Ghosts of Prime Ministers Past….
So, David Cameron invited Margaret Thatcher to Number 10 today. Not exactly surprising. Apparently, this is a move to shore up support for the Coalition of the Condemned amoung the Conservative’s new blue-eyed and very Thatcherite intake. Frankly, when this invite was last extended to Thatcher by a Labour Prime Minister this spectacle was nauseating and to a lot of people it confirmed peoples fears about the Labour leadership; not necessarily that they were going in the wrong policy direction (though that too) but that they were culturally ignorant when it came to the finer sensibilities of their own Party.
In this case, surprisingly, a similar criticism applies. Does Cameron forget that the reason Thatcher lost power was because her presence became even too unpalatable for her own Party to bear? Probably, because his only hope of getting the Conservative right on-board in the long-run is to rely on the power of totems as opposed to hard politics. The other half of the ‘dynamic duo’; Nick Clegg today used the opportunity to try to present himself as the acceptable face of the unacceptable (his new entire job description) saying the Coalition’s cuts would be more ‘humane’ than Thatcher’s. Is this because the public will be ‘consulted’? If he had said ‘they will be consulted and told what they are in any case, regardless of what they have just said’ this would have least been a more honest PR stunt (a Conservatives words, not mine).
Things have changed since Thatcher left Downing Street. For one thing, this time the unions are, in some perverse way, in a stronger position; no longer are they feared and reviled and if they play their cards right they could well be the vanguard of popular opposition against this government (something that will in-turn, encourage the Conservative right to turn on the Coalition’s ‘soft centre’). Also, given their strong roots in the middle-classes (especially public sector unions) the potential exists for them to lead a true cross-class alliance against this government and in the long run to shift the balance of society back in the unions favour. It isn’t the ‘proles’ being hammered by devices like the anti-union laws; it is white-collar public sector workers and I wonder if the C1’s and C2’s will be happy spending long being told by the men from Eton they have to tighten their belts; end their aspirations, take a cut in their pay and ultimately lose their jobs.
Labour, as well, is in a stronger position because it has not just split and the SDP equivalents are actually in power wielding the axe alongside the Conservatives; not able to play the ‘we are the more humane opposition’ card. We shouldn’t spend this time fearing the past; we should be alive to the opportunities presented by the future and be fresh for this fight which I believe will have a different result to the ones we undertook against Thatcher.