England 1976, and what Thatcher did about it

In 1976, when I was young, I toured England, Scotland and Norway. It was an England three years before Thatcher took over as Prime Minister.  A few vignettes may help explain what it was that she had to fix.

We were motoring through Kent, in wide shallow valleys where endless rows of hop vines were growing in high racks. We stopped at a gas station in the bottom of the vale. The fuel pumps looked like something last seen north of Lake Superior in 1946. They had no price meter, only a volume meter. So the attendant had to use a then-modern hand held calculator to show the purchase price. I remarked on the antiquity of the gas pumps to the attendant. He replied “Oh, we’re quite old fashioned down here in the valley” with evident pride in his ramshackle fuel pumps from before World War 2.

At another place, a knowledgeable older observer said of the British working class, that they were very cheerful, but utterly indolent, which we now see was a confusion between character of a people, and reaction to the incentives they faced.

I entered a good downtown pub in London, bellied my way up to the bar, and, presenting a pound note, asked for change to make a telephone call, in the days before cell phones. I still flinch at how rudely I was treated by the bar tender for the temerity to ask for change. It was as if I had pissed on the floor. Presumably he thought I was an “American”, and needed a good dressing down for presuming to think he would do me any favours. A polite “no, we do not make change for telephone calls” would have sufficed.

Everything was decaying. The place needed new point, bricks needed repointing, and the air of genteel poverty and decline was pervasive, and this was thought to be the inevitable result of something which could not be fixed, that this was the way it was and should be. People were rude and shabby, service was thought to be a servile condition rather than a business. It was soviet in feeling and attitude.

Margaret Thatcher is reviled by the Left because she understood that all that I  observed and have described was the result of conditions that were fixable, and what was fixable was the control of British society by unions, with their strikes, thug violence, and assaults upon the productive classes through taxation in favour of the idle and the predatory. More important, it was the moral decay that went with and created these conditions. In short, everything that was structurally wrong with Britain, save its intense class consciousness, could be fixed. Even its class consciousness was to some extent the result of social immobility made inevitable by economic decline.

Margaret Thatcher came out of the same East Anglia, the same low Protestantism,  and the same social class that produced Oliver Cromwell and his Roundheads, the only armed force in the 1600’s that maintained discipline, did not loot, and whose victory turned England away from royalist absolutism. The Royalists are still angry about how Cromwell smashed them, and I imagine Thatcher will be a Leftist bogeyman 400 years hence, for like reasons.

Among the many tributes to Thatcher, one of the most interesting quotes is from Sara Palin’s obituary, of all people. Her obit records Thatcher as follows.

British ambassador Sir Anthony Parsons recalled a conversation about this: “She said, ‘You know, Tony, I’m very proud that I don’t belong to your class.’ I said, ‘Prime Minister, what class do you think I belong to?’ She said, ‘I’m talking of course about upper-middle-class intellectuals who see everybody else’s point of view and have none of their own.’

The continuing enmity of the Left towards Thatcher is a sign that it stands for the same analyses and conclusions that would lead us, inevitably, to the decay that afflicted the United Kingdom in 1976. A different tribe of people, the upper-middle-calss intellectuals who see everyone’s point of view but their own, also persist. The ardently non-judgmental are the enablers but not the initiators of Leftism.

Two places badly in need of a Thatcher: Quebec, and, for the same reasons, California. The same shabbiness, over-regulation, union domination and behind-the-times-ness is starting to be seen pervasively outside of Silicon Valley.