• She presided over a rapid deregulation of the banks, which ultimately led to much of the problems during britains 2007-2012 financial crash many years later.
• She took free milk from school children, which, though not as serious as anything else listed here, directly affected every child in the UK and was very unpopular, leading her to get the nickname “Maggie Thatcher, Milk Snatcher”, which is still used today.
• Oh… and she supported Apartheid and called Mandela a terrorist.
This is nowhere near everything she’s done that pisses people off, but I hope it goes some way to explaining why when she died “ding dong the witch is dead” became number one in the UK charts, people partied in the streets, and people protested her (State funded) funeral. She is a decisive figure, some people in the UK do actually love her. I do not. She decimated the UK’s industrial heartland, she caused mass unemployment and the destruction of much of working class culture, she was cavalier in her financial policies and increased inequality by staggering levels, she approved serious police brutality and attempted to destroy the culture of unions in this country. I fundamentally disagree with all she stood for and it angers me that her mistakes are still affecting this country and the people who live in it. And I am VERY angry that the current government are spending £50 million on a museum about her.