THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
The Thatcher Test
The Left's view of human civilisation

Hope's funeral

Margaret-Thatcher-and-the-order-of-service-for-her-funeralI promised myself long ago that, just as my grandfather stood in the rainy streets of London to honour Sir Winston Churchill as his funeral procession passed, so I would for Margaret's. He loved Churchill for much the same reason that I loved her. Hope. In dark days, when our country seemed likely to fail, they both persuaded us to buckle down, do our best and look to the future. They promised us that Britain could be great again.

Both promises failed. The Second World War delivered the Poles for whom we declared it to one of only two regimes on Earth worse than Hitler's. It left the Soviet Union stronger. It saved few Jews. It crippled Britain's economy and left us in massive debt to the Americans. Those Americans gave post-war aid to the Germans on such a scale that they rapidly overtook our war-damaged industries. A German who married one of my wife's relatives visited my home town in the 1950's, while rationing and post-war austerity was still in force. "Did you people really win?" she asked. "It doesn't look like it". The war left the US dollar as the world's reserve currency and it left us in, at best, the second division of nations. And in 1946, having delivered ourselves, as we thought, of Germany's National Socialists, we elected British Socialists to run the "commanding heights" of the economy for the nation.

When the post-war consensus between the barons of the landed aristocracy and the labour aristocracy brought us to our economic knees; when the bailiffs' men of the IMF came in to dictate terms; when rubbish swamped the streets and the dead went unburied; when my wife's family burned shoes to keep warm during power cuts and when families everywhere tightened their belts because their supporting wage-earners' working days were cut to three, we lacked hope again. Managed decline seemed our destiny. We told ourselves that our past successes were only to do with the wickedness of Empire and that a slide into poverty was now inevitable - and even deserved. It was a dark hour to be alive even if, like me, you were a young, optimistic graduate setting out promisingly on his life's work.

Thatcher brought hope and promised us a new Britain of opportunity. She promised to liberate the lives and resources tied up in non-jobs and fake industries. She promised us that Britain could be something again; not the old something but a new, vibrant place. And those of us who were not on the take from a corrupt Socialist state or living as parasites on the workers as trade union officials welcomed it. We set about working hard; doing well by doing good.

And for a while it seemed real. If when Neil Kinnock dies, he goes to Hell, the demons need not raise a sweat tormenting him. All they need do is play, on an infinite loop, the moment this week when a TV interviewer asked him if Britain was better or worse after 11 years of Thatcher. His tormented face told the truth even as his twisted lips mouthed the necessary lie. Necessary because without it he would have had to confess that his whole life has been a self-serving fraud. Without that lie, his career can only be explained as duping the working class to raise his talent-free family to undeserved wealth.

Yet Thatcher's promise too was like VE day. It was briefly, gloriously real, but then a sadder reality kicked in. The post-war consensus resumed. The British State moved steadily back to its pre-1979 position as the most important force in the country and the British people resumed their willing dependence. For all practical purposes, democracy is suspended because three out of four families in this still-rich nation are in receipt of money taken by force by that state from their fellow-citizens. David Cameron is far more like Macmillan or Hume than he is like Heath, let alone Thatcher. Ed Milliband, for all the contentious talk, is essentially as in favour of a "mixed economy" (and buttering up corrupt and destructive union leaders) as any post-war leader of his party.

So Margaret's career, in the end, was a waste of her talents and our time. Were it not for her, we might have hit bottom by now and be rebuilding a civilisation on the ruins of our decadence.

Yet I respect her because like Winston, she was sincere. She believed, probably to her death, that she had led us towards a better future. She certainly tried. No Prime Minister ever worked so hard or took so much flak in the process. That she failed is not her fault. It is ours. And that is why I will stand, head bowed, as her gun carriage rolls by tomorrow. She was the best of us and, all-too-briefly, gave us hope. I am grateful for the memory of that.


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From the article you linked to:

"I do believe that [markets] fail to solve the problem of power. In fact they tend to compound it."

I'll get to the environmental issue in a second, but how can he possibly believe this?

