Feature Article of Wednesday, 17 April 2013
Columnist: Baidoo, Philip Kobina
As the funeral of one of the great titans of British politics gets underway in the hallowed and splendid chambers of St Pauls Cathedral today there are only a few in the land of her birth who are indifferent. For the past week the word divisive seems to have another synonym – Thatcher, and it has become the buzz word for the British media saturation coverage. Though, there are many like myself who will defend her with their last breath; however the above title alone is enough for those who hate her to roast me on a skewer. And I know that I will be labelled in some circles by my own as an imperialist stooge, but that is not my concern. Nonetheless, I live in a land that promotes freedom of speech and expression so I am allowed to articulate my thoughts without any fear of reprisal. As I write there is an anti Thatcher song that has hit number two on the UK singles chart in celebration of her death. If they can do that I believe I have the right to voice my opinion. Now coming to Ghana and for that matter Africa, I don’t think she’s got that many friends on the continent. On the other hand, I don’t believe the celebration of her life should be based on one or two positions she once held in life.
When I was young the ideological leaning of our intellectuals and opinion leaders pumped into my heart a vile hatred for this woman, which shaped my thinking on political economy for the early part of my adult life. As I fed on this vicious poison, I also occasionally drank from the unsavoury comments that came from my own dad. He used to call her a witch, which when expressed in my dialect carries rather unpleasant connotations. So I came to England with all this baggage, and it took me a long time to off load this toxic misrepresentation of a larger than life character that did more good for her people and the rest of the world than any peace time British leader.
The majority of the people who hate her on the African continent predicate their beliefs on the views she once held about Mandela, the only genuinely selfless post colonial African leader, as well as her position regarding sanctions on South Africa. We have all previously wallowed in mistakes in our lives, but I bet you will understand if you had come to a close encounter with the deadly indiscriminate force of terror you would appreciate her position on terrorism. Before her premiership the activities of the IRA had reached fever pitch. Reckless fatal bombings had become the order of the day. A vocal critique of the IRA Ross McWhirter was gun down in front his house. During the early part of her reign the activities of the IRA had become intolerable. Airey Neave, a Tory MP, was eliminated with a car bomb, besides the most spectacular assassination of Lord Louis Mountbatten. All these came to a crescendo in 1984 with the attempted murder of her whole government including herself in Brighton. The experience probably crystallised her tough stance on terrorism. Nevertheless, the victim himself forgave her when he met her in Downing Street.
One of her beliefs, which made a lot of Africans writhed with anger was her opposition to sanctions against South Africa. That position can be attributed to communism, because she needed South Africa as a bulwark against that evil monster in Africa. Her nick name Iron Lady was given to her by the Soviet Union as a result of the tough speeches she made against them. I have always maintained that communism is the worst thing that ever happened to Africa. We felt the consequence of that abominable system than any continent as it became the battle ground for the two competing political and economic ideologies of the last century. And when two elephants fight it is the grass that suffers. She did maintained that sanction will not be in the interest Britain. It might not have been in the interest of ANC at that time, but she fought for the interest of the UK. Regardless, of what we might think of her it was the interest of her country she sought, and that is the sort of leader we need as a nation. Why do you think America propped up a butcher like Mobuto, because he served their interest against communism on the continent?
The sort of vile hatred that some of her countrymen harbour in their hearts has its bedrock in the ruthless manner in which she dealt with the coal miners union. The winter of discontent is a Shakespearean phrase. Jim Callaghan, a union official himself before becoming the leader of the Labour Party, once used it to describe what the union was doing to the economy of Britain. It captured perfectly the period of 78-79 winter, which union strikes brought on food shortages, power cuts, and household refuse uncollected to the extent that even the dead lost their dignity in the morgue. Before the ‘winter of discontent’ in 1976 at the Labour conference he denounced his tribe like an Old Testament Jewish prophet. ‘We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that option no longer exists, and in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting a bigger dose of inflation into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step.
