Notes on the News
by Madawc Williams
- Screeching Lady Thatcher
- Stocks and shocks
- Di hard?
- Armenia – successful genocide
- PLO prospects
- ANC triumphant?
Screeching Lady Thatcher
Screaming Lord Sutch recently celebrated some thirty years as a joke candidate. He has the merits of meaning well, and not taking himself too seriously. Very much the reverse of Mrs Thatcher.
It’s a general rule that in a changing world, no leader can do a good job for more than at most ten years. Those who carry on past that point almost always pay the price and damage their own cause. In the last year or two of her rule, there were plenty of people on the Labour side who were hoping that Thatcher would stay on and guarantee a Labour victory. Given the closeness of Major’s victory, they were almost certainly right. Of course the Yahoo element among the Tories were still expecting ‘SuperNanny’ to pull off a miracle. But enough of the MPs saw her as a liability and wanted to dump her. And dumped she was.
Major won the 1991 election on false pretences. Most people thought that the recession would only be a small one. And Major managed the interesting trick of managing both to seem a continuation of Thatcher and a return to more traditional Tory values. After the election he revealed himself – underneath that bland smiling exterior there was nothing in particular.
Now Lady Thatcher is due to favour us with an autobiography and series of appearances on television. She will no doubt explain that everything that went wrong was the fault of other people – mostly people whom she appointed and whom she had the power to remove. of course. Broadly, she can be expected to spend her time tearing into her fellow Tories. It should be great fun for all of us on’ the left.
Mrs Thatcher’s watchword was ‘there is no alternative’. She has proved the point, though not in the way she intended. The new pattern of politics after World War Two cured many traditional evils – slump, unemployment, racism, war, hopelessness. For all of her talk of ‘radicalism’, all she did was to break up part of that new pattern and revert to an older system, and a worse one. She landed us in a mess, and Mr major has no idea of how to get us out of it.
Stocks and shocks
I doubt if many readers of this magazine are shareholders. But if any of you are, the time to sell up and get out is now. The Economist recently noted that the ratio of price to dividend has reached a level that has always previously meant a crash. Never mind that the stock market has not recovered its 1987 peak in real terms – on paper it has recently got back to the same level, but allowing for inflation, stocks are well below their 1987 peak. But the economy is also worse than it was in 1987. A crash might happen tomorrow, or it might be delayed for several months. But in so far as anything in economics can ever be certain, another stock market crash will happen.
During the early part of the 1980s, people talked about it as a ‘return to the 1930s’. I think that they got it about ten years out – it was really a return to the 1920s, the last period of passably successful and relatively unmanaged capitalism. We are now on a spiral down.
Present-day politics throws up many oddities. Murdoch, having destroyed what was left of the historic dignity and reputation of The Times, is now turning it into cut-price product, just as he earlier did with The Sun. Meanwhile The Daily Mirror, one of the stronger hold-outs against Murdoch’s growing power, seems quite willing to join him in the cruel and pointless pastime of hounding the royals.
When a secretary to Lord Tebbit launched a gratuitous attack on Princess Dianna for giving her children a series of treats while also calling for better care for the poor, the Mirror was happy to join in. Now what sort of logic does that make? It was Thatcher and Tebbit who transferred huge amounts of wealth from the poor to the rich, doing their best to abolish the basic securities that poor people used to enjoy. Maybe Tebbit and his lackeys see no connection between his ‘on your bike’ philosophy and the general break-up of family and social values. Maybe he can’t grasp that if you take people out of their familiar neighbourhood, the locality where they have a place and where they are known, they are much more likely to behave in untraditional ways. But the Mirror ought to be a bit more reflective.
Princess Di has done her best to be a decent royal in an era when the whole thing is going down the plughole As I recall, it all began when the Queen herself encouraged some media hounding of Princess Michael of Kent. Even if Princess Michael was a less than pleasant person, this was a very foolish thing to do. It’s an old truth and a deep truth that an injury to one is an injury to all. Not all moral sentiments are self-enforcing – certainly some people get away with gross lying and cheating, and many other faults besides. But if you ever forget that ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’, you will in due course suffer the consequences.
Anyway, you can hardly blame Dianna for trying to do the very best for her own children. That’s a normal maternal attitude, and excellent in itself. That she has been given great wealth while others are in need is not her fault or her responsibility. How many millionaires give it all up to help the poor? How many ordinary people would be generous, if they were somehow to acquire a fortune?
The point that The Daily Mirror should keep hammering is that Thatcherism totally failed to fix the things that were wrong with Britain. The curbing of the Trade Unions in the early 1980s was unavoidable, given that they had failed to live up to the larger and more responsible role that they were offered in the 1970s. But every other damn thing that Thatcher did was an error. She didn’t cure Britain of its ills. She mostly ‘cured’ us of our merits and points of virtue.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Britain was economically on the slide, but also nice place to live, with a widespread gentleness and sense of community that was not found in many other places. After what Thatcher and Tebbit have done to us, we are now merely an economy on the slide.
