margaret-thatcher-liverpool

There are going to be parties in Liverpool tonight. Hot on the heels of Paddy’s Day and the Grand National Weekend there’s another reason for Liverpool to do what it does best – throw a party. The reason? An old lady died earlier today.

Not, you might think, grounds for a celebration really. In fact, in bald terms, it’s all a bit sad really. But while I don’t revel in the death of Margaret Thatcher I can certainly understand why people feel that way. I was brought up in Hartlepool – a town that had it tough in the 80s and has arguably never recovered from the decimation of coal-mining, dock-working, steel-working, petrochemical and shipbuilding industries – and like many in Liverpool I learned that the Conservative Party under Thatcher was, unequivocally, the enemy. With steel on one side of the family and coal on the other it couldn’t have been any other way.

Hartlepool and Liverpool – the two places I’ve always called home – have always struck me as similar in many ways and they were both at the sharp end of Thatcherism. Liverpool seems to be about to engage in another war of attrition with central government over spending cuts, as it did in the 80s. Thatcher may not be gone but her ideology of cutting government spending and slashing the state now seems to be mutely, glumly accepted by the country.

There’s a strange equanimity nowadays towards this form of class war, which has found its latest outlet in attacking families living on welfare – the feckless and despised poor. Because it was a war – a war whose aim was the humbling of the unions and wrestling down of inflation. Happily both were achieved as a consequence of destroying our industrial base and flogging what remained overseas; the predictable results on the Mersey, Clyde, Tyne, Wear and Tees were a decade rampant unemployment and social unrest.

It’s only arguably in recent years that Liverpool has recovered from the twin assaults of 70s stagflation and the next decade’s Thatcherism; just in time for another Conservative Government to come along and start lecturing us about getting on our bikes.

Still, the idea pervades that we needed to take our medicine in the 80s, just as the nonsense of austerity continues to enjoy political capital – as we sell off bits of Sefton Park, prepare to close half our libraries and turn away kids from nurseries and Surestart centres. The Conservatives might as well write off Liverpool as far as elections go for a generation – Merseyside’s Conservatives only prosper on The Wirral nowadays and Liverpool has now Conservative councillors at all – but it wasn’t always like this.

Post-war Liverpool had been a city that returned four Conservative MPs to Parliament, and that odd axis of Liverpool Tories was represented by the likes of Jimmy Tarbuck, Ken Dodd, Kenny Everett, Cilla Black and Freddie Starr in the 80s. The working-class Tory was not a new phenomenon and it might have continued in Liverpool well into the 80s were it not for two lightning rods in the city under Thatcher: Hillsborough and Toxteth taught Liverpool that it was the enemy as far as the Conservative government was concerned – perhaps as far as the rest of the country, or the south at least, were concerned.

Thatcher’s role in both still seems hard to pin down. We know that she was urged to let Liverpool slide into a “managed decline”, possibly to allow Liverpool to become a “museum of horrifying example” – a warning to the rest of the North not to defy the Government. However, Thatcher despatched Michael Heseltine, perhaps Liverpool’s greatest friend outside of the city, to kickstart a slow regeneration instead.

It seems possible that more details might emerge about Thatcher’s role in the Hillsborough cover-up now; while we know about the terrible behaviour of some Tory MPs and functionaries, exactly what she knew and advocated is still nebulous. Regardless, the then Prime Minister is now aligned in the minds of many with the fallout from 15 April 1989.

Looking back at Liverpool in the 80s it’s not hard to see from where the antipathy comes, when I look at the messages from friends and colleagues on Facebook. Thatcher is a figurehead for all the ills of the Tory party; everything that people found – and continue to find – despicable, self-serving, vicious and callous about Conservatives; the self-confessed nasty party.

When I was young I was told a story about my great-grandfather going down the pit to work for the weekend, with only a raw onion for sustenance – one of the casual cruelties of an era when people were condemned to miserable, back-breaking lives by a consequence of where and when they happened to be born. With the passage of time and the broadening of horizons I’m now friends with people who are avowedly, actively right-wing but, as a reminder of where I came from and the reason behind my inherited attitudes to class and politics, that story is seared onto the brain.

