Thatcher must be relishing that fact that her death has lifted the lid off of Real Labour. Even from the grave she can strike a fatal blow.
13 Apr 2013 at 13:43
I wonder when it will dawn on Ed Milliband that until the Labour Party appreciates how great a leader Tony Blair was they can never be elected. Sadly it won’t enter his head as he is precisely the wrong person to make such a judgement as during the Blair years he was plotting and scheming with Ed Balls, Damian MacBride and Charlie Whelan to undermine everything Blair stood for. While the country was rather enjoying Thatcherism with a heart and a sense of humour Brown’s gangsters were planning for that wonderful day when he inherited what was rightfully his. And on that glorious day the sun shone, angels trumpeted and the left became all misty eyed that that they had at last reclaimed their party.
But what has always mystified me is why on earth they all thought Brown was going to do such a stunning and spectacular job when those of us who used to bump into this brooding and driven figure in Westminster corridors realised that the poor fellow was devoid of any social skills. In the clubable atmosphere of Westminster he only wanted to club his enemies. And they weren’t on the Conservative benches. The only time I ever saw him genuinely smile was when I tipped him off that a very pretty member of the lobby was desperate for a shag. I never asked him whether he accepted the invitation.
The similarities between Thatcher and Blair are quite remarkable. She was treated as an outsider by her party as was he. She was treated with deep suspicion by the old guard and Blair was regarded as a cuckoo in the socialist nest. Both were accused of hijacking their parties and both achieved almost mythical status. The legend that will be Margaret Thatcher passed down from generation to generation will be serious fairy tale material. Some of the stuff one hears from kids on the back benches most of whom were at school when she was in her prime must make the likes of John Whittingdale and Ken Clarke either smirk or cringe. She will be always be viewed through the prism of the Falklands war and Blair through the fog of Iraq. In that I feel rather sorry for Blair. His legacy was to make the public less frightened of Labour and to carry the compassionate Thatcherism of John Major to another level. He skillfully distanced himself from the trade unions and had the courage to ditch Clause 4.
Yet if it hadn’t been for Barabara Castle another determined, opinionated and feisty fighter, Margaret Thatcher, would probably never emerged as a leader at all let alone a great one. Castle realised that the power of the union barons was a millstone around the neck of not just the Labour Party but the economy.You really have to be over the age of fifty to remember those days when if the print unions didn’t like a piece of reporting they wouldn’t print it. When annual pay increases which industry could not afford but was blackmailed into paying by the threat of strikes boosted inflation to over thirty percent. It wasn’t Thatcher who destroyed our industrial base, it was the greedy, bullying unions with unrealistic wage claims and Mickey Mouse jobs which made us the Sick Man of Europe. And Barbara Castle had the courage to try and do something about it. She tried to introduce sensible trade union reform in a white paper called In Place of Strife. This was so secret that not even her minister of State Harold Walker knew about it until print unions leaked it to him. After all they printed it. I remember him telling me the story of his bust up with Barbara. At a ministerial meeting she flatly denied that In Place of Strife existed, Harold reached into his briefcase and threw a copy on the table. That was the end of that as the unions and backbenchers went ballistic.
And that was the end of an historic opportunity to reform our bizarre trade employment laws until another courageous woman picked up the mantle. The irony should not be lost. The strong arm of the unions that pulverised In Place of Strife spawned their nemesis.
But back to Milliband. The death of Margaret Thatcher could not have come at a worse time for him. Generations are learning for the very first time of the horrors of the 1970s. And the jackboot of the unions on the nation’s wind pipe.
They will be reminded on Wednesday that the left and all their intolerance and genuine nastiness are still in the Labour Party and not a figment of the fevered imagination of the right. The sleepy and laid back majority would have been rather perturbed at the death parties and the sheer delight at the death of a frail old lady. And they will be particularly troubled at a time when everyone fears for their jobs that the unions are contemplating a general strike. Utter, utter madness.
Of course you can’t blame Milliband for any of this. He is probably as horrified as anybody else. Even the Blairites found him more approachable than any of the other Brownites. Ali Campbell called him the emissary from planet fuck. The trouble is that Milliband would have been at meetings where those uncivilised sentiments would have been joyfully aired. And they are not isolated.
If Tony Blair made us less afraid of Labour then poor old Ed is sleep walking into making us begin to wonder whether we should feel a chill in the political air.
Blair got it right. Labour can’t possibly win if it is just the party of protest. And next week is going to be very ugly indeed.
The Lady would have loved it all. She will be relishing the fact that her death has lifted the lid off of Real Labour. Even from the grave she is inflicting a fatal blow to the Labour Party.