He advocates top down, central planning yet he's worried about this?

Seeing as he's far from stupid I can only assume he's thoroughly disingenuous. As you said, we need to look at these people's interests before believing a single word.

Regarding the environment, the best possible protection for it is robust private property rights. Walter Block has a good introduction to the subject in his excellent - and free - book "Building Blocks for Liberty":

Gary Spencer

And one other thing, Though you might be skeptical of Guardian commentary, this short article does highlight another thing that has been one of the biggest problems with the 'freedom' to exploit our worlds' resources. There are countless examples of opportunistic profiteering stampeding over ecology, and I have heard many pretty disheartening arguments levelled in defence of such activity. Certain shortcomings aside, coming 'together' on this one outside the aims of a narrow group of individual interests seems more sensible. Or are you more optimistically inclined to go the other way? Of course, there are also some that deny there's a problem at all, but looking at their particular interests, you would expect them to say that. That is an extension of the same problem.


The ONLY laws would be those against force and fraud. The law enforcement authorities would have, not an easy, but a much clearer job. Monopolies cause corruption, public or private. But private monopolies cannot be long sustained without state backing. Defeating statism and corporatism would not create a perfect world - anyone who promises that is a scoundrel - but the damage fraudsters and criminals could do would be smaller without state power. 

Gary Spencer

Not quite the thread, but I was just wondering - how do we minimise the potential corruption of anyone who wields any power or influence on either side of these arguments? This seems to be huge assumption (in much of what I read in here)that is is leftist organisations that cannot be trusted. But I don't see why the opposing ideals you uphold wouldn't be undermined with similar problems. I note that you feel that the police still might need to be a centralised organisation, which means that agreed laws to some extent can be applied. But of course, as you know, laws are subject to corruption in their meaning and implementation too, which is the very essence of corruption. Just wondering. Are you suggesting that a free economy is more likely to encourage altruism and honesty?

Phil B

Perhaps if the Government did not remove a significant proportion of their income in tax, they would not need to beg for their earnings back from the State.

As an experiment during 2008 for about 6 months I recorded all my income and expenditure and used an Excel spreadsheet to calculate the amount the State took from me. Income and NI contributions, Rates, VAT, petrol and excise duty, etc. etc and so forth.

I live quite frugally and only buy things like clothes and shoes when they are worn out, not as a fashion statement, drive an 11 year old car etc.

The total tax take from my top line earnings from all sources? 72.3% of my earned salary ended up in the governments clutches.

Perhaps my employer should have trebled my salary or perhaps I should have claimed "benefits" to get a living wage?

Or perhaps the Government should take less tax?

Dry end of the Titanic

Yes Sir, how can I held you...

You're wages have been halved you say, well lets take a look at your file...

Ah yes, I see here that the new approved wage rate for your work catagory has been set at a new level...

Yes it's half what it was before...

No I don't know how you can feed your family on that amount...

Well you would'nt want to go back to the bad old days when footballers (spit) earned hundreds of times what a nurse earned, now would you. Under the new order, it's been decided that footballers should earn one hundred pounds a weeek plus an orange at half time, which is less than what a nurse now earns...

Your wife is a nurse you say, and now she earns one hundred and ten pounds a week...

Well, she gets an orange every week does'nt she?...

Well yes there are three oranges in my lunch box right there, but we government workers do a very important job and it is only fair that we get extra

Ahh, well I see here on your file that you were noted as holding um.. unorthodox views, so, no, you can't apply for goverment work.


Something like that, eh Gary?


Quite, and as someone whose family were in the housing business on a small scale for forty years, I can tell you that the system is corporatist. Planning permissions are granted to larger companies (e.g. supermarkets and the bigger house builders) where they could never be obtained by smaller builders or - even more disgracefully - by the land owners themselves.

This can put someone in a position where he has to sell at an undervalue to a corporation with "contacts" that can then get permission to do what was forbidden to him. There is a retail park in the Northwest of England where I am told by someone I trust that the farmer came up with the concept and applied for permission, but was refused. The local council's favoured builder bought from him at agricultural plus a bit of hope value and was able (don't ask how) to get permission to build the current, highly-successful, development along precisely the lines he had outlined in his application.