Liverpool has its own documents that serve as a reminder. The Hillsborough Independent Panel report and The Scarman Report are two pillars that describe what went wrong in Liverpool in the 80s, albeit with debatable connections to Thatcher herself. But there is another that describes the hopelessness and desperation in Liverpool that is strongly aligned with Britain’s first female Prime Minister.

Boys From The Blackstuff, with its blasted landscapes, dole office queues, derelict docks and proud families humbled by poverty, encapsulates what happens when a country turns its fire on its own people and makes an enemy, an example, of a city. It is Liverpool’s very own reminder of what Thatcherism meant here and why the responses of people born and bred in Liverpool don’t surprise me.

We live in an age where equivocation and consensus are damned with scorn. The appearance of decisiveness is lauded above all; rigid bloody-mindedness is equated with strength of character and cruelty repackaged as strength of conviction. Margaret Thatcher should give lie to those notions. Many politicians, in carefully worded statements, have today conceded that Thatcher was a “divisive” character. A small word – divide – but one that spelled disaster for many in the 80s; people in Scotland, Wales, Liverpool and Hartlepool, cast aside for a political experiment, finding themselves on the wrong side of that dividing line.

30 years on we find ourselves unable to build our way out of a recession because we don’t have a remaining industrial base or the associated skills – all swapped for call centres and minimum-wage service-sector jobs – and the North is again to be sacrificed an the altar of ideology. Joe Anderson says that the effect in Liverpool of the coming cuts will be four times the national average. History repeats itself.

Liverpool may have seen off Margaret Thatcher, but the effects of her tenure as Prime Minister will continue to felt across Merseyside, long beyond tonight’s parties and tomorrow’s sore heads.

Top and bottom pictures by cliffjamester and Feggy Art, via Flick, respectively

  • Objective

    Boys from The Blackstuff was written in 1978.

  • http://www.robinbrown.co.uk/ Robin Brown

    And the series was broadcast in 1982.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=596785168 Ruth Thompson

    Very good article, thanks for posting.

  • cheshirecat

    Which is the lesser of two evils? Working ‘down pit’ or chained to a desk? Difficult to tell from this article but I know which one I’d prefer for my family and friends…

  • M. waddington

    Sounds like you still want to blame her when over decade of poor budget decisions from labour and blair are what truly laid the foundations for the recession. Nice example of blindly blaming who you choose to hate.

  • http://www.robinbrown.co.uk/ Robin Brown

    At what point did you have to choose one or the other? I know lots of people who worked skilled manual jobs who adored their jobs – either way the option would be nice.

  • http://www.robinbrown.co.uk/ Robin Brown

    Really? That’s what you took from that? I didn’t mention Blair or Brown as they’re not relevant to the article. I look forward to your article on New Labour’s economic follies in relation to Thatcher’s death tomorrow.

    I thought I made the point that I can understand how people might rejoice in Thatcher’s death but I don’t myself. Ho hum. Nice example of rebutting points that are not actually made though.

  • Ronnie de Ramper

    MAGGIE, MAGGIE, MAGGIE!
    DEAD
    DEAD
    DEAD

  • Ejay

    Don’t think that was the real M Waddington, somehow!

  • anon

    I think that the uneducated replies on here are pretty shameful and sre clearly coming from people who were not affected by Thatcher’s governmental decisions. Todays cuts are the result of Thatcher’s decisions. Wake up for god sake! Or come to Liverpool to express your feelings on the issue. You will soon change your minds when you have a chat with someone of any age, as it has had a rippling effect on families that is still felt today. No need to display personal experiences but trust me when I say… This guy knows what he’s talking about, and saying he is looking for someone to blame is a pretty poor comeback for such a well educated and true article! Take your veiws somewhere else because quite frankly, its insulting!

  • Dan Kirkby

    Ask not what you can do for the country, but what can the country provide for you! Seems that too many people in Liverpool want to continue to wallow in self pity and blame Thatcher for all their problems. Benefit fraud was and still is endemic across the country and unfortunately those who really do need support are usually affected most because they don’t cheat the system. 30% of the national budget goes on welfare while eastern Europeans flock to our shores and manage to find employment or ways to also commit benefit fraud. Until such time as people are prepared to think of such fraud as unacceptable and try to stop those who commit such fraud then all the blame will continue to be placed on Thatcher and her ilk. This article may only address why many ( far from all) will rejoice at her death it does not take a balanced approach and address the issue of why many will not. I grew up in Kirkby on a council estate in the 80’s and my mum worked at the Delco but I drsw my own conclusions not those given to me by the socialist media.