According to the Labour manifesto of 74 they stated that: We are a democratic socialist party and our objective is to bring about a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of wealth and power in favour of working people and their families. However, when they came to power they realised that the figures did not add up following exhaustive studies of the nation’s account. So they obviously had to adopt tough monetary policies to bring the economy back to health after settling with the miners for double what Edward Heath had thought economically viable. The union had broken the back of Jim Callaghan and forced down the throat of Heath the same medicine five years earlier. Britain was literally being governed by the picket and the union was running the show. The slogan of Edward Heath 1974 campaign ‘Who Rules’ was borne out of the stubborn demands of the union at the time. So when she came to power in 79 there were few fresh scary memories on her mind, and she was not ready to share the fate of her two predecessors. If the union had brought down a Labour government she knew they wouldn’t hesitate to shred that of a Conservative.
Obviously, during the 1984 miners strikes in which Arthur Scargill had put in outrageous demands including non closure of pits even when the coal was running out, and therefore economically unsustainable. The Iron Lady had to do what she did by breaking the back of the union, though it was grim at the time. One lesson that needs to be learned from that era is that when the old system of production is supplanted by new technology or efficient ones there are people who are always caught. For example, if there is a deep coal mine that is competitive and all of a sudden a new open mine is discovered, which produces more cheaply the deep mine will definitely go belly up, because it cannot compete. In the case of the British coal industry the mid eighties was a turning point since gas was supplanting coal, which was increasingly becoming environmentally suspicious. Clearly, the actions of the union rather brought it to a swift end.
When she came to power Britain was slowly becoming like an advanced Third World country. Almost all the companies were under performing. She then came to the realisation that they had to be energised. Privatisation became the most potent medicine she dished out to the British people, and to the rest of the world that was gradually dying under socialism.
Jeff Randall, who presents Jeff Randall Live, a business and politics show on Sky News, summed the ideology of Baroness Thatcher in a tribute he paid on Sky News on the day she gave up the ghost. He said when Thatcher came to power he had just come out of college and gotten a job as correspondent in the United States. After taken up his post and securing a flat, he went to the telephone company to get a phone connected. After going through all the formalities he was asked when he would like the phone and he said November, in a question like demeanour. He said the person who was serving him and his colleague looked at him as if he was nuts, because he had given a period of three month, which was how long it took to get a phone in England at the time. According to Jeff by the time he got to his flat that afternoon the phone had been delivered.
To a certain degree I find it very difficult to comprehend the level of unbridled hatred especially on the British Isles. The fact is she won three consecutive general elections, and if her detractors have got any axe to grind I think they should rather blame the British electorates and not her. I personally believe everything she did was for the long term interest of the British people, and she is the kind of politician that I will give double thumbs up to rule Ghana. After crunching numbers on a her monetary policy which will take £4 billion out of the economy she turned to her economic advisor Alan Walters and said, ‘they will get me for this, but it is the right thing to do.’ Not many politicians have the strength, courage and tenacity to carry a policy through for the long term interest of their country when they know it might cost them their office. I doubt if there is any such in Ghana; all that they look for is the next election.
I have no shred of doubt that Ghana needs her calibre of leadership. She represents the kind of leadership that thrives on the mind and will, which does not bend under pressure to political intrigues and corruption. Lady Thatcher epitomises one of my core Christian principles an injunction which Christ gave that you either be hot or cold, in between is abominable. He did not try to please everybody she made sure that she left a legacy, unlike our spineless leaders who only know how to dip their hands into the national coffers.
Her legacy is potency itself, which has mesmerised her enemies; hence, the unimaginable furore surrounding her death. And I believe that future historians will vindicate her sterling record. How many heard about the passing of Heath, Callaghan, Wilson and Douglas-Home? Not that many, because they did not make any memorable waves. Long live the name of Baroness Margaret Thatcher; and may her soul rest in perfect peace.
Philip Kobina Baidoo Jnr.