Daily Archives: April 10, 2013
These last two days the airwaves have been awash with eye-dabbing tributes to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
She has been elevated almost to sainthood by commentators, political hacks and former colleagues. Such near-hysterical adoration, it seems to me, is a measure of the wretched scarcity of leadership talent in Britain over the last 50 years.
Yes, she demonstrated a few admirable virtues for which she is rightly remembered and which were sadly lacking in the wimps who surrounded her. But they are trumped by a catalogue of failings. When she took over the leadership of the Conservative Party in 1975 she ominously declared: “I am not a consensus politician. I am a conviction politician.” This was a deeply scary opening gambit. It’s fine as long as your convictions are soundly based. But when they are grounded in barmy beliefs you become a menace to party and country.
Industrial carnage, selfishness and greed
Almost straightaway Thatcher turned Britain’s manufacturing heart, known as the Black Country, into an industrial wasteland. I was there, working for a major engineering group. I saw the devastation first-hand and felt the anguish and despair of the local people. Big organizations shed jobs by the hundreds and thousands. Many shut their doors for ever. Countless highly skilled small businesses – jobbing contractors to the large companies – were crippled by sky-high interest rates, the new “wisdom” dispensed by the inventors of “Thatcherism”. Base interest rates climbed to 15 per cent, which meant that business owners were paying as much as 22 per cent.
As George Galloway says, “she destroyed more than a third of Britain’s manufacturing capacity, significantly more than Hitler’s Luftwaffe ever achieved”.
Thatcher had become a disciple of “monetarism”, a school of thought claiming that by juggling the money supply you could determine economic activity, keep a lid on inflation and manage the economic cycles. Demand would be boosted or damped by turning the money tap. This new approach was just the medicine for reviving Britain’s ailing economy, according to her best political friend Keith Joseph, also knows as the “Mad Monk”.
Then came deregulation and the privatization of our utilities (many ending up in foreign hands). There was little attempt to restart manufacturing. Instead, the emphasis was on expanding financial services. A financial sector free-for-all and an explosion of personal and corporate greed followed. It fitted perfectly her sickening statement that “there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families … people must look to themselves first.” The self-centred revolution had arrived.
Prisoner of the Zionists?
Margaret Thatcher was kept in parliament by the considerable Jewish vote in her Finchley constituency, which adjoins the North London Jewish quarter of Hendon and Golders Green. Unsurprisingly, she was a member of the Anglo-Israel Friendship League of Finchley and the Conservative Friends of Israel (of which, I believe, she was a founder).
David Frum, who was one of George W. Bush’s speechwriters and credited with the “axis of evil” speech vilifying Iraq, Iran and North Korea, wrote of Thatcher that she
was elected from a heavily Jewish north London constituency… Altogether, five Jews served in her cabinets, including her strongest chancellor of the exchequer, Nigel Lawson, and her ideological mentor, Education Secretary Keith Joseph… One of her favourite ministers, Malcolm Rifkind, went on to serve under her successor John Major as the first Jewish foreign secretary – voiding the taboo that had descended after the creation of the state of Israel against Jews in UK national security positions.
Thatcher’s sympathy for Israel especially worried and frightened British officials. When she became party leader in the mid-1970s, she succumbed to pressure and resigned from pro-Israel groups…
The fear was, of course, that Thatcher’s closeness with British Jews might suggest she was a “prisoner of the Zionists”. Charles C. Johnson, writing in December 2011, says that Thatcher reluctantly agreed to quit the Jewish groups she belonged to, but kept her relationships with pro-Israel parliamentarians. “In addition to Nigel Lawson, she appointed Victor Rothschild as her security adviser, Malcolm Rifkind to be secretary of state for Scotland, David Young as minister without portfolio, and Leon Brittan to be trade and industry secretary. David Wolfson, nephew of Sir Isaac Wolfson, President of Great Universal Stores, Europe’s biggest mail-order company, served as Thatcher’s chief of staff. Her policies were powered by two men – Keith Joseph, a member of Parliament many thought would one day be the first prime minister who was a practising Jew, and Alfred Sherman, a former communist turned free-market thinker.”
Joseph and Sherman, with Thatcher, had set up the Centre for Policy Studies in 1974. Joseph wanted to “fundamentally affect a political generation’s way of thinking”.
Thatcher was generally supportive towards Israel but did not trust Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, whom she recognized for the shameless terrorists they were. In 1986, when Shimon Peres was prime minister, she became the first British premier to visit Israel, although she had previously been twice as a Member of Parliament – presumably on brainwashing trips organized by her party’s Friends of Israel lobby group.
