To anyone who has any admiration of Maggie Thatcher for her “strong” leadership, here’s one particular story that in fact shows that she and her cabinet presided over one of the worst acts of government mismanagement ever seen. Strong management can be a good thing but when poor decisions are made, strong and forceful management tends to compound a dreadful mistake into a disaster.
The story begins with Labour’s “Winter of Discontent”, the UK has just gone through petrol rationing, a three day week and a pandemic of power cuts because the power stations kept running out of coal to burn. It’s 1979. The Miners are at war with the Labour Party.
Maggie Thatcher (Leader of the Tory Party) is swept to power after a vote of no confidence was lost by James Callaghan (Labour Prime Minister). He and his cabinet had run out of ideas of how to handle the worsening crisis but refused to call an election after calls to do so. Thirty Five Labour MP’s stood against him in the confidence vote, however the Labour Party recorded for posterity that it was the “Tartan Tories” (the SNP) who ushered in the Thatcher Era. Risible.
So Thatcher got into Downing Street. She wanted to take on the Miners in an aggressive manner but she needed a strategy to avoid the power cuts and another “Winter of Discontent” scenario. Orders were placed for millions of tons of coal to be delivered to the power stations. A stock-piling strategy was used. The mountains of coal around the power stations were blocking out the daylight. Maggie also had a financial ace up her sleeve. Fantastic oil revenues were pouring into the treasury from Scotland’s oil so money to feed this strategy was no object. She could of course have found a way to work with the miners but decided that a war with them was the better option. It made her look like a strong leader.
Coincidentally, and at precisely the same time, the Netherlands were experiencing similar problems with their own miners, but the government of the day decided that instead of going to war with their miners, they’d find a way to settle with them. They did. The solution was costly but as a long term solution it made perfect sense to keep people in jobs providing they could find more markets for the expensive coal which was produced.
In the UK, the ordered coal for the power stations was fulfilled. The power stations now stood ready to run for months without anymore deliveries. What had become a boom time in the mining industry was followed by threats of pit closures. The miners under the leadership of Arthur Scargill made their move. The strike began. It was all in Maggie’s plan. She wanted the strike to happen. This was war! The one simple piece of leverage that Scargill had was gone due to stockpiling and the strike action became protracted and very nasty indeed. The intransigence of the tories destroyed not only the mines but the communities that relied on those mines. Thousands were thrown onto the unemployment scrap heap never to work another day in their lives.
As a strategy, if your intent was just to destroy an industry, it was very effective indeed and looked to the Tory voter like strength in action. The entire industry was decimated and all that was left was a couple of mines which were now covered by a breakaway union with no real political intent. After all, she’d had no choice, did she? (ahem) Thatchers victory over the miners was complete but not without real long term costs. Now the UK had to buy in coal from abroad to fire the power stations. Orders had been placed for nuclear power stations but the lead time for each was massively long. What was to be done?
The answer was quickly provided, the Netherlands Government came to the rescue with a deal to supply the UK with a plentiful supply of coal to keep the lights on. Of course the coal came with a premium price ticket and there was also the cost of transport across the North Sea. Thatcher however, was busy selling off the nationalised industries so money was “no object” when placed on top of the £45 billion she had just received from the North Sea Oil industry in Scotland. That was just one year, there would be more to come from Scotland next year. The deal with the Netherlands was finalised. It really was a happy time in Tory Lalaland.
The year is now 2008. We’ve seen the end of Maggie’s reign and suffered a Labour administration that should have righted many wrongs but didn’t. They instead provided many wrongs of their own. People now saw a reduction in their income right across the board. This was due to the “Credit Crunch” brought on by the loosening of the banking regulations by Brown and his Labour Government. A Government incidentally who decided to back the bankers instead of their own people. The population of the UK would pay a heavy price in their lives and also see their electricity bills climb and climb as a result of Maggies action.
The mismanagement by Maggie Thatcher’s govt was therefore a “double whammy”; we saw the rise of the Utility Companies privatised by the Tories in the UK. Those Companies would place profit before people and thus compound the additional costs of the coal from abroad. Britain is now sitting on top of trillions of tons of coal without any Coalminers to pull it out of the ground. Now we have a surfeit of people with little income or jobs who pay through the nose for everything.
So there you have it, we’ve seen the biggest mismanagement of any government administration in history retold by the victors to such an extent that the Tories are now building a museum for Thatcher. The ripples in time from the chaos of the Thatcher Govt are still striking the UK today. Look around you, the people are literally starving and the Tories have just completed another five year attack on them. The bankers and plutocracy are doing very well indeed and if the Tories get another five years, we could see the whole thing being repeated with a new set of victims coupled with those who have already been beaten beyond submission. The people have finally realised that Labour can’t help them and so we’ve seen the rise of many parties that wouldn’t have seen the light of day in better circumstances.
It’s definitely a ripe time for something to change.
The people of Scotland could do everyone in the UK a big favour by voting SNP en masse so that they can play a pivotal role in getting things working again. Westminster doesn’t work for the people anymore and needs fixing. I honestly hope we’re that savvy. We haven’t been in the past though have we?
My final point is that I’ve termed this debacle a “mismanagement”, what if it wasn’t mismanagement at all and was all part of a greater plan? I’ll leave you with that thought.