Thatcher: Top Ten Misconceptions

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I was brought up to hate Thatcher. With a ex-hippie for a dad, he actually got me so terrified of her with witch-like descriptions, that I would run past her house which was en route to my primary school church.

I studied Thatcher as a result of a ‘history of modern Britain’ course. I went into to class with bias, as a lof of my companions did. And I think it’s fair to say that 90% of the class, even the most leftists, came out surprised by the end of the course. What we realised is that she wasn’t actually ‘evil’, and she did do some good. A lot of the reasons why we thought we hated her, were actually misconstrued.

I’m not anti or pro Thatcher. I’m neutral. But I’m a historian and my job is to weigh up the evidence and think objectively. So I want to share a few things I learned, which helped me think more clearly about Thatcher:

1. She was not anti-Europe. What she was anti was a political European union, she was in fact, very pro an economic union, as it tied in with her beliefs about business and free trade.

2. The famous ‘milk snatching’ happened before she was PM, when she was Minister for Education. She has since said of that decision: “I learned a valuable lesson – I had incurred the maximum of political odium for the minimum of political benefit.”

3.  Her close relationship with Reagan, and of course the rise of Gorbachev, was instrumental in bringing about the end of the cold war.

4. Re: the unions. This is a big one, because so many people were effected, so I have to tread carefully. The truth is, the unions, especially in the 70s, had the country at ransom. With things like the ‘three-day week,’ the ‘winter of discontent’ and constant striking. No doubt they had reasons, especially the miners who have extremely hard working conditions; but the truth is the country had been brought to its knees as a result of the unions’ actions. Before Thatcher, Heath, Wilson and Callaghan had all tried and failed to control the unions. Heath’s U-Turn on his unions policy was particularly disastrous and humiliating for him. Thatcher’s crushing of them, is considered by most historians and economists (and people at the time), a complete economic necessity for the UK. Where she failed (warning: opinion coming in) is that the money she raised from this, she didn’t reinvest into the regions affected. She instead gave tax cuts, which were in line with her monetarist economic beliefs.

4.2. Continuation from the above point. It has been argued that she did not ‘create’ the North-South divide, and that a cultural and economic one existed prior. I think this is a fair argument because regional differences do exist, and the capital of the country is in the South. What she did then, was widen it, or rip it open depending how you see it. I think this was her main failing, as I mention above, as she did no reinvest in affected communities and try and stimulate economic recovery in those regions. But one has to remember, there have been governments since then, who have also failed to really remedy this divide.

5. Privatisation. She privatised a lot of loss-making industries, but of course, this did mean people lost their jobs in the public sector. The ones she privatised, were more focused on utilities and industry, for example British Petroleum, British Gas and Rolls Royce. The NHS did not suffer under her privatisation policies, but it was effected by her market-driven policies imposed on the public sector.

6. The concept that she is the root of the 2008 financial crisis has both truth and misconception to it. What Thatcher did was oversee legislation which caused the ‘Big Bang,’ which deregulated the the stock markets, thus giving more freedoms. This was continued, and I think detrimentally, by Blair and Brown – something  I think is all too forgotten. These regulations made room for the reckless behaviour of the City bankers, which caused the crash. However, it did boost the economy of the time (for Thatcher, and the Blair-Brown bubble), and has played a crucial role in making London the global financial capital it is today.

7. She was elected three times, and left due to alienation of her party, which was already divided, mostly over issues to do with Europe. She was incredibly strong-willed which served her well in her first and and in particular her second term. This strong will however, was eventually her downfall: her attitude turned people detrimentally against her, most famously her once-ally Nigel Lawson.

8. She was not a typical ‘tory toff.’ She was middle class and her father was a successful small business owner, which is where her ideas on the importance of small businesses came from. She got a scholarship to study chemistry at Oxford.

9. She is responsible for legislation such as the ‘right-to-buy’ which created thousands of new home owners by allowing people to purchase their council flats. She was also behind things like Section 28 of the Local Government Act of ’86 which was very negative for LGBT rights. What I want to show here is that there was positive work (right to buy) done by Thatcher, and regressive work (Section 28). Not everything was great, not everything was awful: it is much more complex than that, and it is a misconception to give an 11 year tenure of very mixed actions one label, whatever that label is.

10. She was the first true monetarist in modern British history. She was not a stop-go, Keynesian economist, as her predecessors were, and their policies had greatly overheated the economy by 1979. Her implementation of  monetarism, allowed me to compare her budgets and its effects to the stop-go budgets before her. What I concluded is that neither are great, they both can create bubbles and they both can effect the economy and the population negatively; basically, both types of budgets we seem to get in the country, are by no means perfect.

