For the vast majority of people the idea that we need a new Margaret Thatcher is insane. After all, in the early 1980s she presided over the destruction of swathes of manufacturing industry. The scars still hurt in former coal, steel and other industrial towns and villages.
Yet last week Financial Times journalist Martin Wolf demanded a new Thatcher. This is no humble scribe, but the paper’s associate editor, respected as a commentator on economics in both the US and Britain.
He was an aggressive proponent of free market ideas throughout the governments of Thatcher and Tony Blair.
Yet last year, as the credit crunch turned into a full scale economic crisis, he offered critical support for Gordon Brown’s use of public money to bail out the banks. For a vigorous opponent of state intervention this was a remarkable U-turn.
But Wolf contributed a piece to last Friday’s Financial Times which is, in effect, a prescription for Tory leader David Cameron to follow in order to escape the mess the system is in.
It is a full-blooded call for war on welfare, pensions and wages in order to pay off the public sector budget deficit.
He’s pleased that Brown and chancellor Alistair Darling are planning to reduce public spending to the lowest levels since Thatcher was in government – but that’s not enough. Wolf wants a freeze on government spending for the next decade.
That would hit ordinary people who rely on state schools, nurseries, hospitals, care homes and other services. Not content with that Wolf argues for, “A sustained freeze on the pay bill, decentralised pay bargaining, employee contributions to public pensions, and a pruning of benefits.”
Stating that Cameron is likely to lead the Tories to victory at the next election – and few would bet against that – Wolf then argues he “will have to be tougher than Margaret Thatcher”.
He adds that “the next prime minister is likely to end up quite as hated as Margaret Thatcher was.”
This may suggest that he doubts Cameron has the stomach for this, and so, echoing Thatcher’s line that “there is no alternative” he ends with a warning: “The unsustainable cannot endure. If UK policymakers do not take the needed decisions willingly, markets will force them upon them.”
That means the International Monetary Fund and international financiers will step in as they’ve done in Ireland and across eastern Europe to impose austerity.
Does one article in the Financial Times matter? Well, it represents a switch in a section of ruling class thinking. Until recently, a majority believed that austerity, at least in the short term, would only deepen this recession.
It would threaten a complete collapse by reducing people’s ability to spend and thrusting unemployment up into the stratosphere.
Now most ruling class opinion seems to have switched to declaring war on the vast majority of the population who can’t afford private education or health care.
Taxing the rich, who’ve benefited from tax cuts over the last three decades, is ruled out by Wolf. We have been warned. All of our children’s futures are on the line.
Some will argue we should run back to New Labour to shield us from the new Thatcherism. But Brown’s government is also committed to making us pay for their largesse to the bankers by increasing taxes and cutting spending.
The only effective way to stop the attacks is to fight for our jobs and services. Our rulers are very nervous of the sorts of social unrest seen in France, Greece, Latvia, Ireland and Iceland. Wolf warns his plans “will mean massive and painful conflict between governments and public workers”.
Visteon, Waterford and Prisme show the way to fight and win as does this Saturday’s jobs march in Birmingham called by Unite. Next month’s Fight for the Right to Work conference can unite trade unionists, the unemployed and those denied contracts and rights at work.
The fight is on.