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Episode
57

Margaret Thatcher

May 26, 2020
Politics
-
20
minutes
UK politics

Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister of the UK during the 1980s, and left a lasting impact on the country.

She was "perhaps the most admired, hated, fascinating, boring, radical and conservative leader in the Western world."

In this episode we talk about what she did, what it meant, and why she divided opinion so much.

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[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English, the show where you can listen to weird and wonderful stories and learn fascinating things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:21] I'm Alastar Budge and today we are going to be talking about Margaret Thatcher, The Iron Lady. 

[00:00:29] She was the first and so far only female leader of the UK, Europe's first female prime minister, and someone who was either a fantastic modernising leader that laid the foundations for decades of prosperity for Britain, or the worst leader in British history who stole milk from children, destroyed hard working jobs, and changed the fabric of Britain for the worse.

[00:00:59] It all depends on who you ask of course. 

[00:01:02] I am pretty excited about today's episode. 

[00:01:06] So what we will do today is first talk about who she was and what she did. 

[00:01:12] We'll talk about why she was and still is loved by some and hated by others, and by the end of the episode, you should at least be able to make up your own mind about what side of the fence you want to be on. 

[00:01:31] Okay then let's get started. 

[00:01:35] Margaret Thatcher was born in 1925 in England. 

[00:01:40] After studying at Oxford and a brief stint, a brief period, as a chemist and lawyer, she became an MP, a member of parliament at the age of 33 for the Conservatives. 

[00:01:56] She rose through the party and was elected its leader in 1975.

[00:02:03] And then led the Conservatives to victory in three general elections in 1979, 1983, and 1987. 

[00:02:13] So she was Prime Minister of the UK from 1979 to 1989 and was frequently referred to as the most powerful woman in the world throughout the 1980s. 

[00:02:29] When she came to power in 1979 the UK was a very different country to what it is today.

[00:02:38] Inflation was very high at 23% in the late 1970s. 

[00:02:44] The trade unions in the UK were much stronger than they are now, with around one in four people forming part of a trade union in 1979 versus about one in eight now. 

[00:03:01] And taxes were much higher, the highest rate of personal tax in the UK was 83% and now the highest rate is 45% so taxes were almost twice as high for the highest earners

[00:03:18] Thatcher subscribed to a neoliberal view of the world and believed that the UK's reliance on government, and the state to provide for you was not only the root cause of the lack of economic growth, but just not how people should live. 

[00:03:39] She thought that people had become dependent on the state, and if this could be reduced, if private enterprise could be encouraged and inefficient enterprises could be shut down, then this would open a brand new chapter in the UK's development, leading to better outcomes for everyone. 

[00:04:03] At the time she was in power, remember, the USSR was in decline and it seemed clear that Russia's experiment with communism was not resulting in prosperity for its people. 

[00:04:20] And in the US, across the pond, Ronald Reagan was in power in the White House.

[00:04:27] He was also pushing a similar neoliberal agenda, one where privatisation was encouraged and the philosophy was around reducing the size of the state with the view that the private sector was the best way to drive growth. 

[00:04:46] So in several countries across the world, there was this neoliberal experiment, with the view that this was the way to grow the economy, to raise living standards for people and just generally how society should be, how people should live. 

[00:05:06] It was almost the parallel opposite to communism and in many ways it was a reaction to it. 

[00:05:15] Thatcher was a firm believer in this view of the world, saying "the state has no source of money other than money which people earn themselves. There is no such thing as public money. There is only taxpayers' money." 

[00:05:33] She had already actually implemented several policies while she was just an MP, as Education Secretary, policies that hinted at what she would do if she got the PM job, and displayed her views towards public spending.

[00:05:53] The most famous of these relates to milk in schools for children. 

[00:06:01] Since 1944, children in schools in Britain had been given free milk in order to make sure that every child was at least given the basic nutrients at school by the state.

[00:06:16] As part of the plan to reduce people's reliance on the state and reduce public spending, Thatcher stopped this free milk, only allowing it to be given to younger children for nutritional purposes. 

[00:06:34] Obviously there was a big backlash, a big negative reaction, and Thatcher earned the nickname "Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher."

[00:06:46] So to snatch is to take something away quickly from someone. 

[00:06:52] So it's not a great nickname to have really, but it did not stop her ascent to power, her rise to power. 

[00:07:02] When she won the general election in 1979 she had a mandate to continue her mission to reduce people's reliance on the state and, in her mind at least, to build a more independent society.

