Thatcher Lifted Millions–Says Who?

As we pointed out last week, New York Times reporter John Burns is very fond of Margaret Thatcher’s legacy. As he put it on the PBS NewsHour (4/9/13):

She put the country back on a trajectory, an upward trajectory. The Britain I grew up in, in the wake of the Second World War, was a country which was in precipitous decline, which had entirely lost its national self-confidence. And Mrs. Thatcher put that right.

whitwellThis is notable for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that that John Burns gets to write news articles for the New York Times assessing the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. He’s made up his mind, obviously, and he tries to work that into his reporting for the paper.

Today (4/17/13) his piece takes a look at the coal miners who squared off against Thatcher. The prime minister engaged in a “union-busting battle to close unprofitable coal mines in 1984 and 1985,” Burns writes, and the “anger of those who were losers in the Thatcher revolution” is still palpable.

Tens of thousands of miners lost their jobs, but Burns presents the overall effect this way:

Many years on, what happened to coal mining is reckoned, for better or worse, as a watershed moment for Britain. It was in the coal fields, more than anywhere, that a socialist vision that prized the welfare of blue-collar communities over profit finally yielded to a new era of individualism, entrepreneurship–and, for millions beyond the coal fields, prosperity.

Well, if one had to sacrifice a few thousand jobs for “prosperity” for “millions”–doesn’t sound like a bad trade, right?

So where does Burns get the idea that “millions” were made prosperous? He doesn’t cite anything in particular. Meanwhile, the Guardian‘s Data Blog put together a series of charts  (4/8/13) under the headline “How Britain Changed Under Margaret Thatcher.” What did they find? Increased poverty, increased inequality, record unemployment and record high interest rates.

Economist covers: Hugo Chavez, Margaret Thatcher

In some ways, the reporting on Thatcher is an interesting counterpart to reporting on the Hugo Chavez legacy in Venezuela. In the latter case, plenty of economic evidence indicates life massively improved for the poor–but reports tend to stress the crime, inflation and so on. In the case of Thatcher, the consensus view in the media seems to be that she made life better.  But the numbers suggest otherwise–which is probably why reporters tend to not cite anything at all. 



About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.