Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ding Dong! the witch is dead!

It's probably bad taste to blast someone before the family has had a chance to organize their funeral rituals.  But in the the case of Margaret Thatcher, I feel no such restraint.  She was 87 and has had plenty of praise over the years—she was the subject of a Meryl Streep movie for goodness sakes.  And when you tote up the damage the woman caused over her career, she set back civilization by enough to rank as one of history's all time evil creatures.

GB is awash in Thatcher's victims and they seem to be willing to (literally) piss on her grave.  I am more interested in those historical characteristics that make her legacy so horrifying even for those of us with no personal grievances.  Because even six time zones away, Thatcher's madness had a profound effect on my own life.

The first question is: Just how much of Thatcher was invented by Thatcher herself?  Obviously her public persona was hers, but her policy issues likely were not.  Did she really think that de-industrialization was a good idea for a country that invented industrialization?  Did she really think that a nation of that size and complexity can fund itself as a global banking center?  Etc.  On reflection, my guess is that when it came to issues like these, she was merely a designated spokesdork for whoever was cooking them up.  British universities are home to a host of crackpot "intellectuals" who were just dying to see their theories put into practice.  And out of heaven comes this shopkeeper's daughter who could sell such rubbish.

Thatcher faced a British "left" in intellectual and organizational disarray.  British industry was in serious decline long before Thatcher showed up.  There are many explanations for Brit industrial problems but one big reason was the poisonous hostility between ownership and the production people.  And while they fought, other industrial nations out-organized them to the point where soon the very idea of quality British goods became laughable.  For much of this sad state of affairs, great blame can be laid at the feet of Marxist class theory.  In their world, the fight between the classes explains everything—stop fighting and you die.  By contrast, in the world of reality where the survival of the factory is necessary for the survival of everyone who works there, the problems that unify owners, management, and production workers are many and the only potentially divisive question is, How does the pie get divided?  In Producer Theory, the classes are not mortal enemies—they share important things in common.  In my telling, the British "left" wasn't worth a shit when it came to opposing those who would close down British industry and sell it for scrap because in fundamental ways, they were just as anti-industrial.

But whether or not Thatcher is personally responsible for all the damages caused by her politics, the fact remains that policies put into place during her prime ministership are causing problems to this day.  The rule of unrestrained banksters has corrupted our financial system to the point where the best we can hope for is that the IT guys in the bowels of the big banks are going to hold everything together.  The biggest Thatcher annoyance for me here in USA was watching her provide gloss to Reagan's economic strategy.  They were both singing from the same songbook but neoliberalism just sounded more educated with a British accent.

Thatcher's Mean Legacy

The Queen Mother of Global Austerity and Financialization


We typically honor the convention to refrain from speaking ill of the recently departed. But Margaret Thatcher probably would not object to an epitaph focusing on how her political legacy was to achieve her professed aim of “irreversibly” dismantling Britain’s public sector. Attacking central planning by government, she shifted it into much more centralized financial hands – the City of London, unopposed by any economic back bench of financial regulation and “free” of meaningful anti-monopoly price regulation.

Mrs. Thatcher transformed the character of British politics by heading a democratically elected Parliamentary government that permitted financial planners to carve up the public domain with popular consent. Like her actor contemporary Ronald Reagan, she narrated an appealing cover story that promised to help the economy recover. The reality, of course, was to raise Britain’s cost of living and doing business. But this zero-sum game turned the economy’s loss into a vast windfall for the Conservative Party’s constituency in Britain’s banking sector.

By underpricing her privatization of British Telephone and subsequent vast monopolies, she made it appear that customers would be the big gainers, rather than large financial institutions. And by giving underwriters a windfall 3% commission (formerly based on floating the stock of much smaller start-up companies), Mrs. Thatcher oversaw the start of Britain’s Great Polarization between the creditor 1% and the increasingly indebted 99%.

Attacking rent-seeking in government, she opened the floodgates to economic rent-seeking in its classical sense: land rent in real estate (with debt-inflated “capital” gains) to make British property so high-priced that employees who work in London must now live outside it, taking highly expensive privatized railroads to work. Privatization also created vast new opportunities for monopoly rent for privatized public utilities, along with predatory financial takings by increasingly predatory banking.

Finance has been the mother of monopolies ever since Dutch and other foreign creditors helped England incorporate the East India Company in 1600, the Bank of England in 1694, and other commercial monopolies culminating in the South Sea Company in the 1710s.

By time Mrs. Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979, Britain had made over a century of enormous investment in public infrastructure. Financial managers eyed this commanding height as a set of potential monopolies to be turned into cash cows to enrich high finance. Mrs. Thatcher became the cheerleader for what became the greatest giveaway of the century as the City of London’s gain became the industrial economy’s loss. Britain’s lords of finance became the equivalent of America’s great railroad land barons of the 19th century, the ruling elite to preside over today’s descent into neoliberal austerity.