[Saying ‘It’s an old truth and a deep truth that an injury to one is an injury to all’ seems to me to have been repeatedly vindicated in Royal matters. Yet it also seems that none of them can learn this simple lesson.
[I was never part of the fuss about royals. Was amazed at the sudden reaction after her rather suspicious death. See The World as a Global Night-Club (1997).]
Armenia – successful genocide
Almost since the dawn of history, the Middle East has been a collection of very diverse people, normally ruled by one or more multinational empires. One nationality would be dominant – Turks, Arabs, Byzantines, Romans, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians or Babylonians. Under this dominant minority, a great many very different peoples coexisted across the centuries and the millennia. It was no utopia – the most horrible wars and massacres could and did occur. But somehow the pattern of diversity and coexistence was preserved.
All this ended with the break-up of the Turkish Empire. British and •American policy favoured the break-up of multi-national empires – and never mind if there was no simple alternative. Nation-states were seen as the natural and normal pattern. And the right of nations to oppress and drive out inconvenient minorities was not seriously questioned, even though it was deplored. The complex and diverse fabric of Middle-Eastern life was gradually organised into a number of new states that were then expected to invent a national identity for themselves.
Armenia was mostly a victim of this process. Having existed since the time of the Roman Empire, they found themselves victims in the new world order. The Turks drove them out of much of their traditional territory, and they were only saved by the new Soviet state that more or less took over the former Russian Empire, including Armenian territories. They remained intermingled with other peoples in the Caucasus – including the Azeris, a Turkish people who had been ruled by Iran, but who had been half-swallowed by Russia. During the Soviet era, the whole mess of intermingled peoples and nationalities was frozen and kept stable.
Gorbachev began the break-up. When the Armenian Republic asked that an autonomous Armenian region in Azerbaijan should be turned over to them. Given the patchwork nature of populations in that part of the world, this was not a good idea. An Armenian Republic in two sections with Azeris in the middle was never likely to be a stable or a sensible solution. But Gorbachev was his usual indecisive self, so that the problem escalated, turning into a war even before the break-up of the Soviet Union.
What’s now happening is that the Armenians have cleared away the inconvenient Azeri population between the two sections of their state, and are busy rounding off a single continuous territory. At the time of writing, the Turks have tried menacing the Armenians to try to stop them taking any more of what used to be unambiguously Azeri territory. But Armenia has Russian support – also Russia must see it as useful to have Armenia as a barrier between Turkey and the various Turkish-speaking peoples of Central Asia, who would very possibly like to complete their genocide against the Armenians and form a huge continuous Turkic state stretching from the Mediterranean to the birders of China. Few non- Turks would care for such a prospect. Even the Iranians would feel doubtful , since their territory includes the other half of the Azeri nation, in territory that is also rich in oil. So the geopolitics will probably keep Armenia safe. As for the morality of the matter – does anyone still suppose that there is anything moral about the New World Order?
Several years ago, I argued in these newsnotes that the only decent solution for Israel was to turn their Palestinians into a series of mini-states. Mini-states were pretty much the norm for that part of the world, at least when they were not ruled by some strong outside force. Since no such solution seemed possible, I then forgot about the matter. But could this be the intended and expected outcome of what the Israelis are now giving them? Certainly, it has never been very hard to divide them. And the whole Arab world has seen no successful mergers of states, apart from the union of the two Yemens. Just why Arafat has accepted such a solution is a puzzle. But with the Gulf Arabs punishing him for having supported Iraq, and making it very clear that nothing can be allowed against the will of the USA, what other options did he have?
[I was hopeful at the time that Israel would accept this compromise. Tragically, they hung onto too much land, and also advised the West in its foolish policy of attacking Secular Arab Nationalism.
[The break-up of Yemen is a by-product of the West encouraging people to attack any government they dislike, without worrying about whether they can replace it with anything better.]
The leaders of the African National Congress learned their politics from the Communist movement in the days when it still had something coherent to say. Possibly the Afrikaners did them an unintentional favour by putting them in prison for so many years, so that they were insulated from the rubbish of the dying decades of Leninism. Certainly, Mandela and the others emerged with an excellent understanding of what could and could not be done. Rather against expectations, it seems as if a democratic multiracial society is indeed emerging.
[I had written earlier: Hoping in 1990 that South Africa under Mandela would work, contrary to what most people said. Making peace in South Africa (prospects in 1991).
[I wrote much later about the actual success: How Mandela Unified South Africa: looking back from 2014.]
This article appeared in September 1993, in Issue 37 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs. You can find more from the era at https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/very-old-issues-images/ and https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/very-old-issues-images/m-articles-by-topic/.