I hope what I’ve shared can shed some light on her and her time in power. You still may hate or admire her, but I hope I’ve brought up some new facts, and now you can judge from a more balanced perspective.

What I do think is truly awful, is the celebration of the death of an elderly woman with dementia, who has a family with feelings. I especially think this is awful, if the reason for doing so is that she was ‘evil.’ Have a quick look at the definition of ‘evil’ and then look at regimes like Khmer Rouge, which in four years killed almost a quater of Cambodia’s  population, or earlier ones like Chaing Kai-shek’s Nationalism in China, and of course, Stalin, who lead the regime which caused the most deaths in one country in modern history.  These examples – in my opinion anyway – are true evil.

 

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History student with Mandarin on the side. Spent a year in China and a semester in Spain, plan to go back to China again after graduation. Opinion Editor at the Wessex Scene for two years.

Discussion43 Comments

  1. avatar
    English Student

    great piece, very easy to read and really quick response to current events from the scene!

    Isabella Hunter-Fajardo
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    Thank you very much, and thanks for reading. Any comments and feedback are really great 🙂

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    “What I do think is truly awful, is the celebration of the death of an elderly woman with dementia, who has a family with feelings.”

    Her family are utter scum. Her daughter’s a racist and her son organised a coup in Equatorial Guinea. They never visited her anyway.

    English Student
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    Her point was celebrating the death of an old woman with dementia is wrong, not that she has fantastic offspring, idiot.

    G
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    She mentioned her family and their feelings. I felt it worth pointing out that her family are scum who deserve any unhappiness that comes their way.

    And Thatcher’s dementia doesn’t make her death not worth celebrating.

    Alexander James Green
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    Yeah, slightly off the point G. …plus a coup against Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo would be no bad thing.

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    Enlightening for any neutral, unbiased party; thanks!

    Isabella Hunter-Fajardo
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    Thanks Eills, that’s what I was I aiming for.

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    Interesting short article with an unbiased view. Thatcher will always divide opinion and those views of her will never change. The impact she had will last and this one point demonstrates this: people who either weren’t alive or too young in the 80’s hate her because of their parents and grandparents. No other politician has had that effect. Some things she did were excellent, some things she did weren’t. She, however was always passionate and honest with what she was doing, more than can be said nowadays and she stood up for Britain. In 1979 this country was a joke. In 1990 it wasn’t a joke and we had improved. The journey was bumpy and turbulent but the end result for the nation as a whole was better for it.

    G – with your comments, congratulations you also join the rank of scum! Didn’t realise you knew the Thatcher family well!

    Isabella Hunter-Fajardo
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    Thank you for you feedback! I agree, I hated (/was terrified of) Thatcher because of my dad.

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    Its interesting that Isabella mentions the Khmer Rouge considering it has come to light that Thatcher gave financial and military support to the Khmer Rouge once the Vietnamese had pushed them out of Cambodia and the SAS were even training them in the eventuality they were able to retake the country. I don’t celebrate the fact she is dead as that can’t undo the damage that I think she has done. Chiefly in her legacy. Every party in power since has followed her monetary style making the problems that she caused greater.

    Isabella Hunter-Fajardo
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    I was aware that she supported Pol Pot. And I did say in my 1st reply to the 1st comment, that I forgot to mention more on her foreign policy, which included many inmoral links, for example to the Khmer Rouge. For more on that check out http://www.wessexscene.co.uk/opinion/2013/04/09/please-no-more-tears-for-thatcher/#comment-158292

    She didn’t however, massacre and cause the death of thousands of the population she was in charge of, which was the point I was making there.

    Unimpressed
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    But supporting the death and massacre of foreigners is ok?

    Isabella Hunter-Fajardo
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    No of course it’s not. But her actual actions in the UK do not at all measure up to those of Pinochet, Pol Pot etc. That is my point. I do not condone or think much of a great deal of her foreign policy.

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    My grandmother was friendly with Margaret Thatcher because my grandmother was the head of the South West Women’s Conservative Union (or something like that…sadly, I am a disappointment in that department…) and I remember her at one of grandma’s parties when I was little, and she was completely different in person compared to how she was portrayed in politics and the media. She gave me a packet of chocolate buttons, she can’t have been completely evil. So I was genuinely sad at the news of her death, and this was an awesome article. Well balanced and written like a true historian 🙂

    Isabella Hunter-Fajardo
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    Hey Libby! Cheers 🙂 I hope you enjoyed the chocolate. I’ll see you on the piste 🙂

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    Right to Buy is one of the worst things she did. Sounds good in theory, but in reality she sold off a load of state housing at bargain prices, which has directly resulted in today’s housing crisis. Young people in 21st century Britain cannot afford a house without parental help or a ludicrous mortgage thanks to this scheme. It bought her a load of votes from the people who benefited (the cynic would suggest this was a major motivator for the policy), but it has had dire long-term consequences.

