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Politics: Ignorance remains the main weapon of Thatcher's critics.

Nigel Morris-Co...

Criticism of Margaret Thatcher is often based on flawed reasoning - and false statements that have been too-often repeated. Nigel Morris-Cotterill, Head, The Anti Money Laundering Network, ultimate owner of ChiefOfficers.Net presents a balanced viewpoint. Actually, he says, she created a business-friendly environment. How can that be a bad thing?

Frank Cottrell Boyce, writing in The Guardian, says "..tv dramas (Boys from the Black Stuff)... were ranged against her. A powerful argument from a left wing writer in a left wing newspaper. There is one issue that Boyce got away with, and The Guardian failed to identify. The claim is not true.

"The Boys from the Blackstuff," an iconic series about out of work jobbing labourers who worked as and when work was available despite increasingly frantic efforts to find something, no matter how small, to do was written in response to the desperate economic conditions created by a mix of strong unions and weak left wing (Labour) government. But due to budgetary constraints at the BBC recording and broadcast were delayed until shortly after Thatcher was elected.

Boyce is educated, articulate and has the power of writing for TV at his fingertips. He wrote the opening ceremony speech for the London Olympics. And he displays a disturbing prejudice. He, for some contorted reason, imagines that Thatcher hated the British.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Just as most of the criticism levelled against her is untrue.

Margaret Thatcher was the epitome of middle England, that much derided class of middle-educated, middle-aged, middle-income, aspiring to be middle-class, white population who were ready, willing and able to work hard and enjoy the rewards of so doing.

Her critics talk about high unemployment - conveniently forgetting that she was elected in significant part to a Saatchi and Saatchi advertising campaign part of which hit hard at Labour's record on employment. In fact, more than a million Britons (including a few migrants) were claiming unemployment benefit. The memorable slogan "Labour isn't working" emphasised exactly where the blame lay. The tag line was "Britain's better off with the Conservatives."

Yes, that tagline played to base instincts. But the truth is that after a decade of government capitulating to a radical union culture which had reduced British industry to operating a three day week due to power shortage, to widespread black-outs, to the terminal decline of the coal, iron and steel, shipbuilding, bridge-building, etc. Thatcher came to power not because she hated Britain but because she was determined to save it from a range of -isms that were based in communist ideologies.

Thatcher is accused of increasing the inequality between the rich and the poor. Actually, what Thatcher did was scour the world for models that empowered the poor and those who were dependent on the state in one form or another and to ensure that those who needed it had a safety net and shirkers did not. She, in common with middle-England took the view that - unless one was genuinely incapacitated - society as a whole was better off if everyone worked and earned what they needed. And she believed that big government was a drain on society and its resources.

There is an iconic picture of Margaret Thatcher striding over an industrial wasteland. That's where I grew up. Of my generation, almost none of my peer group remained or, after University, went home. We were educated, driven, the children of business owners and directors or senior managers in world-class companies or their friends and therefore exposed to the can-do culture that drove Britain to greatness for a thousand years. But it was not Thatcher, nor the greed of my parents' generation that led to the wasteland. We had left in the mid 1970s, already aware that our home was dying, in truth being killed by two decades of failed governments all broadly left of centre, including the then Conservatives. and when we finished our colleges, just before Thatcher's election, we didn't go home. When we visited, we found a disheartened and disillusioned community.

I had been there, standing next to the men using massive hammers to knock out the chocks under the last large ship to be built on the River Tees. The noise was the death knell for an industry. But Thatcher didn't cause its death. It died because, despite earlier massive works, the shipyards were on a part of the river which was too shallow, too narrow and too twisty for the size of ships now being demanded. In Scandinavia, larger ships were launched sideways - we launched ours bow-first. We were victims of the growth of shipbuilding in the Far East, especially Korea, where infrastructure was newer and more efficient, working practices created far higher levels of productivity from labour that cost much less. Even if all the other factors had not come into play, union demands increased the cost of labour - and reduced the power of business owners to combat inefficiencies - so much that the industry could not have survived. Indeed, the heavy industry that provided employment in the north-east of England, South Wales and parts of Scotland, and much of the motor industry based in the industrial heartlands of the Midlands, remained not because they made profits but because they were supported out of outrageous taxes on income.

What the unions failed to recognise was that the UK had, during the days of Empire, created globalisation. And while individual tasks in building ships were highly skilled, shipbuilding as a whole was not. There was little technical innovation because the demand was simple: ships carried people or goods, often in bulk. Ultra large gas and oil carriers and container ships did not exist and there was no hint that they would ever arrive. It would be impossible for most of today's ocean going cargo ships to be built in Teesside's shipyards.

Walk into any kitchen shop today and the stainless steel ware you see will, mostly, be made in Korea or China. In the 1980s, Korea had access to much cheaper steel than shipbuilders in the UK. Why? Just down the road from the Teesside shipbuilders were the steel mills. The steel industry was under siege from Unions just as was shipbuilding. And coal mining - an essential feeder for the country's power needs - and for the steel mills.

The mighty Imperial Chemical Industries - ICI - had several plants, some large, some small in chemicals, paints, agricultural products such as fertilisers. Over time, the company was broken up - not by government but by shareholder action. As the divisions were sold, the Teesside units were mostly closed down.