Such scandals are less frequent in marginal areas where control of the council changes, because political opponents are then more likely to use them to attack. Most of the country never changes hands of course, and (while I can't speak for Conservative heartlands because I have only briefly once lived in a Tory constituency) I can assure Gary that the Labour heartlands where I grew up and my family still live are thoroughly corrupt. My Labour mother-in-law actually threw a representative of the local party out of her (ex-council) home because he tried to persuade her to run for the council by itemising corrupt benefits she could expect to receive.

Please don't tell me that millionaires like Kinnock, Blair, Brown and Prescott could ever have achieved their wealth by creation, rather than looting. And I would ask Gary and others of the non-free market persuasion to accept that we libertarians do not confuse our support for the freeest possible market with the current corporatist/state conspiracy.


He is more profitable because more people are prepared to pay to go and see him than are prepared to pay for the services of a nurse. It would be interesting to see where nurse's wages would go if the state monopoly was broken. I suspect they are better paid in France or the USA for example, which is why the NHS mainly pulls in recruits from poor countries.

The other factor, of course, is supply and demand. There are more people capable of training to be nurses than there are fit and dedicated enough to succeed in the Premier League. However the real point is that while its fun for you and me to discuss it, it's all far too complex in practice for us to second guess the economic democracy of the market. Every other method yet devised involves politicians and bureaucrats supplanting that with their own views.

Politicians (and bureaucrats answerable to them) will naturally overpay for commonplace skills and underpay rare ones (there are more votes from nurses than footballers). Hence the absurd situation where, in a recession, public sector wages are growing faster than inflation - and much faster than the wages of the people whose taxes pay them. Bureaucrats NOT answerable to politicians are (a) not preferable in principle to the markets and (b) likely to generate massive corruption.

I am always open to an alternative to the market, but no-one has produced one yet that does not generate corruption and inefficiency. Until someone does, I suggest all the effort put into decrying the markets would be better spent on charitable work to help those who lose out.


The problem with the housing "market", is that it isn't!
The planning system distorts the supply of housing (-actually in favour of the large housebuilders, who pretty much get to build where they want whilst the individual cannot).
If the "landbanks" that the builders have were opened up to the private indivual you would see many more houses being built- on a self build basis. An example (which many will not like) is the way travellers can build a housing estate over a weekend-possibly not to a good standard but that is their choice.
It really is no good the UK bleating about housing but keeping the planning system as it is.

Gary Spencer

But you know why a footballer is paid more than a nurse. A footballer is more profitable to someone than a nurse. It's as simple as that. In a totally unregulated market footballers that attract a large crowd and sponsorship will still get their inflated wage, but what investment is there worth pursuing in someone that does something as financially unrewarding as help the sick and aged? Isn't your economic value - and therefore wage - in free system generally measured by how much you can bring to that economy?


I agree about your last point, though I doubt it will continue to be true for long if politicians get any more leverage over the media. Most voters get their views from the BBC, which has as statist a bias as one might expect from a state enterprise dependent upon state power to take revenue by force. If after Leveson the other media are forced into the same stance, free speech is in severe jeopardy.

We all have our doubts about market outcomes. Why is a footballer worth more than a nurse? You tell me. But history tells us that when politicians determine the allocation of value, only ferocity, cunning, corruption or obsequiousness is rewarded.

Nor am I defending the regulated status quo. As PJ O'Rourke says, "when buying and selling are regulated, the first things to be bought and sold are regulators." That's pretty much where we are - with big corporates and unions corruptly funding politicians in return for regulations that bar entry to new competitors by making start-up costs prohibitive.

I'll take my chances with the free, un-regulated market any day over that.


