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Samizdata quote of the day

“In 1978, West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt declared: “England is no longer a developed country.” Just as Spain had, in its decline from Empire, ceased to be part of the developed world, and Argentina followed in the mid-twentieth century, many expected that Britain would go the same way.”

Andrew Lilico.

Of course, in 1979, when I was a mere 13-year-old Suffolk farmer’s son, some blonde lady by the name of Maggie changed Herr Schmidt’s assessment rather drastically. And by the way, since one of the urban myths is how Mrs Thatcher destroyed our manufacturing while Germany encouraged its own, ponder the fact that the value of manufacturing output in this country has scarcely been higher. I just thought I should mention that as part of a daily service.

13 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • James

    Interestingly, output rose throughout the 80s and 90s, before plateauing in the 2000s. Wonder why that might have been. “Manufacturing stalls under Labour government” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it though as far as the BBC and Co are concerned.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    For obvious reasons I’ve been thinking a lot about the accusation that Thatcher “killed British industry”. I can only think that anyone who says this is ignorant of the events of 1978.

    What actually happened is that the Industrial Revolution style production model of massed labour was already out of date (in Britain) when Thatcher came to power. She refused to subsidise loss-making industries, and then at the behest of the Unions those industries then committed mass suicide to show just how pissed of they were at their lot in life. And then they blamed Thatcher for it all…..

    The real question is what would have happened to Britain if Thatcher had not gotten in?

    – The Falklands would now be the Malvinas.
    – Spain, taking the hint that we were weak would have invaded Gibraltar.
    – China likewise would have moved into Hong Kong 20 years early.
    – Since China had not yet fully abandoned Maoism, the whole “Eastern Tiger” phenomenon would never have occurred and the global economy would have suffered
    – The IRA would have arranged a coup in N Ireland.
    – Britain’s debt and recession would have reached Banana republic levels within 5 years. We’re talking 4 figure inflation.
    – Britain would have had no choice but to get out the begging bowl and become a client-state.
    – The really worrying question is would they have gone West or East with said bowl.
    – Either way, the wall would not have come down in ’89. It might even have still been up now.

  • Paul Marks

    The relative (not absolute) decline of manufacturing in this country dates back a long way.

    One could date the state of it to a Conservative Party Prime Minister – but it would not be Mrs T. It would be Disraeli in 1875 (putting unions above the laws of contract and tort law, and allowing obstruction “picketing” of places of employment) the courts tried to fight back against this measure of Dizzy – but the Liberal Party government passed the 1906 Act which was “judge proof”.

    Taxes and government spending also started to drift up in the late 1870s (slowly at first), by World War II the burden was crushing.

    And it did not go down after WWII has it had done in previous wars – there was some roll back of statism in the period 1951 to 1964, but the late 1960s and 1970s (including the Heath government) were a period of utter insanity.

    The “attack on local democracy” can also be traced back to a Conservative Party Prime Minister – but again not Mrs T.

    It is Dizzy again – indeed the same year (1875) with the Act that declared that local councils must do X, Y, Z, (indeed about 40 different functions) whether local taxpayers wanted them to or not.

    Both J.P. and J.V. are correct……

    In 1979 Britain was falling apart.

    I was there – I remember the dead going unburied and so on

    The United Kingdom may yet enter the “Third World” inspite of Mrs T. – but we would already be there without her.

    Both the “Bleedy Hearts” (who, for example, consider the defence of the Falklands against Argentina wicked Western-running-dog-Imperialism-in-the-service-of-the-Capitalists….) and the “Racial Nationalists” (who hate the ex M.P. for Finchley whose family saved a little girl in 1938 from “racial justice”) need to be sent to bed without their supper.

    And if anyone thinks I have been naughty in mixing up the Black Flag types with the Red Flag types…..

    You are quite mistaken – they are busy backing each other up (in their attacks on Mrs T.).

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Still, Thatcher (and to a still uncertain extent, Reagan) proved what Akhnaten, Alexander and Charlemagne proved before them: that lone radical leaders aren’t enough to permanently redirect their cultures. Because Thatcher was PM, Britain will fling itself off the cliff at a slightly different time and place, but fling itself it will.

  • Paul Marks

    Alexander spread Greek culture to the Middle East – and it lasted for centuries, but yes monarchy (his alternative to the city state) proved to be no match for the Res-Publica.

    And had Rome not been in existance……

    Parthia (or some other Eastern power) might well have crushed the hellenistic monarchies.

    Still I do not like culture.

    An inscription in Afganistan (in Greek).

