‘Honoured that you are writing my father’s biography’ the late Tony Benn, ‘...wonderfully written’ Hilary Benn

‘Sparkles with fascinating detail…a remarkable story of Liberal and Labour politics in the first half of the twentieth century.’ Michael Crick, Political Correspondent, Channel 4 News

‘Casts much light both on the evolution of British radicalism, and on the legacy which he bequeathed to his son, Tony. Professor Vernon Bogdanor, King's College, London

‘Brilliant biography…wonderful reading about the father and...discovering more about the son.’ Steve Richards of The Independent

‘Well-written and carefully researched, this fascinating biography brings to life a major figure in British political history…an excellent job of weaving together the strands of a complex life…as well as filling in the background of the Benn family’ Richard Doherty, military historian

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher and Lloyd George

Even before her death yesterday at the age of 87, only 10% of people surveyed in a YouGov poll considered that Margaret Thatcher was on balance neither good nor bad for the country. 43% thought that she was good and 34% bad. Her death will probably polarise opinions even more in the short term.

However, we do not have to be tempted to leap to one extreme or the other. It is perfectly reasonable to weigh up the evidence of Margaret Thatcher’s career and consider that the overall balance is close to neutral.

Before Thatcher came to power, the trades unions had been holding the country to ransom in the Winter of Discontent, but the aftermath of the miners’ strike during Thatcher's premiership, which severely weakened union power, still leaves deep divisions in some communities.

The sale of council houses gave many a chance to own their own home, but the money received was not ploughed into building more homes. 

Telecoms privatisation has given us a better and more innovative service. Water privatisation has given us no more choice, but higher bills.

The Falklands war was a messy military victory, in an avoidable conflict.

Big Bang City deregulation produced huge profits and tax revenues for the government in the short term, but led to many of the problems of the financial collapse of 2008.

Instead of borrowing money every year, there were years when some of the national debt was repaid during Thatcher’s premiership, but the revenues were flattered by North Sea oil.

Thatcher did promote early green policies, but she was a smoker who did not want to increase cigarette taxes on the pretext of preserving jobs in the tobacco industry.

Eurosceptics credit Margaret Thatcher with taking a strong anti-European line, but she was the prime minister who took the Pound into the Exchange Rate Mechanism.

Margaret Thatcher did win three general elections, but her Labour challengers were successively James Callaghan, Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock – not the most formidable of opponents. Thatcher’s successor, John Major won more votes in the 1992 general election than Thatcher had in any of her victories.

Thatcher was a trailblazer as the first female prime minister, but she only ever appointed one other woman to her cabinet.

Thatcher may have appeared supremely confident, but she was worried that she would be forced from office over the Westland dispute, a disagreement over a commercial partner for a small and struggling helicopter manufacturer. She was reprieved by Opposition Leader, Neil Kinnock’s overblown rhetoric in the Commons debate.

The only other prime minister who divides opinion to anything like the same extent is Lloyd George, ‘the man who won the [First World] War’, but who sold honours for cash and completely mis-judged Hitler. In Lloyd George’s case the good and the bad tend to be found in different events. But in Margaret Thatcher’s case, they tend to be mixed up in nearly everything she did.

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