[00:07:20] She made some enormous changes to British society in her 10 years in power, and we don't have time to cover all of them today. 

[00:07:31] So we will talk about coal mines, privatisation, and housing, and look at three of the legacies that she left behind. 

[00:07:44] Firstly, in the 1980s there were still lots of coal mines in the UK, mines that supported hundreds of thousands of jobs and provided economic opportunities for families often in more rural areas without other job opportunities. 

[00:08:06] Without the mines, these jobs would be lost and it would lead to economic hardship for hundreds of thousands of people in these areas, particularly in the North of England. 

[00:08:20] However, Thatcher saw that a lot of these mines were actually unprofitable.

[00:08:28] They were owned by the state, but actually cost more money to operate than they brought in in revenue, so they were losing money. 

[00:08:39] Thatcher proposed to close the mines, which of course would result in thousands of people losing their jobs and thousands more families being affected.

[00:08:51] The trade unions, as I said earlier on, were very strong at this time, and the miners went on strike. 

[00:09:02] In 1979 alone, 29 million working days were lost, and it's estimated that this cost Britain about one and a half billion pounds. 

[00:09:18] Thatcher wouldn't budge, she wouldn't negotiate with the miners. 

[00:09:23] The result, as you may know, was the closing of dozens of British mines, the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, and of course communities being hugely affected by the sudden removal of this industry that had provided employment and support for a large proportion of the local residents. 

[00:09:47] And even now, if you go to areas where there used to be a strong mining community, Margaret Thatcher is still, generally speaking of course, despised

[00:09:59] She is hated. 

[00:10:01] She has never been forgiven and is viewed as someone who needlessly destroyed communities and lives.

[00:10:11] Her view, however, was that she was modernising Britain and it made no sense to just keep industries open if they made no financial sense,no business sense. 

[00:10:24] She was a neoliberal and propping up, supporting a failing industry was completely against everything she believed in.

[00:10:35] One of her other great beliefs was in privatisation, that the state shouldn't own things and that it should sell off, it should privatise as much as it could. 

[00:10:48] So that's exactly what she did. 

[00:10:52] First came the big industries, gas, water, and electricity, which had previously been state owned.

[00:11:01] These were sold and turned into private companies, in effect. 

[00:11:08] The view was that they would be better run, better managed if they were privately run, and this would result in a better service and lower prices for people. 

[00:11:21] The results of this privatisation 30 years later are still mixed.

[00:11:29] It's clear that privatisation has caused improvements in performance within some industries, but not all. 

[00:11:37] And indeed, there are still some calls for the state to renationalise some of the industries that had been privatised under Thatcher, such as the train networks.

[00:11:52] The other big privatisation that happened under Margaret Thatcher was the privatisation of council housing, of state housing. 

[00:12:02] In 1979, 42% of people in the UK lived in something called a council house, a house owned by the local government. 

[00:12:15] They were a tenant in that house, so they paid rent ultimately to the government.

[00:12:23] Margaret Thatcher believed that everyone should at least have the right to own their own home, and so she embarked on a campaign to encourage tenants in council houses to buy their own houses, to become owners of property as opposed to tenants. 

[00:12:44] Of course, even though houses were a lot cheaper back then, people didn't have the cash sitting around to just buy a house.

[00:12:54] So the prices were reduced dramatically from the market price, often up to 50% lower, and people were also given a hundred percent mortgages so they could effectively buy the house completely with borrowed money from the bank for a lot less than the price should really be. 

[00:13:18] And 1.6 million council houses in Britain were sold like this, sold off initially to the people who lived in them, but later on there was nothing stopping them from being resold to anyone, including private investors. 

[00:13:36] So now, 40 years later, a large proportion of these council flats are owned by buy-to-let landlords, people who buy properties just to rent them out afterwards to others.

[00:13:52] And it's hard to deny that this policy of Thatcher's has contributed greatly to the increase in house prices in the UK. 

[00:14:03] Indeed, house prices under Margaret Thatcher increased by 251% which is more than under any other prime minister in British history.

[00:14:16] Talking more about her legacy, there isn't really anyone in recent British political history who has been quite so divisive, who has divided opinion so much. 

[00:14:31] Of course, prime ministers and leaders since then have varied in popularity and the man in the job right now, Boris Johnson has his fair share, both of diehard fans and people who think he's a disaster. 

[00:14:48] But the changes that took place under Thatcher on British society, things that have really left a mark, are like nothing that came after, or even that came before. 