You are right. Every time I express despondency here I regret it. The young people at the Freedom Association party after the funeral filled me with hope. The point was made during the speeches (in the beer haze I forget by whom) that pre-Thatcher the supporters of freedom were using the vocabulary of the authoritarian left in despair that anything else would be accepted. Margaret proved that there was a real hunger then for honesty in politics. People know that every word spoken to them by politicians now is what focus groups tell the parties they want to hear. They are not stupid enough not to recognise falsehood. If someone with one-tenth her charisma (and more than that seems too optimistic to hope for) was able to look the nation in the eye and tell them you can't borrow your way out of debt, perhaps they would listen again. They would certainly respond well to sensing sincerity.

Gary Spencer

You speak as if everyone has a great deal of choice when it comes to selecting the work and income that suits them. You speak about what the 'market 'requires, but I still see that as a rather abstract way of saying that those on unfairly low incomes have to shut up and make do. Which of course, gets us nowhere.

You also speak as if - for example, regarding wealth creation - the super-rich put back into society something proportionate to the amount of capital they've made from it, which is true in some cases but certainly not in others.

I actually have many issues regarding our relationship with the state, and would like to feel more sympathy for the model of society you take, but I still see too many holes in it to trust it. But we are free to differ until circumstances change us, which is one major things I like about my country.


Yes and it's one of the worst benefits. The tax relief it replaced helped working people support their families. Making it a universal benefit was justified at the time on proto-feminist grounds; that not all working men handed the extra money to their wives. [Please don't call me a sexist, that's what the Labour government of the time said]. In truth it created a perverse incentive for people with no money at all to have children they could not afford to support. I fear this was the true purpose of it; to help build Labour's herd of farmed voters - dependent on the state and therefore always inclined to vote for the party intent on making the state bigger.

And this of course is why we now have the absurd position of three-fourths of households in the sixth-richest nation on Earth in receipt of state handouts. How much better to leave the tax money in their own hands, rather than take it from them and shuffle it about to make them feel dependent.


You make an excellent point about housing benefit and one that has been made from the Left of late too. It distorts the market and, so far from being arguable, it is certain that it finds its way into the hands of landlords. If the benefits were eliminated, rents would fall.


I am a **libertarian** not a Conservative or other statist, so I don't approve of a taxpayer-funded **anything** (except the armed forces necessary for homeland defence, a police force to enforce criminal laws against the use of force or fraud, and an independent judiciary to enforce contracts freely entered into between free people).


I do agree with MickC. The US constitution was an attempt to forsee and counter future threats to freedom, it has worked to some extent.. so far...

Liberty needs someone to watch out for it all the time and it needs a champion from time to time. That's how it is.

Suboptimal Planet

Though it is true that corporation taxes and employer's NI eat into the budget companies have available to pay their staff. Without these, we might expect pay to be higher.

It's also true that many markets aren't fully competitive (because the market isn't free). If government-imposed barriers to entry were removed, startups would bid up wages in their attempt to compete with established companies (there would be more employers fighting over the same employees).

Suboptimal Planet

The free market is a better judge of fair wages than either of us. An employee worth more than they're currently paid will find work elsewhere.

I think a big part of the problem is that the unemployed take houses away from the employed. Everyone needs somewhere to live, of course, but the unemployed shouldn't be given prime real estate in expensive city centres, which hard-working families can't afford. If you're idle, you may as well be idle somewhere cheap.

It's also worth noting that housing benefit allows landlords to charge more than they otherwise could. Arguably it is they who benefit, not the recipients.

James Strong

Fair enough, you approved of Baroness Thatcher.
Would you be in favour of a ceremonial funeral at taxpayer expense for a private citizen who: was a former PM, won 3 elections, served 10 years as PM, was a war leader?
Blair was all of those things;I wouldn't support a taxpayer-funded funeral for him, and I didn't support a taxpayer-funded funeral for Baroness Thatcher.
If you see a difference in how the state should treat the funerals of these two, other than approval or disapproval of their policies, what is that difference?


