The lady’s not for spurning

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

In The lady's not for spurning, Theodore Dalrymple reviews Claire Berlinski’s There Is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters — and makes some of his own points about the Iron Lady:

Berlinski tells us that her economic reforms, perhaps unavoidably, created a large underclass, a mass of utterly hopeless, unskilled, uneducated, unemployable people of the kind who are to be seen in the centre of every British town and city on Friday and Saturday nights, obliterating themselves with drink and behaving generally like extras in a film about Sodom and Gomorrah. This, in my view, is a serious and deep misunderstanding.

These self-obliterators are not the underclass; such self-obliteration is beyond the means of the underclass, which obliterates itself in other ways closer to home. The people of whom Berlinski writes are actually the beneficiaries of the Thatcher revolution. They are the market; the market cannot be wrong; ergo, it is right to vomit in the gutter and pass out in public.

Thatcher believed, in a kind of mirror-image Marxist way, that the market automatically made men virtuous. Unfortunately, she did not so much restore a market economy as promote a consumer society, which is not quite the same thing. It was a society in which most of the really difficult aspects of existence in the modern world – education, health care, social security and many others – remained in the hands of the state. This meant that consumer choice was largely limited to matters of pocket money: whether to ruin Ibiza by your behaviour on holiday, or Crete. The resultant combination of consumer choice and deep irresponsibility was not an attractive one, to say the least. A large part of the population became selfish, egotistical, childish, petulant, demanding and whimsical.

Moreover, her belief that the idea of public service was always and everywhere but a mask for private rent-seeking, which could be avoided only by the introduction of the management techniques of the efficient private sector, paved the way for the grotesque corporatist corruption of Messrs. Blair’s and Brown’s Britain. In effect, she helped to create a new, and very large, class of apparatchiks posing as businessmen, who quickly learned how to loot the public purse mercilessly.

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