[00:15:01] I was actually not even three years old when Margaret Thatcher lost power, so I won't try to tell you about this from my own personal experience of being there at the time. 

[00:15:13] But even if you were too young to have lived under her, you did know about her. 

[00:15:22] Memories run deep and the name Thatcher and the implications of her policies are continuously felt by future generations. 

[00:15:33] I used to have a girlfriend from a town called Wakefield, which is just outside Leeds in the North of England, and an area where several mines were closed by Thatcher.

[00:15:48] And I remember when I first went there, to Wakefield, this would have been in 2010, so 20 years after Thatcher lost power, the conversation seemed to naturally arrive at Margaret Thatcher, and I could see her dad just getting angrier and angrier just at the thought, just getting angry at things that had happened 30 years before. 

[00:16:18] And when Margaret Thatcher died in 2013 you could tell a lot about the political leanings of newspapers in Britain, of whether a newspaper was right wing or left wing by the headline on the front page the day after she died. 

[00:16:38] The Daily Mail had the headline, "The Woman Who Saved Britain", The Daily Express, another fairly right wing newspaper, had "Farewell Iron Lady", The Socialist Worker paper had the headline, "Rejoice, Thatcher's Dead - Special Pullout". 

[00:17:02] And when she died, people scrambled to unpack her legacy, to truly understand the impact of what she had done. 

[00:17:15] Yes, she had been responsible for the losses of hundreds of thousands of industrial jobs and fundamentally changed the fabric of British society. 

[00:17:30] But did this privatisation drag Britain out of an economic funk, of a period of very slow growth? 

[00:17:40] And did it set the stage for the economic growth that Britain has enjoyed since she left office? 

[00:17:50] Whatever you believe, and whatever you think of Margaret Thatcher, it's hard to deny that she was a political phenomenon, a pretty amazing woman, and a very important figure in British political history. 

[00:18:06] I just want to end this episode with a quote from a man called Richard Longworth, who is the former foreign correspondent for the American newspaper, The Chicago Tribune, who sums it up pretty well, I think. 

[00:18:22] He said "she was perhaps the most admired, hated, fascinating, boring, radical and conservative leader in the Western world." 

[00:18:34] The only thing that I think we can all agree on is that she is pretty divisive

[00:18:41] So if you ever want a way to start up a conversation with someone in Britain and know that they probably will have a lot to say, you can just ask them what they think of Margaret Thatcher.

[00:18:54] You'll probably be listening for a while. 

[00:18:56] Okay then, that is it for this episode of English Learning for Curious Minds. 

[00:19:05] I hope it's been an interesting one. 

[00:19:07] There is obviously a lot more to say about Margaret Thatcher, and I didn't mention Northern Ireland, the Falklands war, Poll tax, Hong Kong or hundreds of other things that she has a huge impact on, otherwise, this podcast would have been hours long. 

[00:19:26] But I do hope that it has given you a bit of background and we've covered a few interesting ideas that give you the measure of the woman. 

[00:19:36] As always, I would love to know what you thought of the show. 

[00:19:40] You can email hi hi@leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:19:45] Okay then you have been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English.

[00:19:51] I am Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I'll catch you in the next episode. 

[END OF PODCAST]


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English, the show where you can listen to weird and wonderful stories and learn fascinating things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:21] I'm Alastar Budge and today we are going to be talking about Margaret Thatcher, The Iron Lady. 

[00:00:29] She was the first and so far only female leader of the UK, Europe's first female prime minister, and someone who was either a fantastic modernising leader that laid the foundations for decades of prosperity for Britain, or the worst leader in British history who stole milk from children, destroyed hard working jobs, and changed the fabric of Britain for the worse.

[00:00:59] It all depends on who you ask of course. 

[00:01:02] I am pretty excited about today's episode. 

[00:01:06] So what we will do today is first talk about who she was and what she did. 

[00:01:12] We'll talk about why she was and still is loved by some and hated by others, and by the end of the episode, you should at least be able to make up your own mind about what side of the fence you want to be on. 

[00:01:31] Okay then let's get started. 

[00:01:35] Margaret Thatcher was born in 1925 in England. 

[00:01:40] After studying at Oxford and a brief stint, a brief period, as a chemist and lawyer, she became an MP, a member of parliament at the age of 33 for the Conservatives. 

[00:01:56] She rose through the party and was elected its leader in 1975.

[00:02:03] And then led the Conservatives to victory in three general elections in 1979, 1983, and 1987. 