  • Andrew

    I am 54 years old, and have lived in Liverpool all my life. I remember everything mentioned in your article, and much more besides. It is nice to pick out a person to blame for something tragic …look at Princess Diana – the reason she’s SO revered is because there was no culprit. Ergo no closure, and total numbness at the thought of her loss.

    Thatcher is easy to blame for Liverpool’s current problems, but as life-long socialist I tell you this: she is the only politician I can name that did what she said she was going to do …and people voted for her on that basis. That is democracy! …socialism in its finest hour.

    Labour, and especially that accursed “New Labour” nonsense, have not only failed to reverse Tory mis-management, but actually underlined quite a bit of it …like enforcing the student fees that the Tories had only suggested, despite saying that they would stop them
    coming into force.

    Labour mis-management is far more damaging than Tory mis-management in my opinion. It is just very unfortunate that Liverpool suffers regardless of who’s holding the whip. I am saddened by any loss of life, including Maggie’s, and feel that the gladness that people feel is both in poor taste, and aimed at the wrong person.

    The UK’s manufacturing industry was the laughing stock of the world in the late 1970’s, with ludicrous prices and laughable workmanship. I well remember British Leyland – the car manufacturer – when whole rooms full of beds were discovered, which were used by the workers to sleep while they were being over-paid for ‘working’. We simply don’t have the manpower of other countries for manufacturing, but we do have a lot of brain power. That was her aim, and she was right to minimise the manufacturing base of the country, and develop its intellectual services. Liverpool has as much of that as any other part of the country, so we will thrive in the long-run.

    You can’t keep a good scouser down.

    Nice article, but quite biased due to your own upbringing

  • Campo

    Well said! …it’s about time someone blamed more than just one person, as in this country one person cannot achieve anything. She had the support of the people, and the support of her party. EVERYONE is to blame – she was just a figurehead.

  • http://www.robinbrown.co.uk/ Robin Brown

    Again, you’re rebutting arguments that I didn’t make. I never claimed that British industry wasn’t in a state in the 70s; manpower was never an issue when it came to our manufacturing – productivity and quality perhaps. But with 3.5m unemployed within a couple of years of Thatcher’s election I don’t think manpower was a problem. Sadly we failed to invest in our knowledge base, so we never really developed the high-skilled technology industry that we were supposed to get, while the financial services industry that we relied on to generate cash for the rest of the country went pop a few year ago.

  • JFT96

    I would hesitate to accuse others of replying in an “uneducated” manner unless I was sure that I had a handle on the grammar of my native tongue; “Todays (sic.) cuts…”; “…its (sic.) insulting!” Your last sentence could arguably be bounced straight back at you. Having said that, I must admit that I agree with you.

  • Iso

    1. Benefit fraud accounts for 0.7% of benefits paid. This is the opposite of endemic.

    2. In 2004, of the two million migrants that came to the UK from Eastern Europe, only 13,000 claimed benefits. That’s 0.65%. Nearly all of them found work and contributed taxes back into the country.

    Good night.

  • andy4619

    Spot on, particularly the last part.

  • jibbi jabba

    fukk Maggie bitch wish it was Cameron aswell

  • http://thelameunknown.tumblr.com/ James

    “Endemic”? Benefit fraud stands at less than 1% of the total benefits bill, even if the actual figures are an under-estimation. Furthermore, much of that “fraud” is only fraud is very technical legal terms. It’s the argument about a man stealing bread to feed his family. A good portion of “benefit fraud” is people working cash-in-hand to make ends meet, sometimes these people already work but are in receipt of working tax credits.