Employers are paying what the market requires; not a penny more or less. At yesterday's Freedom Association wake, a young Thatcherite was wearing a T shirt with a quote from Milton Friedman on it;

"The most important single central fact about the free market is that no exchange takes place unless both parties benefit"

The problems you mention are to be solved only by creating more wealth, not stealing and destroying it as the Welfare State does. The question you need to ask yourself is why, if you are so wise as to know better than the market what should be the price for housing or labour, you are not in charge.

Surreptitious Evil

Includes child benefit. Or, did include child benefit at the time.

Gary Spencer

I think what is really shocking is that the growth in claimants of housing benefit is amongst working families, not the unemployed. Employers clearly aren't paying enough, and people who took the opportunity to buy more houses than they need (or landlords, as they are better known) are clearly charging too much. Ian Duncan Smith left this context disingenuously out of his attack on 'job snobs' who won't stack shelves. Thatcher is praised for giving people the right to buy, but she neglected housing issues in general. No one has sorted out the major problems related to this since.


I hope you are right. Having spent a boozy inspiring afternoon at the Freedom Association party I am more inclined to optimism myself today.


Neither Churchill nor Thatcher failed. Each dealt with the specific threat before them.

However, what neither could do, probably no-one can, is to foresee the future threats which arise from their particular victory.

But then, the fight for liberty is never truly won-it is always a challenge, which requires others to take it up, because there are always people seeking to curtail freedom.

Strangely enough, history seems to show there are always people ready to accept to the challenge-which is why progress is made.


No. You know, I really _don't_ belive it was a waste.

I do applaud you attending.

I hope no one does marr the event but if so much as one person does you can bet that the BBC reporters will be busy interviewing each other about it and doing their best to make it seem like some ground swell of public hatred of Thatcher.

The thing is even the pathetic hate stuff the left organise has to be especially organised on face book or something.

Ordinary people will probably just turn out to pay their repects... without having to be dragooned by agitators.


I would agree her domestic efforts, strenuous as they were have ultimately been over-run by the dreaded consensus politicians. North Sea revenue as well as Marshall Plan loans have been squandered on the welfare state and the National Death Service.

Nevertheless she was a great lady, and should truly be measured by her international achievements. The Falklands campaign reversed a long trend of Western submission to minor communists and uppity South American generallisimos. Once Jimmy Carter was purged, the USA re-asserted itself resulting in the freedom of Eastern Europe and the Russian republic, Thatcher supported that, it is irreversible, it is the monument of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul and Lech Walesa. It is why the left hate her, and stage hysterical street theatre. She assisted in destroying their myth of a workers paradise and exposed the nonsense of the communist manifesto.

In truth she was much too big for Britain, where endlessly playing the envy game against achievement is a national sport. She was an achiever and must therefore be reviled by the scuttering creatures like Kinnock and his despicable brood of parasites.

I wished I could have attended the parade, perhaps you will hoist a toast to Margaret from me, for which I will pay you when we meet.

Suboptimal Planet

Thanks. Truly shocking!


Thank you. I don't do ambivalence, normally, which is another reason I liked the Iron Lady, but this is all far more complicated than one might think from the media this week. As for your questions, I was thinking about Mao's China. The 3 out of 4 families statistic was in a speech at the student Libertarian conference I attended recently. This Freedom of Information Request

elicited the reply that 20.1 million households (is that 3 out of 4?) are " receipt of any benefit or tax credit income..." There may well be many people in receipt of state salaries who are NOT included in that number!

Suboptimal Planet

A superb post, if depressing. I wish I could express my ambivalence about Thatcher and Churchill as eloquently as you've done here.

"The Second World War delivered the Poles for whom we declared it to one of only two regimes on Earth worse than Hitler's"

Which was the other? Communist China? Imperial Japan?

"democracy is suspended because three out of four families in this still-rich nation are in receipt of money taken by force by that state from their fellow-citizens"

I assume this is the combination of state employees and welfare recipients. Sounds plausible. Do you have a source?

"Yet I respect her because like Winston, she was sincere"

I'm not sure how sincere Winston was. ISTR that he had no qualms about telling 'necessary lies'.

With you about Kinnock, though. The Durkin documentary was brilliant.

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