[00:02:13] So she was Prime Minister of the UK from 1979 to 1989 and was frequently referred to as the most powerful woman in the world throughout the 1980s. 

[00:02:29] When she came to power in 1979 the UK was a very different country to what it is today.

[00:02:38] Inflation was very high at 23% in the late 1970s. 

[00:02:44] The trade unions in the UK were much stronger than they are now, with around one in four people forming part of a trade union in 1979 versus about one in eight now. 

[00:03:01] And taxes were much higher, the highest rate of personal tax in the UK was 83% and now the highest rate is 45% so taxes were almost twice as high for the highest earners

[00:03:18] Thatcher subscribed to a neoliberal view of the world and believed that the UK's reliance on government, and the state to provide for you was not only the root cause of the lack of economic growth, but just not how people should live. 

[00:03:39] She thought that people had become dependent on the state, and if this could be reduced, if private enterprise could be encouraged and inefficient enterprises could be shut down, then this would open a brand new chapter in the UK's development, leading to better outcomes for everyone. 

[00:04:03] At the time she was in power, remember, the USSR was in decline and it seemed clear that Russia's experiment with communism was not resulting in prosperity for its people. 

[00:04:20] And in the US, across the pond, Ronald Reagan was in power in the White House.

[00:04:27] He was also pushing a similar neoliberal agenda, one where privatisation was encouraged and the philosophy was around reducing the size of the state with the view that the private sector was the best way to drive growth. 

[00:04:46] So in several countries across the world, there was this neoliberal experiment, with the view that this was the way to grow the economy, to raise living standards for people and just generally how society should be, how people should live. 

[00:05:06] It was almost the parallel opposite to communism and in many ways it was a reaction to it. 

[00:05:15] Thatcher was a firm believer in this view of the world, saying "the state has no source of money other than money which people earn themselves. There is no such thing as public money. There is only taxpayers' money." 

[00:05:33] She had already actually implemented several policies while she was just an MP, as Education Secretary, policies that hinted at what she would do if she got the PM job, and displayed her views towards public spending.

[00:05:53] The most famous of these relates to milk in schools for children. 

[00:06:01] Since 1944, children in schools in Britain had been given free milk in order to make sure that every child was at least given the basic nutrients at school by the state.

[00:06:16] As part of the plan to reduce people's reliance on the state and reduce public spending, Thatcher stopped this free milk, only allowing it to be given to younger children for nutritional purposes. 

[00:06:34] Obviously there was a big backlash, a big negative reaction, and Thatcher earned the nickname "Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher."

[00:06:46] So to snatch is to take something away quickly from someone. 

[00:06:52] So it's not a great nickname to have really, but it did not stop her ascent to power, her rise to power. 

[00:07:02] When she won the general election in 1979 she had a mandate to continue her mission to reduce people's reliance on the state and, in her mind at least, to build a more independent society.

[00:07:20] She made some enormous changes to British society in her 10 years in power, and we don't have time to cover all of them today. 

[00:07:31] So we will talk about coal mines, privatisation, and housing, and look at three of the legacies that she left behind. 

[00:07:44] Firstly, in the 1980s there were still lots of coal mines in the UK, mines that supported hundreds of thousands of jobs and provided economic opportunities for families often in more rural areas without other job opportunities. 

[00:08:06] Without the mines, these jobs would be lost and it would lead to economic hardship for hundreds of thousands of people in these areas, particularly in the North of England. 

[00:08:20] However, Thatcher saw that a lot of these mines were actually unprofitable.

[00:08:28] They were owned by the state, but actually cost more money to operate than they brought in in revenue, so they were losing money. 

[00:08:39] Thatcher proposed to close the mines, which of course would result in thousands of people losing their jobs and thousands more families being affected.

[00:08:51] The trade unions, as I said earlier on, were very strong at this time, and the miners went on strike. 

[00:09:02] In 1979 alone, 29 million working days were lost, and it's estimated that this cost Britain about one and a half billion pounds. 

[00:09:18] Thatcher wouldn't budge, she wouldn't negotiate with the miners. 

[00:09:23] The result, as you may know, was the closing of dozens of British mines, the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, and of course communities being hugely affected by the sudden removal of this industry that had provided employment and support for a large proportion of the local residents. 

[00:09:47] And even now, if you go to areas where there used to be a strong mining community, Margaret Thatcher is still, generally speaking of course, despised

[00:09:59] She is hated. 