The floodgates opened for Zionist sympathizers or worse, such as Jack Straw, David Miliband and William Hague, to subsequently take up the crucial post of foreign secretary and make a toxic hash of our relations abroad.
During that landmark visit in 1986, reports the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, she was asked why Queen Elizabeth had never found the time to tour the Holy Land. Thatcher replied: “But I’m here.” And she didn’t seem to mind staying in the King David Hotel, the former British Army headquarters which was blown up by Jewish terrorists in 1946, killing 91 soldiers and civilians.
Nevertheless she was occasionally critical and, for example, condemned Israel’s bombing of Osirak, Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor, in 1981. It represented a grave breach of international law, she told the Jewish Chronicle. Bombing another country like that could lead to “international anarchy”.
All the same, under Thatcher’s eleven-and-a-half year watch important taboos were broken and Jews were appointed to such top offices of state as chancellor of the exchequer and secretary for defence, foreign and home affairs. The floodgates opened for Zionist sympathizers or worse, such as Jack Straw, David Miliband and William Hague, to subsequently take up the crucial post of foreign secretary and make a toxic hash of our relations abroad.
At home Thatcher left a wide trail of social and industrial wreckage, sweeping away key industries and relying on the froth and fizz and corruption of a financial services boom. She all but switched off our engine of real wealth – manufacturing – making the prospect of real recovery a very distant one.
Those who’ll mourn for Thatcher most will be the Old Etonians and other products of our public schools who make up our ruling “elite” and whose tender upbringing fixated on Matron rather than the Laws of Cricket.
Optimistic observers of the Arab world might like to believe that the Islamist wave sweeping across the region is but a temporary phase that must be traversed before the people regain control of the revolutions that began in Tunisia and were subsequently hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis, Wahhabis and their various strands and offshoots.
Sadly for those who put life and limb on the line only to see the fruits of their struggle stolen by the Islamists who played no part in igniting the Arab Spring, this phase could last for generations. In the meantime, observers interested in the international dimension of the Arab Spring’s consequences may be wondering how the Western powers and Israel on the one hand, and the resurgent Arab Islamists on the other, will relate to one another.
If Israeli and post-9/11 Western rhetoric is to be believed, then the two sides are destined to be locked in interminable conflict. However, the facts point in a different direction.
One of these facts is the cosy relationship enjoyed by the United States and Britain, among others, with the likes of Osama Bin-Ladin before he went independent and, before him, with the extremists of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami when these were seen as a counterweight to progressive pan-Arabism in the 1960s.
Another is the help and encouragement given by Israel first to the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and then to Hamas in the 1980s to counter the influence of the secular Palestine Liberation Organization, which at the time was seen as the bigger threat to the Israeli occupation and the Zionist project.
In other words, Western-Islamist hostility is only relatively recent and, therefore, another scenario could play out as the new Dark Age continues to engulf the Arab world. As Hussein Agha and Robert Malley say in “This is not a revolution”, while the West is embracing and feting yesteryear’s “dangerous” and “extremist” Muslim Brotherhood and painting them as sensible, businesslike pragmatists, the Islamists, in their turn, propose a bargain:
In exchange for economic aid and political support, they will not threaten what they believe are core Western interests: regional stability, Israel, the fight against terror, energy flow. No danger to Western security. No commercial war. The showdown with the Jewish state can wait. The focus will be on the slow, steady shaping of Islamic societies. The US and Europe may voice concern, even indignation at such a domestic makeover. But they’ll get over it. Just as they got over the austere fundamentalism of Saudi Arabia. Bartering – as in, we’ll take care of your needs, let us take care of ours – Islamists feel, will do the trick. Looking at history, who can blame them?
Mubarak was toppled in part because he was viewed as excessively subservient to the West, yet the Islamists who succeed him might offer the West a sweeter because more sustainable deal. They think they can get away with what he could not. Stripped of his nationalist mantle, Mubarak had little to fall back on; he was a naked autocrat. The Muslim Brothers by comparison have a much broader programme – moral, social, cultural. Islamists feel they can still follow their convictions, even if they are not faithfully anti-Western. They can moderate, dilute, defer.
This bargain may surprise those Westerners who have bought into Washington’s, London’s and Tel Aviv’s – and the Islamists’ own – propaganda about a clash of civilizations and similar nonsense.
However, Arab progressives with a long memory will not raise an eyebrow. Given a choice, the former Western imperial powers will always prefer reactionary Islamists to progressive pan-Arab nationalists. The living proof of this is, and always has been, the unbreakable bond between the Western states and Saudi Arabia and its Arab Gulf allies, despite the fact that the latter are the antithesis of freedom, democracy and human rights.