Mary Dejevsky: Don't blame Thatcher – she was all for sound money

Her view of money was what she'd learned as a grocer's daughter

Share
Related Topics

You may not remember, but I do – vividly. There was a time in my first job, at the supposedly apolitical BBC, when most of my contemporaries suddenly sprouted little lapel badges with the defensive legend: "Don't blame me, I voted Labour." Not by temperament a badge-wearer, I found the phenomenon rather juvenile. But, of course, not displaying one was tantamount to having "Blame me...." tattooed in capitals across my forehead.

Well, 20 years or so later, you can blame me all you like. But I stand by my votes in those years. And, contrary to what you may now be led to believe by a generation of Thatcher-haters in influential places, the notion that the lady – 83 yesterday – is in any way the author of today's crunch and crash reflects revisionism of the most pernicious kind. I only wish she were strong enough and engaged enough to defend herself, in characteristically robust fashion, from the slurs.

The very suggestion that what we are now watching is the "death of Thatcherism" – to quote but one influential commentator (from, as it happens, the BBC) – is to distort everything that Margaret Thatcher really stood for. That distortion may be wilful or ignorant. But to blame Mrs Thatcher, even indirectly, for share-dealers who over-reached themselves, for once-august institutions that lent irresponsibly, for the evolution of a derivatives market so complex that debt was opaque is wrong: all this is about as far from Thatcherism as it is possible to be.

Let's be clear (she always was). "Greed is good", as a concept, was born on Wall Street out of Ayn Rand. it had nothing to do with Thatcher. And who was it who was "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich"? Why, New Labour's just ennobled Peter Mandelson. And who were the ministers who hobnobbed with celebrities and enjoyed the patronage of the new rich? Not Margaret Thatcher. That came later.

Her relationship to money was the one she had learned as the grocer's daughter – as was repeatedly held against her by those better-off or higher-born than she was. it was about hard work, honesty and living within your means. Yes, it was also about self-improvement, enterprise and enjoying the fruits of your labours (that is, not wanting to see it squandered by government). But it was certainly not about "something for nothing" and had zero in common with so-called "casino capitalism". That was a later excrescence that I hope and believe any Thatcher government would have stopped.

It is worth revisiting exactly how she did, and did not, use her high office. Yes, she sold off council houses. But the mistake lay not in selling them off at a discount to long-time residents, but in not using the proceeds to fund more low-cost housing and in the speculation that followed from inadequate residence requirements. The "Big Bang" lifted some – not all – of the regulatory shackles on the City; it also presupposed a timeless business code of honour which, regrettably, flattered some of the would-be new rich. Her privatisation programme encouraged the "Sids" of this world to become shareholders. Overall, she cut public ownership by 60 per cent. But it was not Mrs Thatcher who privatised the railways.

Nor, perhaps most important of all, was it Mrs Thatcher who made the Bank of England independent. She flirted with the idea, only to reject it decisively and on principle – the principle being that the national bank was a lever that ought to remain in the hands of the elected government. Given the regulatory mess left behind – as exposed by the collapse of Northern Rock – her conservative instinct was right.

Not instinct, but training, explains another, often neglected, feature of Thatcherism. As a natural scientist, she distrusted social scientists, and that included economists. She recruited the monetarist, Alan Walters, because she was sceptical of the British establishment consensus. Monetarism also gave you something to count, and as a scientist, she also liked to get to grips with hard evidence. if she had been Prime Minister in the late Nineties, I wonder how long it would have taken her to ask where all the "real" money had come from to fuel the housing market, the City salaries and those bonuses. And if the answer had been mumbled talk about "collateralised debt obligations" and other such, I think she might have wanted to know some more.

As a visual aid, I offer you Mrs Thatcher's handbag. it was functional. it was not carried to make a design or wealth statement. if it had any secondary purpose at all, it was to satisfy cartoonists and wallop Jacques Delors. What died this week was the showy mutation that too many have mistaken for Thatcherism. Can we now please get back to sound money and the real thing?

m.dejevsky@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yarl's Wood in Bedfordshire, Britain’s largest Immigration Removal Centre  

Thanks to Channel 4 we now see just how appallingly Yarl’s Wood detention centre shames Britain

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
 

If I were Prime Minister: I’d ensure ministers took mental health in the armed forces as seriously as they take physical wounds

James Jones
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?