    Jonny
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    Right to Buy also helped control people because it meant that people were less willing to strike because they’d lose their homes if they lost their job. Presenting right to buy as if it was an unmitigated success is disingenuous.

    Andy
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    Right to Buy was a good scheme that benefitted many. The housing crisis now isn’t because of Right to Buy. Council housing was sold off and most of the young people looking to buy now wouldn’t be eligible for this housing. It’s the lack of building new private housing that’s one issue as well as a population that is growing quickly. It also generated income that was reinvested into councils to pay off the massive debts generated in the 1970s. By reducing these debts from sales, taxes and other income could be spent on residents. Also Right to Buy allowed people to get on the property ladder that otherwise would have been unlikely to get on it. It reduced overheads for councils on repairs and maintenance. The one thing Thatcher maybe should have done was spend a proportion of income on new council housing but not the whole whack as councils were broke.

    Jonny – your argument is flawed as on that basis everyone that buys a house in all walks of life will be less likely to strike as they too would lose their homes! There were many people that weren’t involved in the strikes that were involved with the scheme!

    Isabella Hunter-Fajardo
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    My right to buy point has set off a bit of discussion I see! I explain below in some replies (I’m going upwards on the comments) that right to buy was good in itself, because many people who would probably have never even thought about buying, suddenly had the opportunity to do so. However, it should have been accompanied by a rise in the provision of more council housing and flats, for the many still in need and unable to buy. And this lack is what has contributed to the shortage crisis we are still in today

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    Just because she didn’t kill millions of people with her own hands doesn’t mean she’s not evil. Many of her policies have no doubt caused poverty and deaths. You might be trying to write an unbiased article on Thatcher, but i find many of your views quite biased. For example: right to buy is good, and unions are bad. Opening property market directly cause the prices of property to rise, hence it’s much more difficult for the poor to have a house of their own. And with the mortgage payment on your shoulder, you’d find it much harder to risk being fired by going on a strike when your rights are violated.

    Andy
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    Sharon – I don’t recall anywhere in the article her saying the unions are bad? She said the unions had held the country to ransom, which has some truth to it. The fact is in all of this people have forgotten that Arthur Scargill was one of the main perputrators involved in this. He took decisions that weren’t his to make, ballots weren’t cast and he led the unions into a war that didn’t need to be fought. The people that suffered weren’t the politicians or union leaders, it was the common man who went on strike because of corrupt union leader’s say so.

    Liam
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    Some very good points made here, but surely it’s highly unlikely you’d have a neutral opinion on anything quite so controversial, having previously had a strong opinion on it either way?
    Although you were only a child whilst you considered Mrs Thatcher ‘witch-like’, having clearly learned better during school, I can’t help but notice a slight pro-Thatcher bias in this article – probably by way of over-compensation for something you’re openly trying to distance yourself from. I.e. whether or not the right to buy legislation was a “positive” change really depends on your personal politics – might have been better to simply outline the policies and let the reader decide whether they were good or “evil”; better still to provide a case for both.
    Either way, a very interesting and useful article, thanks.

    Isabella Hunter-Fajardo
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    I have definitely try to stay neutral, and I do think of myself as neutral on Thatcher, as I see good and bad. The right to buy point has brought up a a few comments, which is fair. I would argue, as I do below “that right to buy was very good in itself, for people to buy flats/houses who would probably never have bought before that. It should have however, been accompanied with a rise in the provision of more council housing, and a lack thereof was a was a big failure, and has contributed to the council housing/flat shortage we have still today.”

    Isabella Hunter-Fajardo
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    I would like to affirm: I don’t think unions are bad. What they were doing at the time was bad. Thank you for highlighting this Andy

    Anon
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    @ Andy, I cant say I’m a Scargill apologist, but labelling him “corrupt” is simply untrue.
    Plus, he was an elected president of the union. He should have ballotted his members over the strikes but he was an elected representative, not an “appointment”. To tar him with that brush, the same must be levelled at Thatcher who, in the run-up to the ’79 election, said she may call a referendum in relation industrial disputes with national union. That never happened.