[00:10:01] She has never been forgiven and is viewed as someone who needlessly destroyed communities and lives.

[00:10:11] Her view, however, was that she was modernising Britain and it made no sense to just keep industries open if they made no financial sense,no business sense. 

[00:10:24] She was a neoliberal and propping up, supporting a failing industry was completely against everything she believed in.

[00:10:35] One of her other great beliefs was in privatisation, that the state shouldn't own things and that it should sell off, it should privatise as much as it could. 

[00:10:48] So that's exactly what she did. 

[00:10:52] First came the big industries, gas, water, and electricity, which had previously been state owned.

[00:11:01] These were sold and turned into private companies, in effect. 

[00:11:08] The view was that they would be better run, better managed if they were privately run, and this would result in a better service and lower prices for people. 

[00:11:21] The results of this privatisation 30 years later are still mixed.

[00:11:29] It's clear that privatisation has caused improvements in performance within some industries, but not all. 

[00:11:37] And indeed, there are still some calls for the state to renationalise some of the industries that had been privatised under Thatcher, such as the train networks.

[00:11:52] The other big privatisation that happened under Margaret Thatcher was the privatisation of council housing, of state housing. 

[00:12:02] In 1979, 42% of people in the UK lived in something called a council house, a house owned by the local government. 

[00:12:15] They were a tenant in that house, so they paid rent ultimately to the government.

[00:12:23] Margaret Thatcher believed that everyone should at least have the right to own their own home, and so she embarked on a campaign to encourage tenants in council houses to buy their own houses, to become owners of property as opposed to tenants. 

[00:12:44] Of course, even though houses were a lot cheaper back then, people didn't have the cash sitting around to just buy a house.

[00:12:54] So the prices were reduced dramatically from the market price, often up to 50% lower, and people were also given a hundred percent mortgages so they could effectively buy the house completely with borrowed money from the bank for a lot less than the price should really be. 

[00:13:18] And 1.6 million council houses in Britain were sold like this, sold off initially to the people who lived in them, but later on there was nothing stopping them from being resold to anyone, including private investors. 

[00:13:36] So now, 40 years later, a large proportion of these council flats are owned by buy-to-let landlords, people who buy properties just to rent them out afterwards to others.

[00:13:52] And it's hard to deny that this policy of Thatcher's has contributed greatly to the increase in house prices in the UK. 

[00:14:03] Indeed, house prices under Margaret Thatcher increased by 251% which is more than under any other prime minister in British history.

[00:14:16] Talking more about her legacy, there isn't really anyone in recent British political history who has been quite so divisive, who has divided opinion so much. 

[00:14:31] Of course, prime ministers and leaders since then have varied in popularity and the man in the job right now, Boris Johnson has his fair share, both of diehard fans and people who think he's a disaster. 

[00:14:48] But the changes that took place under Thatcher on British society, things that have really left a mark, are like nothing that came after, or even that came before. 

[00:15:01] I was actually not even three years old when Margaret Thatcher lost power, so I won't try to tell you about this from my own personal experience of being there at the time. 

[00:15:13] But even if you were too young to have lived under her, you did know about her. 

[00:15:22] Memories run deep and the name Thatcher and the implications of her policies are continuously felt by future generations. 

[00:15:33] I used to have a girlfriend from a town called Wakefield, which is just outside Leeds in the North of England, and an area where several mines were closed by Thatcher.

[00:15:48] And I remember when I first went there, to Wakefield, this would have been in 2010, so 20 years after Thatcher lost power, the conversation seemed to naturally arrive at Margaret Thatcher, and I could see her dad just getting angrier and angrier just at the thought, just getting angry at things that had happened 30 years before. 

[00:16:18] And when Margaret Thatcher died in 2013 you could tell a lot about the political leanings of newspapers in Britain, of whether a newspaper was right wing or left wing by the headline on the front page the day after she died. 

[00:16:38] The Daily Mail had the headline, "The Woman Who Saved Britain", The Daily Express, another fairly right wing newspaper, had "Farewell Iron Lady", The Socialist Worker paper had the headline, "Rejoice, Thatcher's Dead - Special Pullout". 

[00:17:02] And when she died, people scrambled to unpack her legacy, to truly understand the impact of what she had done. 

[00:17:15] Yes, she had been responsible for the losses of hundreds of thousands of industrial jobs and fundamentally changed the fabric of British society. 

[00:17:30] But did this privatisation drag Britain out of an economic funk, of a period of very slow growth? 

