April’s blog comes from Graham Taylor, as he takes a short look at the trials of being a world leader (not him of course!), how change is a hard thing to manage and not everyone will be happy at the end.
Now many of you will know, I am a big Monty Python fan, so this last week or so I’ve found myself shouting this at the TV almost every news bulletin as more and more pictures of Kim Jong-Un appear. The North Korean leader (who, coincidentally enough, was borne in 1984 so holds a tenuous link to Big Brother) continues to beat his chest like a rainforest-threatened gorilla, and look for a fight with any and all who are willing to take him on.
It does seem incredible the lengths that some leaders will go to try to make their mark on the world, and yet you can’t help but think this is like the new 1st year at school running up to the biggest kid in the oldest year, sticking his tongue out, and running away. (That said, of course, there’s only so many times you can do that before the big kid decides he’s had enough !)
With this going on in the background, it’s then hard to believe the level of polarised passions that have also been all over the press this week with the passing of Lady Thatcher. Regardless of your politics, here is a former world leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world who not only became the first real lady of politics perhaps anywhere on the planet, but went on to head the country for longer than any other previous Prime Minister of the 20th Century.
That fact alone certainly deserves some respect at the time of her passing, regardless on where political views may sit.
When Mrs Thatcher came to power in 1979, the country was strongly influenced by very powerful far-Left and far-Right politics, and when you look back over time to gauge whether her tenure was a success or a failure, one thing is for certain, the subsequent years that followed have led to a much more middle-ground political UK than ever before. We could all argue for days on whether Tory or Labour views are right or wrong, but there is little doubt in many people’s minds that there’s not an awful lot between them these days.
The Thatcher years of 1979 to 1990 certainly reflect some interesting economic statistics that seem quite incredible when compared with today’s world :
- Interest rates were 14% ! In her time in office, they did drop to a low of 8% at one stage, but had crept back up to 15% by the time she left (the current bank base rate is 0.5% as we sit here today).
- She is credited (or considered to have caused !) the house price boom, and yet average national house prices rose from £20,000 when she came to power to £55,000 by the time she left (and far more significant gains actually followed in the subsequent 10-15 years)
- She managed to get public spending, as a percentage of the country’s GDP, down to 39% from the 45% it was when she took over (believe it or not, we are currently running at around 46%, and very few believe this is sustainable at this level)
- Some press reports have said she is to blame for the huge fall in manufacturing in this country, and yet in the 10 years prior to her coming to power, manufacturing as a percentage of GDP had already fallen from 20.5% down to 17.6% – during her time in power, this decline actually slowed, believe it or not, standing at 15.8% by the time she left office (and in the subsequent 20 years that followed, this has now dropped to less than 10% !)
But the two most startling statistics for me during her 11 years are :
- In 1979, believe it or not, inflation in this country stood at an incredible 27% !!! By the time she left office, this had fallen to 7% (almost every mainstream economy in the world now recognises the need to make inflation it’s No.1 target to get under control)
- In 1979 (i.e. before the Tories had even come to power) the average number of man-days lost to strike action in this country every month was 900,000……….by 1990, this had dropped to 183,000 a month (very few economies can work if it’s workforce don’t)
Thatcher herself may well have quoted “Life of Brian” as she left office in 1990…….in the film, shortly after a chap is berating Jesus for having cured him from being a leper, and thus taken away his livelihood from being able to beg for shekels as he was now an “ex-leper”, Brian says “There’s no pleasing some people”.