Her tenure as Prime Minister seemed to reprise Peter Seller’s role in Being There. She made good television precisely because her philosophy was stitched together in a sequence of sound bites that flattened complex social and economic relationships into a banal personal psychodrama. Mrs. Thatcher’s ability to sweep the broad financial and economic polarization and financial “free lunch” behind a curtain enabled her to distract attention from the consequences of what Harold Macmillan characterized as “selling off the family silver.” It was as if the economy was a middle-class grocer’s family trying to balance its checkbook along the lines of what its banker insisted were necessary in the face of wages being squeezed by rising prices for basic needs.

The ground for Mrs. Thatcher’s rule was prepared by the fact that England’s economy was as much a mess as the rest of the world by the time she took office. The 1979 Winter of Discontent saw a perfect storm unfold. Unable to restrain Arthur Scargill and other and other labor grandstanders, the British Labour Party felt little need to wait for Britain’s share of North Sea oil to come on stream. That windfall would subsidize a decade of dismantling what was left of British industry. Oil states do not need to be efficient. They do not need industry, or even employment.

Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan made a token attempt to address these issues by requesting an IMF loan in 1976 to finance tangible industrial re-investment as bridge financing until the UK’s North Sea oil could begin generating foreign exchange. But US Treasury Secretary Bill Simon read him the riot act. IMF and U.S. policy was to provide credit only to pay bondholders, not to build up the real economy. Britain would be advanced loans only if it reoriented its economy to let high finance do the planning.

The UK became the IMF’s best neoliberal poster child, establishing a comparative advantage in offshore finance in what ultimately would flower as Gordon Brown’s notorious Light Touch that brought about the banking collapses of 2008. In this sense her role was to serve as Britain’s version of Boris Yeltsin, sponsoring the carve-up of centuries of public investment.

Mrs. Thatcher stepped into the post of Prime Minister in 1979 just as the neoliberal ploy was getting underway. The “grocer’s daughter” depicted Britain’s problems as a result of uppity labor. Her view stuck a chord as labor leaders called a series of politically self-defeating strikes that disrupted daily life and made it even more of a struggle than usual for most voters. Britain’s economy had never been riper for a divide and conquer strategy.

The new twist was that the class war aimed at labor in its role of consumer and debtor, not as employee. England’s domestic industry took one beating after another as factories closed their doors throughout the country (with the most successful becoming gentrified real estate developments).

The Iron Lady was convinced she was rebuilding England’s economy, while in reality it was only getting richer from London’s outlaw banks. Throughout the world, the damage wrought by this financialized economy has been immense. By “liberating” national money from the constraints of taxing authorities, the Middle East stopped much of its projects for industrial development. After 1990 the Soviet bloc was deindustrialized to become an oil, gas and mining economy. And for Britain, trillions of dollars in global tax revenues that could have been used for industrial and social development were routed though London, where the UK has lived off the fees from this free-for-all. So despite Mrs. Thatcher’s admiration for Milton Friedman, famous for claiming that There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, she made Britain’s economy all about obtaining a free lunch – eaten by the world’s financial managers who flocked to its shores.

How much did Lady Thatcher come to understand about a financial sector of which she never deliberately favored? She never expressed regret about how her policies paved the way for New Labour to take the next giant step in empowering the City of London’s financial complex that has un-policed the banks to catalyze one financial crash after the next, hollowing out Britain’s economy in the process.

When Mrs. Thatcher took power, 1 in 7 of the England’s children lived in poverty. By the end of her reforms that number had risen to 1 in 3. She polarized the country in a ‘divide & conquer’ strategy that foreshadowed that of Ronald Reagan and more recent American politicians such as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. The effect of her policy was to foreclose on the economic mobility into the middle class that ironically she believed her policies were promoting.

Pundits the world over are chirping about her role in “saving” Britain, not as indebting it – destroyed an economy in order to save it. Her rule was historic mainly by posing the conundrum that has shaped neoliberal politics since 1980: How can governments nurture and endow financial kleptocrats in the context of rule by popular consent?

This can be achieved only by violating the Prime Assumption of classical liberal political philosophy: voters must be sufficiently informed to understand the consequences of their actions. This means that governments must take a long-term perspective.

But finance always has lived in the short run, and nowhere in the world is banking more short-term than in Britain. Nobody better exemplified this narrow-minded perspective than Lady Thatcher. Her simplistic rhetoric helped inspire an inordinate share of simpletons conflating supposed common sense with wisdom.