  • Dan Kirkby

    You obviously believe the rubbish put out by those in a position to benefit from continued payment of benefits. Reality is it’s probably closer to 10%+. I notice neither of you challenged the headline figure of 30% of the budget. Please do so as I might be wrong and I would prefer the facts to be correct. There is also the question of tax fraud not being addressed seriously by any government. My aim was to point out that there are many things wrong in society but many people of Liverpool continue to blame Thatcher for everything. As Andrew has written above, rejoicing at the death of a democratically elected leader is in bad taste and Liverpool needs to remove the chip from its collective shoulder and move on. Blair, Kinnock, Brown et al have all done very well for themselves and I dont recollect seeing them at the front of protest marches against the cuts, and certainly no sign of Nouveau (Riche) Labour being there? ! Today jobs are being created at car plants while France sheds them by the bucketload. Just a pity that powerful unions and poor management failed to keep the companies at the forefront of design and manufacturing resulting in their demise and sale to foreign owners while BMW, Audi, VW, Porsche all went from strength to strength. Audis were not so good in the 80’s and look at them now as the company focussed on quality while UK PLC focussed on retaining all jobs at any cost. Aimvho guys, good luck in surgery getting the chip removed 😉

  • http://www.robinbrown.co.uk/ Robin Brown

    VW is part government-owned and partly run by unions. It owns Audi and Porsche. Germany is a good example of a mixed economy that didn’t simply sell off or close down its heavy industry and it’s probably best-placed in Europe to come out of the recession reasonably unscathed.

  • steve sd

    Mostly I believe the independent studies which show the benefit fraud rate is very low. We could add in that the biggest chunk of the benefits bill is pensions and top-up income for those in low paid jobs.

    I’m amused at your chip on the shoulder comment after your own little rant! 🙂

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  • JoeSquo

    It’s difficult to have a debate if, when presented with statistics and facts, you decide that they’re not the right *kind* of statistics and facts. Please look up the meaning of “confirmation bias”.
    Also UK benefit spending is at 23%, almost half of which is funding state pensions. Not that it matters though: I expect that you’ll just dismiss this number as rubbish too, right?

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  • a true scouser

    I am from Liverpool Born `n` bread…. anyone, yes she made a lot of bad decisions whilst in power, but to joke about the passing of some ones MUM is well disgusting! just take a step back and think about if people were talking about your mums passing you all need to grow up, man up and shut the F**K UP

  • James

    I don’t disagree with that the government of the day presided over structural industrial decline, although I also don’t think everything today can be laid at their door alone.

    I would say that, despite the recession at the time, the UK was much more balanced as a whole pre New Labour. Although the heavy industry shut down in the 80s, I also remember small industry starting up, my own dad getting a job at a start-up print works that was using new technology. It seems to me that it has been primarily over the past two decades that there has been this real explosion of money-shuffling jobs (the “service sector”), part aided by technology but really pushed by the previous government, and which today has resulted in a county that doesn’t really do or make anything (I suppose it could be argued that “Thatcherism” never really stopped in one sense).

    In terms of what did happen in the 80s, it is interesting to consider how many decisions were really her governments to take, or those made for them by the realities of the day, such as oil prices, globalisation, EEC membership terms, etc.

    If Indian steel was half the price of UK steel, then a) can a cash-strapped government justify propping that industry up when it has no chance of competing in the global market place, and b) would the EEC have allowed that at the time under the state aid/level playing field rules that see companies split up and privatised (a la http://www.rmt.org.uk/Templates/Internal.asp?NodeId=115440 )? (no, don’t ask me how France & Germany get on with their state subsidised endeavours – I have no idea!)

    The focus on banking was a mistake from the point of view of people in jobs definitely, although I’m not certain it was a mistake from the UK exchequer’s point of view (assuming, of course, that at the time she would not have foresaw the current mess up and crisis, which built up during Labour’s subsequent reign). The enterprise zones were a good idea, and it should at least be respected that she didn’t take Howe’s advice on decline and did ask Heseltine to get involved, when she could have done the opposite.

    Her death has affirmed in my mind, though, that the most recent Labour era was, in my opinion, far more destructive of the fabric of our society than anything that happened in Thatcher’s time in what it seems to have done to or produced in the population.

    As a gay person from a working class background (including whose mum, dad and sister could not pay their poll tax), I think I have more justifications than most for harbouring resentful feelings, especially on the gay side where the 70s and 80s were bad times indeed.