I have stood inside derelict sheds at the shipyards, the windows broken, holes in the walls, the only signs of life being pigeons. I have stood in the communities that used to be mining villages where the closing of the pits means that even pubs and post offices cannot earn enough to survive. I have stood next to the empty shell of ICI's "Ag" headquarters, a building that in the 1970s was so advanced that features from it were adopted in futuristic science fiction. Hell, I grew up where the world was built, where its farm were fed, where its homes were painted, where the materials for its cars was produced. My father's office was next to the shed where the first railway ticket was sold. We were Teessiders, or - earlier - people of North Yorkshire or County Durham and we were proud, even those of us who had been born elsewhere and moved there. Wherever we went in the world, the biggest and best and most technically advanced bridges had been built by our people. The massive plants are now out of town shopping centres, killing the very towns that had prospered until things started to go wrong in the 1960s and 70s.

I do not see death caused by Thatcher. I see a rapid collapse in viability caused by a labour force that refused to accept modern working practices, that insisted on wage inflation to buy property that then spiralled in cost creating ever more demands for higher pay, by a jobs-for-life culture that denied business owners the power to control the size and cost of their own workforce. I remember Alex Trotman, who was at that time boss at the Ford factory in Dagenham, close to where I lived when I first moved to London, who told the Sunday Times that Ford had to provide adult literacy classes because the products of local schools couldn't read the signs that told them how to turn off machines in the case of an emergency. The signs said to press a red button. His labour force was a product not of Thatcherism but of dismal performance of schools under both national and local Labour Party control. And he was right: several years later, in the east London suburbs, literate school leavers were hard to come by because there were insufficient teachers of reasonable quality. But you couldn't turn round without bumping into a social worker or a "counsellor" asking "how did that make you feel?"

The Thatcher years left Britain with a strong economy which was squandered by Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.

The Thatcher years left a country with higher levels of owner-occupied homes than ever before.

The Thatcher years left a nation not of shopkeepers but of shareholders.

The Thatcher years weaned people off the state and made them get out of their chairs and work and, in doing so, created a work ethic that had been lost to millions.

The Thatcher years created national pride: we began to believe that Britain could be great again.

The Thatcher years created a customer-focussed financial services industry. The regulatory stuff-ups came after the regulatory system was overhauled by Gordon Brown who rode roughshod over the law then in force to put in place his solution. Some mistakenly think Thatcher "deregulated" the industry. In fact, under the Financial Services Act 1986 it was the most regulated it had ever been. It facilitated modernisation of a moribund industry.

Sure, there were measures that were unpopular, there were groups that have suffered, including my own profession of lawyer (but the Thatcher changes were tiny compared to the destruction of the profession visited under her successors and, even, the current Lib-Com coalition. Measures to improve the National Health Service were sound in principle but the complexities were not thought through and, worse, control was handed over without proper safeguards in place and mismanagement has been rife.

But Thatcher did not, as some have said, created the "greed is good" culture - she simply said that those who worked hard should enjoy the rewards and those that did not should not. And she created the conditions under which it was possible to earn and keep the fruits of one's labour.

The Thatcher years reduced the power of socialists and communists who, under the guise of intellectualism, had hijacked the minds of the working man, turning him into a pawn in their own crusade of radicalism. They reduced the power of civil servants to make law. The Thatcher years increased individual responsibility at the expense of collectivity. They put control of business in the hands of owners, in short consolidated risk and control.

Did Thatcher make mistakes? Yes, even big ones. Her handling of the handing back of Hong Kong was fluffed - but it was right that the Island could not have survived as a stand-alone territory. Indeed, Hong Kong had long been for many practical purposes integrated with Canton, over the border. The Island was already dependent on China and with no natural resources or power generation would have been forced into negotiating with China from a position of utter weakness. And she was driven to make compromises with Europe - although the UK still came out of her negotiations in a much better position than it otherwise would have done. And her grasp on the abuses visited on citizens of other countries by despotic governments was fed by an ultra-simplistic view that government must govern and people must do as they are told, an argument that has merit in democracies but not in dictatorships, a fundamental difference she did not "get."

Perhaps her biggest mistake was the privatisation of utilities and the Post Office. These are strategic national assets and should be protected and should protect their customers. But everything else, including telecommunications was fair game and should not be in public ownership.

The bottom line is this: Blair and Brown made far bigger changes to Britain, including creeping republicanism. What Thatcher did was reclaim Britain and its inherent driving forces from the pit of left-wing -isms into which it had been pulled since the 1960s and to pull it back towards the middle: the middle that is inhabited by those that most signally espouse the characteristics that make us British. The middle that has, by the million, left the UK since the commencement of the Blair years as our country has been systematically and systemically ripped from under us by an insidious radicalism, socialism by the back door, patrimony and cronyism of epic proportions and a state that the people cannot afford.

Did I like Thatcher? Not especially. In fact, not much. She was strident, forceful, demanding, dismissive of those who either could not or would not keep up with her intellect. She was driven. In short, she was not very likeable. But that doesn't mean she deserves to be pilloried based on lies, half-truths and rumour.

Thatcher has been pilloried as being "from the right," even far-right. It's not true. She was from the middle, a centrist politician that believed in personal responsibility, rewards commensurate with effort and prudence. She pulled us back from an abyss. She was not just a great politician for her time. She's what the UK needs now.