Britain has another woman Prime Minister, and – still shaken from our experience of the last woman PM – we are keen to see in Theresa May the likeness of Thatcher. Looking for something that isn’t there might mean we miss what is there.
It was inevitable the moment that Theresa May was appointed head of the Westminster Conservative Party and Prime Minister, only the second woman to hold this office, that she would be compared with the late Margaret Thatcher. Commenting on YouGov and Ipsos Mori polls days after her appointment, the Independent published a comprehensive report on the similarities in how the British public see these two women, but it is not helpful to set May up as another Thatcher on the grounds that they both happen to be the same sex. Other than this just being sexism – which it most certainly is – it will only serve to blind us to the specific threats and opportunities that May brings to the current debate in Scotland.
Yes, there are similarities between May and Thatcher, but then we must acknowledge that May – like Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and David Cameron before her – is a product of the Thatcherite political revolution in conservative British politics. Largely guided by the influence of Keith Joseph and the new economic principles of Milton Friedman at the Chicago School of Economics, Margaret Thatcher introduced the application of a new neoliberal political model to Britain. Together with Ronald Reagan in the United States Thatcher was instrumental in planting and developing this model of politico-economics that saw the creation of a closer alliance between the world’s global financial élite and the mechanisms of state power.
MARGARET THATCHER Verses THERESA MAY .. Both UK Prime Ministers and ladies too .. But Both KIDDY MILK MEDDLERS 😦 https://t.co/90ReJO3jxp—
Modern Architecture (@ModArchitecture) August 24, 2016
Politics in Britain and the States today is the product and continuation of this neoliberal-corporatist programme of tax cuts for the wealthy, massive public spending cuts, and the deregulation of private industry. The difference today is that this is no longer the 1970s and 80s, and that facts on the ground have changed. Thatcher’s ambition for the deindustrialisation and financialisation of Britain is now a fait accompli, and May has come to the helm with a different set of problems than those Thatcher faced in 1979. The trade unions have been crushed and co-opted by the state, the working class has been stripped of its social identity and reduced to penury and dependence, national assets have been liquidised and concentrated in “the City,” and wealth has flowed from the bottom of society to the top. Of this Thatcher was the architect, May – like others before her – is only a caretaker.
Where Thatcher’s problem was the strength of the unions and the working class, May is faced with the militant fruition of the simmering discontent of the working class’ defeat. Working class frustration at growing social inequality in an increasingly securitised state has resulted in a polarisation to the right and the left; it has produced the BNP, UKIP, and Brexit on the right and Jeremy Corbyn on the left. In Scotland too the movement for independence – rooted in working class politics and the discourse of social justice – has to be viewed as an integral element of this social reaction.
May is not a new Thatcher, and the establishment don’t want another Thatcher. The Iron Lady was the sledgehammer of a now past socio-political paradigm, her work is done. What Britain’s wealthy élite want – need – now is an equally powerful tool, but one that is designed for a completely different purpose; the defence of the wealth transfer system from a resurgent and transformed political left. Neither Cameron nor Boris Johnson was equal to this task. They are the true children of Thatcherism, and the inheritors of the old paradigm. May, it is hoped, brings something completely different. She has been prepared for this in her career so far, and has been at the sharp end of the establishment’s fight against this new left.
Here in Scotland we have to appreciate May for what she is, rather than a new Thatcher that she is not. While we have to welcome the fact that another woman has become Prime Minister, we have to see her not as another anything but as a new something. Our failure to do this will only result on us shadow boxing a ghost while the real damage is delivered under the radar.