    During Thatcher’s time, many ugly things were said and done by all sides in the heat of the moment, but this isn’t the heat of the moment. To see so many people – many of who seemingly weren’t even born when she was in power – actually celebrate (street parties, facebook groups, etc) because a person posing a current threat to no-one is dead, and them not seeing anything wrong with that, I think speaks volumes, not about how many people disliked or even had reason to hate her, but only about the depths to which our society has sunk in behavioral terms, in a way that many might have already suspected from general observed behaviours but yesterday laid out for all to see.

    While there have always been hot-heads, crackpots, extremists, etc, I cannot imagine such a swathe of people would have behaved like this 20 years ago, displaying en masse such infantilised mentality and cold-bloodedness, and above all lack of dignity, lack of self-control, and lack of perspective (including accusing Thatcher of much the same without being able to see the irony in their own fixated views).

    Of course I won’t mourn for someone I don’t know or don’t care for, but nor would I have a party about it, nor have a diarrhoea of hatred for all to see (including her family). For all the talk of MT’s brutality, I find the thoughtless, casual brutality, the dehumanisation and lack of humanity shown by “the celebrators” far more concerning as these people are alive, numerous and in possession of votes. Heaven help everyone for the governments these people may produce.

  • http://twitter.com/MJPenny2 M J Penny

    Thatcher created victims among the working class. In Liverpool, the irony being the people she tried so hard to divide and break, today stand together, resolute and strong through her death. The end of an era and closure for some maybe, but the scars Thatcher left are not only still visible on the social landscape of Liverpool but on the economic landscape of the UK.

  • Andrew

    Manpower IS an issue …it is similar to the free market theory. If, like in India or China, there were THOUSANDS of factories employing TENS OF THOUSANDS of people, then not only would product prices crash to competitive levels, but quality workmanship would ensue. There is simply too much competition to produce garbage. That is what a huge population can ensure.
    3.5 million was not evidence that we were over populated or even sufficiently populated. 60 million population cannot possibly compete with 2 countries with over a billion in each. Add to that the fact that their living standards and wages are something we would not tolerate, and you have a recipe for industrial mayhem, and eventual collapse. Thatcher didn’t crash our manufacturing base, she merely presided over it’s self-destruction.
    It was population based, as so many things are.

  • http://www.robinbrown.co.uk/ Robin Brown

    It wasn’t a question of manpower 30 years ago when Brazil, India and China weren’t producing quality goods in anything like the quantity they are now. Japan, Germany and the US have much higher levels of high-tech industry than us, because we ditched all of ours and had nothing with which to fill the void. Because we didn’t invest in our home industries or plough all that fortuitous north sea oil revenue back into Great Britain. Instead it went on paying for millions of people to sit at home on the dole because they had no jobs to go to. Our manufacturing base didn’t go because of lack of demand; it wasn’t slimmed and pruned like the best European countries, it was wrecked for ideological purposes.

  • http://www.robinbrown.co.uk/ Robin Brown

    You didn’t read the article, did you?

  • Ronnie de Ramper

    What utter drivel. This isn’t even up to primary school standard economics. It has nothing to do with population size. Thatcher purposefully set out to divest in manufacture in favour of financial services. In Germany by contrast, they invested colossally in high-skills manufacture. We have all the evidence we need to determine which was the more successful strategy. Moreover, during the Thatcher years and after, we ran continuous trade deficits; our GDP never rose above 2% annual growth; and productivity rates languished. The only thing that changed was that the top 1% became hugely richer; and the bottom 50%, substantially poorer. Her legacy was a shameful example of small-minded and incompetent economic policy combined with a spiteful disregard for our communities.

  • RubySquare

    As someone who works in dealing with benefit fraud I can assure you that the majority of cases are not a man stealing bread to feed his family. It is more a case of people with no desire to work feeling they are entitled to rip off the country.

  • http://www.robinbrown.co.uk/ Robin Brown

    Presumably they’re all East Europeans too?

  • RubySquare

    No. Mainly white Britons.