[00:17:40] And did it set the stage for the economic growth that Britain has enjoyed since she left office? 

[00:17:50] Whatever you believe, and whatever you think of Margaret Thatcher, it's hard to deny that she was a political phenomenon, a pretty amazing woman, and a very important figure in British political history. 

[00:18:06] I just want to end this episode with a quote from a man called Richard Longworth, who is the former foreign correspondent for the American newspaper, The Chicago Tribune, who sums it up pretty well, I think. 

[00:18:22] He said "she was perhaps the most admired, hated, fascinating, boring, radical and conservative leader in the Western world." 

[00:18:34] The only thing that I think we can all agree on is that she is pretty divisive

[00:18:41] So if you ever want a way to start up a conversation with someone in Britain and know that they probably will have a lot to say, you can just ask them what they think of Margaret Thatcher.

[00:18:54] You'll probably be listening for a while. 

[00:18:56] Okay then, that is it for this episode of English Learning for Curious Minds. 

[00:19:05] I hope it's been an interesting one. 

[00:19:07] There is obviously a lot more to say about Margaret Thatcher, and I didn't mention Northern Ireland, the Falklands war, Poll tax, Hong Kong or hundreds of other things that she has a huge impact on, otherwise, this podcast would have been hours long. 

[00:19:26] But I do hope that it has given you a bit of background and we've covered a few interesting ideas that give you the measure of the woman. 

[00:19:36] As always, I would love to know what you thought of the show. 

[00:19:40] You can email hi hi@leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:19:45] Okay then you have been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English.

[00:19:51] I am Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I'll catch you in the next episode. 

[END OF PODCAST]


[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English, the show where you can listen to weird and wonderful stories and learn fascinating things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:21] I'm Alastar Budge and today we are going to be talking about Margaret Thatcher, The Iron Lady. 

[00:00:29] She was the first and so far only female leader of the UK, Europe's first female prime minister, and someone who was either a fantastic modernising leader that laid the foundations for decades of prosperity for Britain, or the worst leader in British history who stole milk from children, destroyed hard working jobs, and changed the fabric of Britain for the worse.

[00:00:59] It all depends on who you ask of course. 

[00:01:02] I am pretty excited about today's episode. 

[00:01:06] So what we will do today is first talk about who she was and what she did. 

[00:01:12] We'll talk about why she was and still is loved by some and hated by others, and by the end of the episode, you should at least be able to make up your own mind about what side of the fence you want to be on. 

[00:01:31] Okay then let's get started. 

[00:01:35] Margaret Thatcher was born in 1925 in England. 

[00:01:40] After studying at Oxford and a brief stint, a brief period, as a chemist and lawyer, she became an MP, a member of parliament at the age of 33 for the Conservatives. 

[00:01:56] She rose through the party and was elected its leader in 1975.

[00:02:03] And then led the Conservatives to victory in three general elections in 1979, 1983, and 1987. 

[00:02:13] So she was Prime Minister of the UK from 1979 to 1989 and was frequently referred to as the most powerful woman in the world throughout the 1980s. 

[00:02:29] When she came to power in 1979 the UK was a very different country to what it is today.

[00:02:38] Inflation was very high at 23% in the late 1970s. 

[00:02:44] The trade unions in the UK were much stronger than they are now, with around one in four people forming part of a trade union in 1979 versus about one in eight now. 

[00:03:01] And taxes were much higher, the highest rate of personal tax in the UK was 83% and now the highest rate is 45% so taxes were almost twice as high for the highest earners

[00:03:18] Thatcher subscribed to a neoliberal view of the world and believed that the UK's reliance on government, and the state to provide for you was not only the root cause of the lack of economic growth, but just not how people should live. 

[00:03:39] She thought that people had become dependent on the state, and if this could be reduced, if private enterprise could be encouraged and inefficient enterprises could be shut down, then this would open a brand new chapter in the UK's development, leading to better outcomes for everyone. 

[00:04:03] At the time she was in power, remember, the USSR was in decline and it seemed clear that Russia's experiment with communism was not resulting in prosperity for its people. 

[00:04:20] And in the US, across the pond, Ronald Reagan was in power in the White House.

[00:04:27] He was also pushing a similar neoliberal agenda, one where privatisation was encouraged and the philosophy was around reducing the size of the state with the view that the private sector was the best way to drive growth. 

[00:04:46] So in several countries across the world, there was this neoliberal experiment, with the view that this was the way to grow the economy, to raise living standards for people and just generally how society should be, how people should live. 

