Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone was a fierce critic of Mrs Thatcher when she was in power. The British media gave him the moniker “Red Ken” for his socialist beliefs during her tenure. Thatcher viewed the Greater London Council, of which Livingstone was leader, as a political threat and a waste of money. In 1986, Thatcher’s government abolished the GLC, putting Livingstone out of a job.
There are two things to say about Mrs Thatcher. Unlike most politicians, who’re spineless, who never want to actually lead, and who wait to see where public opinion’s going, she had beliefs that almost no one in her cabinet actually shared at the time she became the leader of the Tory Conservative Party. However, she ignored them, she drove ahead, and she made the changes that she believed that Britain needed… you have to respect that. I can’t think of any other modern Prime Minister with that degree of self-confidence and courage in their beliefs.
The tragedy for Britain is that almost everything she believed in was wrong, and almost all the problems that assail us today are the legacy of her neoliberal economics… the high unemployment, the collapse of our manufacturing industry. She inherited a nation that had some problems, but she made them infinitely worse… she deregulated the banking industry, she decided to write off our industry, she wouldn’t build good homes for ordinary people to rent, and she’s left a terrible legacy that’ll take a generation to clear up.
She did terrible things, such as abolishing the Greater London Council because she didn’t agree with it; it was the first real rolling back of democracy in a hundred years of British history. It’s very hard to think of anyone in a modern democracy who’d do something like that. The US President always has state governors and mayors critical of their policy, it’d never occur to them to do away with them. That meant terrible problems for London; we had a decade-and-a-half with no leadership. We actually proposed that we should stop discriminating against black people and against homosexuals; we recognised that women had equal rights… hardly insane, but just a bit ahead of its time.
Clearly, [the state funeral] isn’t right. The only politician of my lifetime that had a state funeral was Winston Churchill, who was a decisive force in the defeat of Adolf Hitler. If we’re to think about anyone today, it should be those whose lives she destroyed. We used to have a sound manufacturing industry; she wiped it out. Look at people’s lives… our suicide rates have gone up since the financial crisis; the bankers abused all the freedom that she gave them. We had a country used to virtually full employment before she got in… ever since, we’ve had people and whole communities just written off.
Overwhelmingly, it’s a tragedy Mrs Thatcher ever came to power. I respect the courage of her convictions and the way she led; the tragedy is she led us in the wrong direction.
9 April 2013
Voice of Russia World Service