  • anon

    not only liverpool, the north east is awash with the remnants of her actions

  • .Iain Scott

    I find it very difficult to come to absolute conclusions about Thatcher generally but in regard to Liverpool I think some wider historical points are worth considering. I did my final thesis on the riots as a politics student in Newcastle in 84 so I researched it a bit. I thought your article was standard eighties left wing rhetoric but I’m pleased you mentioned that Thatcher was urged to manage Liverpool’s decline (by Howe) but instead despatched Heseltine to start regeneration. What he witnessed dismayed him but what he found wasn’t the effects of two years of Thatcherism. The economic foundations of Liverpool where disintegrating rapidly before that because it’s docks were failing (had failed) simply due to the decline of British Empire and the unstoppable growth of containerised shipping which Liverpool dockers bravely or stupidly resisted (depending on your view) which immediately prompted shipping lines to relocate to other ports further hastening the decline. Liverpool was then very exposed. Empire and Trade where it’s heartbeat. It was never an “Industrial City” in the classic sense and there were no great “associated skills” to lose. Many of it’s more educated and employable citizens had already left – 100,000 in the 70’s alone along with the great insurance and broking businesses that coincided with the port. The result was disastrous but hardly the fault of Thatcher. Any attempts to find a new economic role were certainly not helped by the city’s lurch to the left. Fighting the new economic reality of the time only delayed it’s recovery. Economically I think Thatcher was little more than a messenger but of course the controversy over Hillsborough will for ever taint her in the eyes of many in the city.
    The city was caught on the tide of History but it has recovered to a great degree by diversifying into many areas of arts, education, services and higher end manufacturing and of course it’s docks – now a great success story shifting more tonnage than at any point in it’s history but requiring far less labour with which to do it.
    In regard to this greatness, decline and rebirth I suggest you read the last page of Ramsey Muir’s “A History Of Liverpool” written in 1900 by the first Professor of History and English at the “new” university. For anyone who loves the city it will send a tingle down the spine. Astonishing.
    Finally: Stuart Lee at his Philharmonic gig last year commented that apparently Thatcher was urged to manage our decline but she really didn’t need to as we were managing it perfectly well by ourselves! It got a good laugh.

  • http://www.robinbrown.co.uk/ Robin Brown

    Wow, thanks for the compliment. Of course it’s rhetoric – that’s very much the point.

  • AlwaysTheVictim

    Why can’t your comments be down voted? Surely you must want a balanced view of opinion to offset your biased article?

    …and stating”I thought I made the point that I can understand how people might rejoice in Thatcher’s death but I don’t myself.” doesn’t actually make any sense as a response to his “blaming who you choose to hate comment”. – I hadn’t realised you had to rejoice in someone’s death to dislike them, my mistake.

  • http://www.robinbrown.co.uk/ Robin Brown

    They can be voted down if you log into Disqus. Believe it or not no-one has chosen to do so as yet. I take it from your tone and your witless adoption of a spiteful and idiotic football chant frequently aimed at scousers for having the temerity to feel aggrieved for being shafted by a government cover-up that I can expect all my comments to be voted down when you’ve figured out how to do this.

  • Zak

    Opinions in Liverpool will be as diverse as elsewhere on Lady Thatcher and her time in office so those who say Liverpool thinks a certain way should perhaps not use the city’s name to back up their opinions.

  • http://www.robinbrown.co.uk/ Robin Brown

    I think Liverpool has spoken for itself pretty well the last few days.

  • http://twitter.com/edmartingbr Edward Martin

    what puzzled me in mrs t’s 1979 economic policy was that uk industry was already heavily in debt, sterling was becoming a desirable petrocurrency and the economic outlook wasn’t very bright

    to rely on high interest rates to achieve the government’s aims had to mean closing much industry – rather obvious suicide!

    remember – people voted for it

    public opinion swung even more strongly her way because of the falklands conflict

    it was as though the electorate saw a choice between two extremist policies, and willed the ensuing domestic political ‘war’

    the liverpool institute of grave dancing should note that

    a) they participated willingly in that ‘war’ and

    b) they lost miserably

  • http://twitter.com/edmartingbr Edward Martin

    good points – add in the bodged up port labour agreement (thank you Jack Jones KGB) – to the political mess

  • griff84

    My Mum hasn’t destroyed millions of lives, started wars and supported murderous dictators.

  • griff84

    Utterly needless response. Get over yourself.

  • griff84

    If you lived in a pit village in mid 80’s yorkshire or south wales you wouldn’t have a choice would you?