Not altogether simple, perhaps, but simply opportunistic. As the uncredited patron saint of New Labour, Mrs. Thatcher became the intellectual force inspiring her successor and emulator Tony Blair to complete the transformation of British electoral politics to mobilize popular consent to permit the financial sector to privatize and carve up Britain’s public infrastructure into a set of monopolies. In so doing, the United Kingdom’s was transformed from a real economy of production to one that scavenged the world for rents through its offshore banks. In the end, not only was great damage inflicted on England, but on the entire world as capital fled developing countries for safe harbors in London’s banks. Meanwhile, governments throughout the world today are declaring “We’re broke,” as their oligarchs grow ever more rich. more

UK public jubilant at Thatcher’s death

Tue Apr 9, 2013

The death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has unleashed a hail of street parties, and other joyful reactions across Britain.

In a show of the depth of public hatred against the former Conservative leader, hundreds of protesters gathered in Brixton, London and Glasgow to hold “Thatcher death parties” while similar parties were also planned in Liverpool, Newcastle and Manchester.

The public rejoicing was also clearly seen on the internet and elsewhere including among the members of the National Union of Students who cheered and applauded in their conference in Sheffield when they received the news of the former PM’s death.

On the streets, protesters held banners reading “Rejoice Thatcher is dead” while others said they are “here to celebrate the death of a woman with blood on her hands”.

Thatcher was never popular even when in power and she never won the votes of more than a third of the electorate because of her domestic policy of cuts and privatization leading to massive unemployment of up to three million people, which was unseen since the great depression of the 1930’s.

A protester in Glasgow said the celebrations are totally appropriate because Thatcher committed “economic crimes” in the 1980’s that devastated many families.

Her point was echoed by a member of the executive council of the Unite the Union in Glasgow Bryan Simpson who said they want to “point out that what she began is being continued by the Tories [PM David Cameron’s government] now”.

In England, David Hopper, general secretary of the Durham Miners' Association, said her death was a "great day" for coal miners.

Paul Kenny, General Secretary of Britain’s general union GMB, also paid his share of condemnation of Thatcher saying "her legacy involves the destruction of communities, the elevation of personal greed over social values and legitimizing the exploitation of the weak by the strong".

People were also busy on the internet, making jokes about Thatcher’s death and tapping into their creativity to show their delight of the occasion.

An e-petition has been launched on the official government petitions website poking fun at Thatcher’s privatization policy and the government’s decision to hold a state funeral for her.

“In keeping with the great lady's legacy, Margaret Thatcher's state funeral should be funded and managed by the private sector to offer the best value and choice for end users and other stakeholders,” the petition, which has so far gathered 33,000 signatures, read.

The public pleasure was also seen on Twitter with political comic Jamie Kilstein writing “To honor Thatcher I will punch a poor person and to spite her, hug a coal miner”.

Another comedian Mick Ferry wrote “Maggie [Margaret Thatcher] is now working on a plan to privatize Hell” while political journalist Seumas Milne wrote called for “no state funeral for the most socially destructive prime minister of modern times”.

Milne also tweeted that demands for “respectful silence” from “victims and critics of Thatcher” are “not only misguided but dangerous”.

The apparently endless wave of delight among Britons for Thatcher’s death was completed by tens of thousands of likes and shares on Facebook and Twitter of a website set up three years ago.

The website “Is Margaret Thatcher Dead Yet?”, which was updated with the word “Yes” boldly added to the front page after the former British PM’s death, faced a rush of likes and shares. It has so far collected more than 224,000 Facebook likes and nearly 15,000 likes on Twitter. more

Police make arrests at Thatcher death street parties in Bristol and Brixton

Officers injured during public disorder as hundreds turn out across cities in Britain to celebrate former prime minister's death

Alexandra Topping, 9 April 2013

Police officers were injured and arrests were made as protesters held street parties in cities around Britain celebrating the death of Margaret Thatcher.

One officer was taken to hospital and five others were injured in clashes in Bristol after a street party turned violent. A man was arrested after revellers refused to leave the street party, and threw cans and bottles at police, according to a spokeswoman from Avon and Somerset police. A police vehicle was damaged and an officer remains in hospital. His injuries are not thought to be serious.

Police said the group "refused requests to peacefully disperse", leading to the use of shields and batons by officers. A spokeswoman said police received a number of calls from residents about the party.

She said party-goers were "throwing stuff around and starting fires" before police arrived.People celebrate in Brixton. Photograph: George Henton/Barcroft Media

In Brixton, south London, people gathered from around 5.30pm in Windrush Square and by nightfall had attracted about 200 protesters after a party was announced on Facebook. The Ritzy cinema was festooned in banners, with the now showing sign rearranged to spell out "Margaret Thatcher dead". One banner read: "Rejoice, Thatcher is dead", while others chanted "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, dead, dead, dead".

