Friday, April 12, 2013

Myth-busting, or Ken Livingstone is still a lying little shit

If there's one person I was just dying to hear from on Thatcher it was Ken Livingstone. He's keen to dispel the myths about Thatcher and Thatcherism. It's too close to the weekend for me to want to plough through the whole thing line by line, but here are just a few highlights.
Unlike previous governments, Thatcher's never commanded anything close to a majority in a general election.
The last Government to win an absolute majority in a general election was the National Government of 1931. That was something of an anomaly (given that this was explicitly a coalition party); the previous party to have won an absolute majority was Lord Salisbury's Conservative & Liberal Unionists in 1900. All Livingstone is doing is highlighting the re-birth of third party politics in the 1970s.
Thatcher's great friend Augusto Pinochet used machine guns to control labour, whereas Thatcher used the less drastic means of anti-union laws. But their goal was the same, to reduce the share of working class income in the economy.
Nonsense, and unpleasant nonsense to boot.
Thatcher's destruction of industry, combined with financial deregulation and the "big bang", began the decline of saving and accumulation of private- and public-sector debt that led directly to the banking crisis of 2008.
As we have seen, Big Bang was part of a trend of increased financial regulation in the 1980s. Livingstone is either too ignorant or too dishonest to acknowledge this. This also applies to his depiction of savings ratios: the ratio was consistently higher under Thatcher than it had been in the 1950s and 1960s, and appreciably higher than it was to become under Blair or Brown. To put it another way:
Savings and investments recorded their biggest rise in value in the 1980s with a real increase of 125%. The worst performing decade for savings and investment was the 1970s when their real value fell by 15%.
And then there's this:
Public investment was slashed. By the end of her time in office the military budget vastly exceeded net public investment. 
Here is a link to a graph showing UK Net Public Investment from 1970 to 2000 (page 14). It peaks in 1974/5 (just after the Healey budget we were talking about yesterday) at about £33bn (at 1999 prices). It then falls precipitously so that by the time Thatcher takes office it stands at about £14bn. It fluctuates thereafter, but by the time she leaves office it stands at roughly the same level. On that basis it's hard to say that it was slashed. Indeed, since a substantial proportion of NPI was made up of publicly owned companies, and given that these were largely privatised during the 1980s, it's clear that NPI in other areas must actually have increased.

In any event, the link to defence spending is fatuous. Defence spending fell precipitously as a proportion of GDP over the Thatcher years from roughly 13.5% to a mere 4% - but both figures were vastly in excess of the proportion spent on NPI, which peaked at under 7% in the early 1970s, and was roughly 2% when Thatcher took office. The "military budget vastly exceeded net public investment" at any period in UK history you could mention.

You're left with the perennial question: is Livingstone ignorant and unpleasant, or lying and unpleasant?


Blogger Sean O'Hare said...

That's an easy one. He's ignorant, lying and unpleasant.

3:33 pm  

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