    Isabella Hunter-Fajardo
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    I have nothing against unions. My mother is a public sector worker, and a member of a union. Regarding right to buy, I explain why I put it under ‘positive legislation’ in my replies in the below two comments.
    What the unions were doing at the time of her tenure, and before, was extremely detrimental to the economy and for the people, for example, as I say in the piece, the three day week and the winter of discontent.

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    The right to buy was not positive work, the Conservative government forced through legislation to stop the reinvesting of the money. Right to buy only works if the housing stock is replenished with houses funded from the money of those sold.
    Councils were forbidden from doing this, encouraged instead to invest the money gained in the “infallible” banking sector (Icelandic banks being hugely popular), Right to Buy under Thatcher was merely privatisition of the social housing stock of this country.

    I also think you might like to edit “council flats” to “council housing”, you do not buy a flat, you lease a flat for say 99-100 years if you ‘buy it’. The right to buy was mostly aimed at working class families who lived in houses.

    Isabella Hunter-Fajardo
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    I would argue, that right to buy was very good in itself, for people to buy flats/houses who would probably never have bought before that. It should have however, been accompanied with a rise in the provision of more council housing, and a lack thereof was a was a big failure, and has contributed to the council housing/flat shortage we have still today.

  10. avatar
    estelle spencer

    What a brilliant piece…I didn’t live in the UK at the time of Mrs Thatcher and was a tad confused by some of the vitriol towards her so am glad your piece was sent to me as a link by a friend. I do agree with you 100% regarding the disrespect of celebrations at her death….like you I think of her family. Rightly pointed out as well, evil is not a word that can be used to describe her. Thank you for the insight.

    Isabella Hunter-Fajardo
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    Thank you, I do hope I’ve helped you. Please read some of the comments though, as people have brought up interesting points and I have acknowledged some missing bits!

  11. avatar

    A very brilliantly written article, you are a truly talented historian and writer. As an economist of the Keynesian persuasion I think you captured her main economic triumphs and failings perfectly, her reforms were absolutely needed and her major failing was a total lack of reinvestment and retraining but that is a result of monetarist beliefs in the free market. You’re brilliant and should be on The Times in no time.

    Isabella Hunter-Fajardo
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    Woah thank you! I would agree her main failing in terms of the economy, was a chronic lack of reinvestment, especially in housing and the old manufacturing communities around the UK (particularly the North of course).
    A massive thank you for your praise, I am beaming 🙂

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    “Have a quick look at the definition of ‘evil’ and then look at regimes like Khmer Rouge”… the same Khmer Rouge given aid and training by Thatcher?

    Add in links to Pinochet and her stance against Mandela and suddenly “evil” is not as a big a stretch anymore.

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    “I especially think this is awful, if the reason for doing so is that she was ‘evil.’ Have a quick look at the definition of ‘evil’ and then look at regimes like Khmer Rouge, which in four years killed almost a quater of Cambodia’s population.”

    You mean the same Khmer Rouge that was funded by Thatcher? Oh dear, please do your research. Oh, and look up Pinochet while you’re at it.

  14. avatar

    Top ten things omitted from this balanced article:

    1. Thatcher’s funding of the Khmer Rouge;
    2. Thatcher’s covering up of the police negligence at Hillsborough and allowing the whitewash which blamed the fans;
    3. Thatcher’s failure to act on intelligence which could have prevented the Falklands war;
    4. Thatcher’s use of the police (and allegedly armed forces within the police) to quell social unrest (note: NOT criminal acts, but instead peaceful protests);
    5. Thatcher’s promotion of the ideology of the “self” and destruction of social and community togetherness (an effect of many of the actions in the main article);
    6. Thatcher’s lambasting of Mandela as a terrorist and vetoing the application of sanctions to the Apartheid regime;
    7. Thatcher’s friendship with Pinochet;
    8. Thatcher’s alleged opposition to a unified Germany;
    9. Thatcher’s supply of weapons to General Suharto;
    10.Thatcher’s sinking of the Belgrano.

    Russell
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    To address some of your points:
    There is no evidence that Thatcher “covered up” anything to do with Hillsborough and was just as misinformed as everyone else was.
    With regards to the use of the police to quell social unrest, then if you are talking about the miner’s strike and the poll tax riots then I wouldn’t exactly call them “peaceful protests”. You obviously haven’t heard about David Wilkie, a taxi driver who was killed when striking miners dropped a concrete block onto his car. The poll tax riots were also particularly violent with protesters tearing down scaffolding and throwing it at police.
    Thatcher never explicitly called Nelson Mandela a terrorist but called the ANC a “terrorist organisation” and there were cases of the ANC killing and intimidating political rivals. She refused to apply economic sanctions to South Africa because she understood that it would hurt the blacks the most.
    Not even the Argentinians think that the sinking of the Belgrano was a war crime. Yes it was sailing away from the exclusion zone at the time but it kept zig–zagging and changing direction. Would you rather she had done nothing and more British lives were lost?
    I would say that Thatcher promoted a culture of aspiration, not greed. She gave people more economic freedom and if some people abused that freedom or couldn’t handle it that is not her fault. If you are thinking about the “no such thing as society” quote, I would encourage to you read the whole article to put it in context.