The Metropolitan police said there had been low-level disorder in Brixton. Two women were arrested on suspicion of burglary after a shop front was broken.

"Last night police dealt with approximately 100 people who caused low level disorder," said a Met spokesman. Extra officers were called to the scene to ensure "public safety and accessibility to public highways", he added.

On the Facebook page set up to organise the party, a woman had written: "Well I hope the idiots who told me they were off down Brixton High Street for the sake of the community (sic) are proud of the fact that they smashed the windows of Barnardo's the Children's charity, but left Foxtons, the banks and McDonalds in tact. I'm proud of the people that hung around to clear up."

In Leeds a group gathered handing out "Thatcher's dead cake", singing and cheering at one of several street parties. In YouTube footage a man is seen chanting 'If you all hate Thatcher clap your hands' into a megaphone. While in Liverpool, where many reviled Thatcher for her role in the closure of the city's docks and her perceived role and views on the Hillsborough disaster, there was a gathering lit by red flares on the steps of Lime street station. Police said they had not been called to any disturbances in the city related to the former prime minister's death.

Around 300 people gathered in Glasgow's George Square which saw highly charged poll tax protests in 1989, after the introduction of one of Thatcher's most divisive measures. Revellers wore party hats, and popped a bottle of champagne while streamers were thrown into the sky. Groups such as the Communist party, the Socialist party, the Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation and the International Socialist Group were joined by members of the public.

Martin Chomsky, the lead singer of Chomsky Allstars, performed his song So Long Margaret Thatcher in George Square. "There are mixed emotions. I was never brought up to celebrate anyone's death but the pain she brought to Latin America, Europe and around the world should be remembered," he said. "I would rather that Thatcherism was dead because she is mostly to blame for what is going on today. She is responsible, but not solely, for the massive gap between the rich and the poor."

In the Falls Road area of Belfast, there were republican celebrations. In one incident a petrol bomb was thrown at a passing police patrol near Free Derry corner during a street party. There were also celebrations on the streets of west Belfast with car horns being sounded and champagne bottles cracked open, and hundreds gathered to wave flags and chant.

In Trafalgar Square in central London, champagne bottles were passed around as people celebrated, while a Facebook group is calling for another celebration in Trafalgar Square on Saturday from 6pm. A separate campaign has been launched to make Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead number one in the music charts. more


  1. Ding Dong is in fact now #1 on the British charts, and Chumbawamba's new EP, In Memoriam: Margaret Thatcher, is currently #59 on a leading pirate site. Here's the info on the EP:

    Chumbawamba – Margaret Thatcher EP ‘In Memoriam’ was mailed out on 8th April, 2013, to all who pre-ordered the CD. No further orders will be taken.

    She’s not been gone more than a few hours, and already the national media have cranked into gear and begun the blandly respectful eulogies – at their most critical they seem to be only able to say: ‘She polarised opinion … what’s certain is how much of an impact she made on Britain … etc etc’

    Twitter set off at a pace with a thousand ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’ messages only to be followed by a slew of bleeding heart liberals bemoaning the fact that people were daring to celebrate someone’s death.

    Pah! Let’s make it clear: This is a cause to celebrate, to party, to stamp the dirt down. Tomorrow we can carry on shouting and writing and working and singing and striking against the successive governments that have so clearly followed Thatcher’s Slash & Burn policies, none more so than the present lot. But for now, we can have a drink and a dance and propose a toast to the demise of someone who blighted so many people’s lives for so long.

    If we must show a little reverence and decorum at this time, then so be it. Our deepest sympathies go out to the families of all Margaret Thatcher’s victims.

    Chumbawamba, 8th April 2013

    Artist: Chumbawamba
    Release: In Memoriam: Margaret Thatcher
    Discogs: 4460591
    Released: 2013-04-08
    Label: Not On Label (Chumbawamba Self-released)
    Format: CD, EP
    Country: UK
    Style: Electronic, Jazz, Rock, Non-Music, Folk, World, & Country, Synth-pop


    01. Introduction
    02. So Long, So Long
    03. Pinochet Bids Farewell From Beyond The Grave
    04. The Day The Lady Died
    05. Ring The Bells!
    06. Waiting For Margaret To Go
    07. Sleep

    1. Thanks for the update, Wege. No matter how much I loathed Thatcher, I am sure my rage against that awful woman is tiny compared to what many in Britain feel. So I say "Party On." And for those who managed to drive "Ding Ding!" to the top of the charts, my hat is off to your organizing skills.