    “When young try to control the passions, when middle aged be just, when old give good advice”.

    Well Western culture die?

    Perhaps.

    But I suspect that there things are not yet over.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Not wishing to demote Thatcher’s achievements, but the economic viability of North Sea Oil (cash) and the impending collapse of the Soviet Union (anti-communism) helped her considerably as well. Saying that, I’ll happily admit that she served a conspicuous time in office and it was the malign incompetence of her adversaries that managed to keep her there, good job too.

    She may not be considered a libertarian, but I doubt the libertarian movement in the UK would be so advanced today had she not been around to push back the rabid leftist state control that had nearly bankrupted Britain (as Herr Schmidt was so keen to point out). The spectacle of the leftist hippies dancing in streets tonight is a good reminder of who might have grabbed power had she not been around.

    The point about British industry it that it moved from mass market production to specialist. Consider nearly all the commercial passenger aircraft are kept up using British aero engine technology, and nearly all the smartphones run on chip designs from Cambridge.

  • Snorri Godhi

    A few remarks on a few of JV’s items:

    - Since China had not yet fully abandoned Maoism, the whole “Eastern Tiger” phenomenon would never have occurred and the global economy would have suffered

    Probably true in essence, but it is worth noting that JJ Cowperthwaite had already turned Hong Kong into an Eastern Tiger before Thatcher tried to turn the UK into a Western Tiger.

    - Britain’s debt and recession would have reached Banana republic levels within 5 years. We’re talking 4 figure inflation.
    – Britain would have had no choice but to get out the begging bowl and become a client-state.

    WRT what would have happened to Britain i turn to The Road to Serfdom: the winter of discontent was the perfect occasion to declare that what Britain needs, is strong leadership. The would-be fascists missed that opportunity, but might not have missed (and might not miss) the next.

    - Either way, the wall would not have come down in ’89. It might even have still been up now.

    Of course everything would have been different without Thatcher, in unpredictable ways; but i found Yegor Gaidar’s essay: “The Soviet Collapse: Grain and Oil” very convincing as an explanation of the event in its title.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Probably true in essence, but it is worth noting that JJ Cowperthwaite had already turned Hong Kong into an Eastern Tiger before Thatcher tried to turn the UK into a Western Tiger.

    Well indeed, but the point is that early 80’s China was much more likely to try and dismantle his work than late 90’s China was, hence the world would never have gotten the benefit as it spread to other parts of SE Asia.

    The reason I raised the “perceived weakness” argument is that I had a buddy in the Royal Marines who was crippled during the Falklands war, and his understanding of what he had given his mobility for was that it wasn’t just a war for the Falklands but for all of Britain’s overseas territories. If we had shown an inability to defend one of them, we would have lost them all.

  • Snorri Godhi

    JV: I liked your emphasis on the foreign policy aspect, and i completely agree with you and your brave friend on a government having to be seen as standing on principle.

  • JohnB

    When the wall came down in 1989 I was surprised.
    Back in 1979 no one on the street had any idea that Russia might not beat us.
    Britain was on the point of being broken by a very determined and focussed internal onslaught.
    If Margaret Thatcher had not been elected we might now be the United Soviet Socialist Republic of Britain.
    Yes, it was that bad.
    And perhaps we are now headed back for slightly different flavour of that same thing.

  • veryretired

    I liked Lady Thatcher very much. In some ways, she was like my mother, who was also an old-fashioned lady but demanded to be judged on her abilities, not her gender, and didn’t suffer fools gladly.

    A far as the fall of the soviets is concerned, it still fascinates and amazes me that all the billions of dollars we spent on intelligience was utterly wasted, and none of the agencies spotted the fall coming.

    After the nonsense of detente, and the bizarre mush of the carter years, I firmly believe that the refusal of Thatcher and Reagan to continue playing patty-cake with the soviets was instrumental in their being discredited, and becoming more vulnerable to the internal pressures they themselves had created.

    Several statements by former dissidents in Russia and eastern Europe indicated that the frank speaking and firm policies of the west during this period gave them renewed hope and strength.

  • Tedd

    I have no stats to hand, only the impressions I remember as an outsider, living in Canada during the Thatcher years. By the late 70s, I think the very common impression over here was that the UK was on the skids — a once-great nation with nowhere to go but down. By the 90s we’d pretty much forgotten we ever thought that. I don’t think it’s a stretch to credit Thatcher for a very large proportion of the change.

  • wobbly

    Although not British I grew up in 70s London and remember green goddesses, nationalised industry and çonstant strikes. I’m not sure there was much room to go lower if she had lost. Good quote of the day.