Thatcher and Reagan are to blame for Trump and Brexit

Posted By: November 12, 2016

Patrick Murphy. Irish News (Belfast). Saturday, November 12, 2016

YOU can blame the US electorate if you want, but the people who propelled Donald Trump to the presidency (apart from Hillary Clinton) were the same two people who led the British electorate to Brexit. They were Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

Following the collapse of European communism in the 1980s, their economic policies were based on abandoning the state’s responsibilities towards its citizens.

If too much state control had led to the downfall of communism, Reagan and Thatcher set out to transfer power from the state to what they called “the market”. But the market turned out to be just another term for unregulated personal and corporate greed.

Thirty years of market-led economies on both sides of the Atlantic produced such a degree of social and economic inequality that both electorates have now rebelled against the established political orders.

These electoral rebellions are unlikely to reduce inequality or to significantly improve the lives of ordinary people, but when you are poor, you protest when you get the chance.

So Reagan and Thatcher agreed on reduced government spending, lower taxes on investments and less regulation for business, particularly in the financial sector.

Thatcher’s first target was the state-owned mines. Last week the British government refused an inquiry into an attack by the police on striking miners at Orgreave, in 1984, probably because it would have strayed into an explanation as to why Britain’s industrial heartland was destroyed in the subsequent 30 years.

That destruction led to Brexit, as jobs moved from well-paid manufacturing to often zero-hours services. Two million lost jobs in the Midlands and North have never been replaced. The market would provide, said Thatcher. It never did.

Within a year of the miners’ strike ending, the financial boom began in the City of London. It ultimately led to the banking collapse in 2008, brought about by a lack of government regulation. The de-industrialised areas were hit with recession for the second time.

A recent report from Sheffield University shows that the decline of British industry costs the Treasury up to £30 billion annually, through spending on welfare and other benefits. The answer by successive governments has been to reduce welfare and public spending, as we know only too well here.

We played our part in all this. While Margaret Thatcher was attacking the miners, we were giving her political respectability in Britain, by killing their sons and brothers in the name of a freedom which has long since been abandoned.

The IRA tried to kill Thatcher but failed to recognize the most serious threat of Thatcherism, to the extent that they evolved into delivering it.

The same story can be found in the USA. Since 1980, the number of US jobs in manufacturing has declined from one-third to one-tenth, as US companies invest overseas and cheaper Asian imports replace American goods. The market aims for profit, not social responsibility.

(Politicians here responded to recent job losses in Ballymena by referring to the market. They presumably believe they have no responsibility towards society.)

Trump pledged to keep jobs in America, which is bad news for Ireland. His promise brought him victory in the Rust Belt states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. The market failed these areas and although Trump, like the British Tory party, believes in the market, he was able to highlight its weaknesses to gain power.

Trump argued that globalization had destroyed American jobs. He was right. We played our part in organizing the G8 summit of global leaders in Fermanagh in 2013, which nationalist politicians described as the “best ever” because no protesters were allowed near it. Well, the protest vote just elected Donald Trump.

His election was a shock to many, but unlike some anti-Brexiteers in the UK, no one in the US has called for a second election or argued that the states which voted for Clinton should be allowed to opt out. The USA does the down-side of democracy better than the UK.

The only prediction we can now make about Mr. Trump is that he will be unpredictable. His election, although a surprise,was based on the same inevitable logic which carried the UK’s Brexit vote. If you subject substantial numbers of people to social and economic deprivation while others grow rich (and pay little or no corporate taxes) you will create political unrest.

Of course, we all know that. But when it was happening before our eyes, who spoke out against state-sponsored inequality in the US and Europe? Donald Trump spoke first. It is too late for others to speak out now