[00:05:06] It was almost the parallel opposite to communism and in many ways it was a reaction to it. 

[00:05:15] Thatcher was a firm believer in this view of the world, saying "the state has no source of money other than money which people earn themselves. There is no such thing as public money. There is only taxpayers' money." 

[00:05:33] She had already actually implemented several policies while she was just an MP, as Education Secretary, policies that hinted at what she would do if she got the PM job, and displayed her views towards public spending.

[00:05:53] The most famous of these relates to milk in schools for children. 

[00:06:01] Since 1944, children in schools in Britain had been given free milk in order to make sure that every child was at least given the basic nutrients at school by the state.

[00:06:16] As part of the plan to reduce people's reliance on the state and reduce public spending, Thatcher stopped this free milk, only allowing it to be given to younger children for nutritional purposes. 

[00:06:34] Obviously there was a big backlash, a big negative reaction, and Thatcher earned the nickname "Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher."

[00:06:46] So to snatch is to take something away quickly from someone. 

[00:06:52] So it's not a great nickname to have really, but it did not stop her ascent to power, her rise to power. 

[00:07:02] When she won the general election in 1979 she had a mandate to continue her mission to reduce people's reliance on the state and, in her mind at least, to build a more independent society.

[00:07:20] She made some enormous changes to British society in her 10 years in power, and we don't have time to cover all of them today. 

[00:07:31] So we will talk about coal mines, privatisation, and housing, and look at three of the legacies that she left behind. 

[00:07:44] Firstly, in the 1980s there were still lots of coal mines in the UK, mines that supported hundreds of thousands of jobs and provided economic opportunities for families often in more rural areas without other job opportunities. 

[00:08:06] Without the mines, these jobs would be lost and it would lead to economic hardship for hundreds of thousands of people in these areas, particularly in the North of England. 

[00:08:20] However, Thatcher saw that a lot of these mines were actually unprofitable.

[00:08:28] They were owned by the state, but actually cost more money to operate than they brought in in revenue, so they were losing money. 

[00:08:39] Thatcher proposed to close the mines, which of course would result in thousands of people losing their jobs and thousands more families being affected.

[00:08:51] The trade unions, as I said earlier on, were very strong at this time, and the miners went on strike. 

[00:09:02] In 1979 alone, 29 million working days were lost, and it's estimated that this cost Britain about one and a half billion pounds. 

[00:09:18] Thatcher wouldn't budge, she wouldn't negotiate with the miners. 

[00:09:23] The result, as you may know, was the closing of dozens of British mines, the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, and of course communities being hugely affected by the sudden removal of this industry that had provided employment and support for a large proportion of the local residents. 

[00:09:47] And even now, if you go to areas where there used to be a strong mining community, Margaret Thatcher is still, generally speaking of course, despised

[00:09:59] She is hated. 

[00:10:01] She has never been forgiven and is viewed as someone who needlessly destroyed communities and lives.

[00:10:11] Her view, however, was that she was modernising Britain and it made no sense to just keep industries open if they made no financial sense,no business sense. 

[00:10:24] She was a neoliberal and propping up, supporting a failing industry was completely against everything she believed in.

[00:10:35] One of her other great beliefs was in privatisation, that the state shouldn't own things and that it should sell off, it should privatise as much as it could. 

[00:10:48] So that's exactly what she did. 

[00:10:52] First came the big industries, gas, water, and electricity, which had previously been state owned.

[00:11:01] These were sold and turned into private companies, in effect. 

[00:11:08] The view was that they would be better run, better managed if they were privately run, and this would result in a better service and lower prices for people. 

[00:11:21] The results of this privatisation 30 years later are still mixed.

[00:11:29] It's clear that privatisation has caused improvements in performance within some industries, but not all. 

[00:11:37] And indeed, there are still some calls for the state to renationalise some of the industries that had been privatised under Thatcher, such as the train networks.

[00:11:52] The other big privatisation that happened under Margaret Thatcher was the privatisation of council housing, of state housing. 

[00:12:02] In 1979, 42% of people in the UK lived in something called a council house, a house owned by the local government. 

[00:12:15] They were a tenant in that house, so they paid rent ultimately to the government.

[00:12:23] Margaret Thatcher believed that everyone should at least have the right to own their own home, and so she embarked on a campaign to encourage tenants in council houses to buy their own houses, to become owners of property as opposed to tenants. 

