Margaret Thatcher’s Imperial Legacy

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The legacy of Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister who died last week, is imperialism, deregulation, and capitalistic neoliberalism. It is a legacy which sadly, still persists in British politics.

In true British imperial fashion, Thatcher’s government was a strong ally of the apartheid régime in South Africa. Thatcher referred to Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress as “a typical terrorist organization.” Thatcher also gave vital support to the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who committed numerous human rights abuses, including killing at least 3,197 of his own people, according to a Washington Post figure.

Thatcher’s imperial policy was epitomized by her 1982 reaction to Argentina’s claim to a small set of islands off their coast known as the Falklands. Though many islanders were British settlers who identified as British, the islands were not officially recognized as being politically part of the British Empire. Prime Minister Thatcher ordered a military response, and within months, combat operations ended with 914 people killed and an Argentine surrender.

Economically, Thatcher enacted a series of harsh austerity measures for which England’s working class paid the price. She was a proponent of deregulation, and believed the market should regulate itself, with minimal government interference. Ultimately, these policies greatly widened the gap between England’s rich and poor.

The former prime minister was unmistakably anti-union. In the mid-1980’s, unions’ and workers’ movements began demanding a fair deal, and Thatcher cracked down. Most notable among the union battles was the 1984-85 miners’ strike. When the miners resisted, she used the police and MI5, Britain’s counterintelligence body, to suppress them.

Dennis Hopper, the secretary of the Durham Miners Association, told Al Jazeera English that he was happy the Durham Miners Association had survived Thatcher’s death. “Our children have got no jobs and the community is full of problems. There’s no work and no money and it’s very sad the legacy she has left behind. She absolutely hated working people…she turned all the nation against us [miners] and the violence that was meted out on us was terrible.”

Writer and activist Tariq Ali, in an interview on “Democracy Now,” noted that Thatcher was keen to use the term “the enemy within” when speaking of unions; she was quoted as comparing the unions to the “enemy” in the recent Falklands conflict.

“We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands,” Thatcher said. “We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty.” “The enemy within” came to be used against other dissidents by succeeding prime ministers.

Thatcher’s personality cult remains eerily visible in British politics. Prime Minister Tony
Blair used her Falklands rhetoric in his speeches backing the Kosovo and Afghanistan wars. She was
the first person invited to 10 Downing Street Tony Blair and Gordon Brown after the prime ministers were elected. The deference some of Britain’s recent leaders give to her legacy belie the fact that Thatcher’s policies ultimately lead to a more unjust and unequal England.

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