Monday, May 17, 2010

Are we going back to the eighties?

Before the election a number of people I knew would shudder and say of a potential Tory government that they "they remembered Thatcher" and didn't want to go back to those days. Never that they remembered Major or Heath or MacMillian (although actually very few would remember MacMillian, he was certainly in power before I was born).

Somehow Thatcher had become the representative of what Tories are like through the ages, regardless of the political and economic circumstances and regardless of the ideological nuances and gulfs that exist between different strands of Conservatism.

It could get a bit wearing sometimes if, like me, you don't accept that all bad things are the same despite all being bad.

Thatcher came to power with a plan, a large majority and a clear determination to take on a powerful trade union movement. So there's three differences straight off with Cameron's government that hasn't really decided what it's for, has been forced to deal with the Liberals and whose main priority is to attack a budget deficit in times when the trade union movement is a shadow of its former self.

It seems to me that the challenges we face in the next five years will not be the same as those we faced in the early eighties - but they could well be harder not softer days.

With no mass membership left of center party to draw on and a far left that is sadly far more confused and pessimistic than that of 1979 the austerity measures may not be met with Greek fire at all, although we can certainly hope.

What's clear is that trying to rehash the struggles of the eighties (struggles that we, cough, lost) is not going to be up to the job. Over the coming months we'll see a good number of trade unionists and leftists trying to come to terms with the new period, that's going to be important work in my view.

If our resistance is going to be both active and effective a solid appraisal of where we are and what the government is concretely going to do is going to be essential. What's clear is that it wont be a historical re-enactment of the battle of Orgreave.


Simon Grover said...

When people shudder at Thatcher, they are remembering the cuts, linked with her war on the unions. Both were attacks on the relatively poor. Now that the Tories are talking again about massive cuts, it is inevitable that people should recall Thatcher, rather than any other Tory administration.

What is dispiriting now is that all three main parties are saying the same thing. We are all Tories now, it would seem. How can anyone effectively resist the cuts, with so few voices in parliament speaking against them?

The chumminess of the Lib-Con coalition has been possible because the parties' policies are so close to each other in so many ways - as the Greens have been saying for years. But the realisation that this confluence means their party can now joyfully join with the Tories in a neo-Thatcherite slash bonanza is still deeply embarrassing to many left-leaning LibDem members.

Jim Jepps said...

I agree Simon - although I think part of it was the mean spiritedness of the government.

For a part of the decade I was on the dole and well remember the utterly vile treatment I received in that period.

We certainly will be facing years of cuts now... and union bashing - our key task now, I think, is to get ready for that onslaught.