This morning on Twitter, people were sneering at George Soros and David Beckham for coming out in favour of the Remain vote in the UK referendum membership of the EU, as they were ‘part of an elite’. Well actually, Beckham started out as a working-class East London boy and Soros couldn’t attend school in Nazi Hungary in WWII because he was Jewish so nothing was handed to them on a plate. Part of the reason they thrived is because of a free market ideology and the idea that anyone from any background can get on in life.
Here we often refer to such an ideology as ‘Thatcherism’. It has been the defining ideology of our modern times. Free market ideology also goes hand in hand with the idea that people like Beckham and Soros are free to move to and live in other countries as they have done in order to further their lives and their happiness and their career. Much as the forefather of Thatcherism, economist Friedrich Hayek, was (rightly) given citizenship and refuge here in the UK so he didn’t have to go back to the tyranny of Nazi rule under Hitler in Austria.
By the same logic, much has been made of the idea that Eastern Europeans can easily travel here. Again, look to a thing called ‘Thatcherism’. It promotes the idea that communism, as seen in Eastern Europe from the end of WWII to 1989, is the greatest form of tyranny and that what ultimately matters is individual liberty in order to foster economic success.
Admittedly Tony Blair encouraged immigration from the early 2000s in a way that Mrs Thatcher didn’t, possibly because she resigned before the issue of migrant labour in Europe really took off, but broadly speaking, the Polish plumber or the Czech cabbage picker in this country is the natural consequence of Thatcherism taken to the next level, though such people are of course not necessarily right-of-centre in the way Mrs Thatcher was.
By the same logic, much has been made of the idea that we unduly prefer workers from Europe over people from other continents who might be more skilled workers. Again, look to a thing called ‘Thatcherism’, or more specifically, Mrs Thatcher herself. She was reluctant to take in Vietnamese boat people at the start of her premiership because she felt that Eastern Europeans, for example, would assimilate better.
(Personally I am a lefty pinko colour-blind type on this point and I love all my friends of Eastern Europe and other countries without discriminating – but I do perceive that it puts her seriously at odds with certain Eurosceptics who feel they are honouring her legacy.)
By the same logic, much has been made of the idea that workers from other countries are taking away the jobs of British workers. Again, look to a thing called ‘Thatcherism’. It promotes the idea that nobody in life is owed a job and that they have to roll up their sleeves and get on with it if they want to get on in life. Irrespective of their background.
By the same logic, much has been made in this referendum of our industrial decline. Again, look to a thing called ‘Thatcherism’. It promotes the idea that if you raise interest rates high and strangle the money supply and reduce investment in businesses then they will be forced to become more competitive. This is why we ended up with a collapse in manufacturing and mass unemployment in the 1980s and social scars which have possibly never properly healed – not least because the timidity of Mrs Thatcher’s four successors as Prime Minister in challenging her legacy.
By the same logic, much has been made in this referendum of the idea that communities and society as a whole is at breaking point. Again, look to a thing called ‘Thatcherism’. It promotes the idea that there is no such thing as society and that people must look to themselves first.
By the same logic, much has been made of the idea that we have ceded so much power to Europe over the last forty-odd years. Again, look to Mrs Thatcher:
She enthusiastically campaigned for Britain to remain in the European Economic Community in 1975;
She stood on a pro-EEC platform in the 1983 general election when her Labour opponents campaigned to leave – and she won a smashing election victory whilst Labour tumbled to the most disastrous defeat in their history;
She agreed to take us into the Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1990 – a move which ultimately resulted in much rancour and bitterness among Eurosceptics who took up her cause (or thought they were taking up her cause) in the years that followed her resignation;
Most pertinently of all, she signed the Single European Act in 1986, a move which codified European Political Cooperation and therefore hastened the arrival of the European Union itself.
Obvious questions then:
Why are the chief proponents of the campaign to take Britain out the EU, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, attacking Europe so much instead of concentrating on how Thatcherism has got us to where we are now?
Are they scared to attack Mrs Thatcher because they can’t reconcile their admiration for her with these points and because it wouldn’t look patriotic?
Why are they banging on about lack of democracy and Europe bossing us around when Mrs Thatcher set us on the way to where we are now by winning three elections and then going about doing what she wanted, not what her counterparts on the continent were doing?
If the whole idea of Brexit is that our nation’s history and heritage is so important, why are we being so wilfully blind about a path in recent history which we have chosen ourselves?
If what has happened to our society owes so much to Thatcherism, who – especially in the Brexit camp (though, to their credit, not principled consistent left-wing patriotic Eurosceptics) – is going to have the balls to stand up and say that as the system that has prevailed since 1979, that it is in so many ways what they are complaining about?
If they are complaining about the natural consequences of Thatcherism, why are they exclusively blaming Europe and not Mrs Thatcher and those who followed in her path?
If Nigel and Boris and co can’t actually come up with a decent positive alternative to Thatcherism other than blaming Europe and others for everything that goes wrong, how are we expected to positively thrive as a nation?
This has been a bitter referendum, but it seems to boil down to two choices. Vote for trying to be nice to one another in the wider world and share and solve our problems together. Or vote for pretending your history didn’t happen and pressing fruit machine buttons in the hope the three cherries will come up.
I prefer the former.
And in case you think I’m a fence-sitter, on the issue of championing individual liberty, I think Mrs Thatcher in many respects had a point. Like her or hate her – we are dangerously playing with fire if we pretend her legacy doesn’t matter.