[00:12:44] Of course, even though houses were a lot cheaper back then, people didn't have the cash sitting around to just buy a house.

[00:12:54] So the prices were reduced dramatically from the market price, often up to 50% lower, and people were also given a hundred percent mortgages so they could effectively buy the house completely with borrowed money from the bank for a lot less than the price should really be. 

[00:13:18] And 1.6 million council houses in Britain were sold like this, sold off initially to the people who lived in them, but later on there was nothing stopping them from being resold to anyone, including private investors. 

[00:13:36] So now, 40 years later, a large proportion of these council flats are owned by buy-to-let landlords, people who buy properties just to rent them out afterwards to others.

[00:13:52] And it's hard to deny that this policy of Thatcher's has contributed greatly to the increase in house prices in the UK. 

[00:14:03] Indeed, house prices under Margaret Thatcher increased by 251% which is more than under any other prime minister in British history.

[00:14:16] Talking more about her legacy, there isn't really anyone in recent British political history who has been quite so divisive, who has divided opinion so much. 

[00:14:31] Of course, prime ministers and leaders since then have varied in popularity and the man in the job right now, Boris Johnson has his fair share, both of diehard fans and people who think he's a disaster. 

[00:14:48] But the changes that took place under Thatcher on British society, things that have really left a mark, are like nothing that came after, or even that came before. 

[00:15:01] I was actually not even three years old when Margaret Thatcher lost power, so I won't try to tell you about this from my own personal experience of being there at the time. 

[00:15:13] But even if you were too young to have lived under her, you did know about her. 

[00:15:22] Memories run deep and the name Thatcher and the implications of her policies are continuously felt by future generations. 

[00:15:33] I used to have a girlfriend from a town called Wakefield, which is just outside Leeds in the North of England, and an area where several mines were closed by Thatcher.

[00:15:48] And I remember when I first went there, to Wakefield, this would have been in 2010, so 20 years after Thatcher lost power, the conversation seemed to naturally arrive at Margaret Thatcher, and I could see her dad just getting angrier and angrier just at the thought, just getting angry at things that had happened 30 years before. 

[00:16:18] And when Margaret Thatcher died in 2013 you could tell a lot about the political leanings of newspapers in Britain, of whether a newspaper was right wing or left wing by the headline on the front page the day after she died. 

[00:16:38] The Daily Mail had the headline, "The Woman Who Saved Britain", The Daily Express, another fairly right wing newspaper, had "Farewell Iron Lady", The Socialist Worker paper had the headline, "Rejoice, Thatcher's Dead - Special Pullout". 

[00:17:02] And when she died, people scrambled to unpack her legacy, to truly understand the impact of what she had done. 

[00:17:15] Yes, she had been responsible for the losses of hundreds of thousands of industrial jobs and fundamentally changed the fabric of British society. 

[00:17:30] But did this privatisation drag Britain out of an economic funk, of a period of very slow growth? 

[00:17:40] And did it set the stage for the economic growth that Britain has enjoyed since she left office? 

[00:17:50] Whatever you believe, and whatever you think of Margaret Thatcher, it's hard to deny that she was a political phenomenon, a pretty amazing woman, and a very important figure in British political history. 

[00:18:06] I just want to end this episode with a quote from a man called Richard Longworth, who is the former foreign correspondent for the American newspaper, The Chicago Tribune, who sums it up pretty well, I think. 

[00:18:22] He said "she was perhaps the most admired, hated, fascinating, boring, radical and conservative leader in the Western world." 

[00:18:34] The only thing that I think we can all agree on is that she is pretty divisive

[00:18:41] So if you ever want a way to start up a conversation with someone in Britain and know that they probably will have a lot to say, you can just ask them what they think of Margaret Thatcher.

[00:18:54] You'll probably be listening for a while. 

[00:18:56] Okay then, that is it for this episode of English Learning for Curious Minds. 

[00:19:05] I hope it's been an interesting one. 

[00:19:07] There is obviously a lot more to say about Margaret Thatcher, and I didn't mention Northern Ireland, the Falklands war, Poll tax, Hong Kong or hundreds of other things that she has a huge impact on, otherwise, this podcast would have been hours long. 

[00:19:26] But I do hope that it has given you a bit of background and we've covered a few interesting ideas that give you the measure of the woman. 

[00:19:36] As always, I would love to know what you thought of the show. 

[00:19:40] You can email hi hi@leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:19:45] Okay then you have been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English.

[00:19:51] I am Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I'll catch you in the next episode. 

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