    Anon
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    In response to your responses:

    Thatcher’s hand written comments on a report in 1989 which vindicated the fans and pointed blame at the police, to which her press secretary had drafted a statement saying that the government welcomed the broad thrust of the report: ““What do we mean by ‘welcoming the broad thrust of the report’? The broad thrust is devastating criticism of the police. Is that for us to welcome? Surely we welcome the thoroughness of the report and its recommendations – M.T.”. Maybe I’m the only one cynical as to why no other documents bearing Thatcher’s name were made available.

    Re police tactics, some facts about Orgreave: Ninety-five picketers were charged with riot, unlawful assembly and similar offences after the battle. A number of these were put on trial in 1987, but the trials collapsed, ALL charges were dropped and a number of lawsuits were brought against the police for assault, unlawful arrest and malicious prosecution. South Yorkshire Police later agreed to pay £425,000 compensation and £100,000 in legal costs to 39 pickets in an out of court settlement. Nevertheless, no officers were disciplined for misconduct. You cant get a much more reliable source than the British justice system.
    Eyewitness report from Beanfield: “‘What we—the ITN camera crew and myself as a reporter—have seen in the last 30 minutes here in this field has been some of the most brutal police treatment of people that I’ve witnessed in my entire career as a journalist. The number of people who have been hit by policemen, who have been clubbed whilst holding babies in their arms in coaches around this field, is yet to be counted.” The police’s response to the same: “[Beanfield] had been planned for several months and lessons in rapid deployment learned from the miners’ strike were implemented.”
    Re South Africa, I’m sure her stance was a typically Thatcher stance of looking out for the little guy and nothing at all to do with the UK being the biggest foreign investor in the country. And I’m sure it was this humanitarian view that led to her not applying sanctions to Argentina… oh… hang on… she did apply such sanctions and also lobbied the international community to do the same. Although, she did resist sanctions on Iraq before the end of her reign in ’90… hang on, nope, she was happy with them too.

    Re the Belgrano, the choices were not “do nothing and more lives are lost” or “shoot a non-threatening ship and murder hundreds”. Plus, your statement that “not even Argentinians think it was a war crime” is simply untrue. There are plenty who consider it a war crime. As a health warning, the following link is not a balanced view, though it could be considered as balanced a view as this article: http://belgranoinquiry.com/

    “She gave people more economic freedom and if some people abused that freedom or couldn’t handle it that is not her fault” – re the abuse of such freedom, I have no issue with the rich getting richer, in fact, I would encourage it as the knock on effect would be of benefit to everyone. However, it is the poor getting poorer which cannot be excused. To state if people “couldnt handle it” is not her fault is about as far removed from a philanthropic approach as Thatcher’s initial policies. Her answer to the state of Britain was to consider, solely, the P&L of the country. As a result she ripped the soul out of communities which have still not recovered. These were her people too and quite frankly, she let them down (which is putting it lightly).

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    “Thatcher Thatcher milk snatcher!” You may have correctly pointed out that she was not responsible for abolishing school milk. She did however ban British milk exports to Vietnam in 1979. At the time both Oxfam and save the children had made clear to the govenrment that one third of Vietnamese children were malnourished and the ban led to the death of hundreds if not thousands of children.
    Its strange you quote the evils of Pol Pot, You do realise her government arranged clandestine training for his forces and many of the landmines which blight Cambodia to this day were supplied by British arms companies.
    Pinochet , Suharto , Hussain , Gadaffi. Its actually hard to find a despotic mass murderer that she didn’t consider a friend.
    While Saddam was gassing the Kurds did at Halabja her ministers were sat on the couch with Saddam Hussain securing arms deals.
    Personally i didn’t celebrate her death but im glad she has died and i dearly hope she is being stamped on by the thousands of people she sent to their graves or at the very least being sodomised by Satan himself.

  16. avatar

    The right to buy was just more speculation and money to banks, why is selling off social housing seen as a good thing? in Germany for instance buying houses is not such a major thing, but there is much more good affordable housing for people. In the UK now finding a decent home is a nightmare, you are at the mercy of unregulated private landlords and to purchase a house is out of many people’s price range

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