We won’t get political stability until we move away from continuity Thatcherism

December 10, 2023

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”

Last week Sir Keir Starmer did the opposite.

“Margaret Thatcher sought to drag Britain out of its stupor by setting loose our natural entrepreneurialism.”

Did she?

I met Baroness Thatcher as a teenager in the 1980s. She probably saw me as one of the “moaning minnies” because I objected to the devastation she wrought on my community.

Her policies pushed unemployment above 3 million for the first time in British history.

248,000 jobs destroyed in the North East over her 11 years as Prime Minister. My Dad’s included.

Steelworks, wagon works, and of course, the mines.

Sir Keir knew exactly what he was doing. You don’t have a few too many on a Saturday night and accidentally write an article in The Sunday Telegraph. It’s not a misstep like his Gaza siege comment that Israel had the right to cut off power and water to Palestinians. It’s a deliberate act, like his refusal to call for a ceasefire in Gaza or call a war crime a war crime.

It’s also the second time he’s praised Baroness Thatcher. On 23rd March this year he praised her approach to law and order. Despite the waves of inner city rioting. Or epidemic of joy riding. And I doubt the Hillsborough families think highly of her cover ups. Or that gay people persecuted under Section 28 share Sir Keir’s praise. Crime rose by 37% through the Thatcher years.

At best he’s cynically fishing for votes in an ever-smaller pond of Tory voters.

At worst it’s because the Leader of the Opposition has no plan. The day after praising Margaret Thatcher his website took down his “ten pledges”. It now says “404 – page not found”.

Thatcherism continued without Thatcher. “Setting loose our natural entrepreneurialism” was really just privatisation. Mr Blair put PFI on steroids – hobbling hospitals with debt for decades. Our private utilities extracted £billions to tax havens and failed to build new reservoirs or transmission networks. Council house stock halved, the cause of today’s housing crisis.

The world has changed since Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979, or Tony Blair’s in 1997. Thatcherism depended on selling off public assets. Blairism rode a wave of under-regulated banking profits until the bubble inevitably burst, landing us with the bill.

Neither approach is credible today. Lord Cameron, now back as Foreign Secretary, is our longest-serving Prime Minister since the global financial crisis. He lasted 6 years, but only 1 with a majority. Gordon Brown, Theresa May, and Boris Johnson had 3 years each. Liz Truss had 49 days and was outlasted by a lettuce. Rishi Sunak has survived a year so far.

What links their fates is that none has been able to raise living standards for the majority of Britons. And then either the electorate or their own party punished their failure. Until we move away from continuity Thatcherism, we will see no political stability.

I absolutely want a thriving private sector. And with over 5,000 new jobs created by the North of Tyne’s investments our record is strong.

If you’re running essential infrastructure, though, public interest must come before shareholder profit. What’s happened to our public sector? Is anything left of it? Schools, crumbling. NHS suffering chronic privatisation.

Our councils are barely standing. 1 in 5 council leaders and chief executives say they’ll run out of money next year. Many will go bankrupt.

I hold campaign meetings right across the North East. Last Tuesday in Ryton I asked a packed audience who would trust Mr Sunak to honour a promise. No one put their hand up. And who would trust Sir Keir? No hands. Then, slowly, one gentleman put his hand up. He approached me afterwards. “I do believe Starmer when he says he won’t turn on the taps,” he said.

This is where the silence is really deafening. Anyone who fails to challenge Sir Keir’s continuity Thatcherism is unfit to represent the North East.

Before he’s killed in Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar is warned to, “Beware the ides of March.” He brushes off the soothsayer’s prophecy and doesn’t give them a second thought. And then soon afterwards, everyone turns on him.

Labour and Sir Keir should take note.