Margaret Thatcher and Boris Johnson want to take back control

When the miners went on strike to stop colliery closures in 1984, Mrs Thatcher wanted to take back control. She fought the miners with police batons and rhetoric, closed the pits and announced that there was no such thing as society.

She pushed for the breakup of the welfare state and was eager to sell off the NHS to the highest bidder. As the NHS was so beloved by the British people, MP Nicholas Ridley suggested they should set about denationalising the NHS ‘by stealth,’ the word he used in a report that became known as the Ridley Plan, ‘an astonishingly ruthless battle plan for privatisation,’ according to (21/10/2019) 

Fast forward to March 2020, Britain entered the coronavirus epidemic with 100,000 unfilled posts in the NHS, most for nurses. There were as many managers as doctors, an astonishing lack of PPE – personal protective equipment – and hospital trusts operated in a quasi-marketplace bidding for patients, now called clients.  

How did this happen?

It happened by stealth. Once upon a time, nurses received a grant and worked four hours a day in hospitals getting experience while they studied. Now, a nurse requires a nursing degree that costs about £9,000 a year on a three year course. Unless nurses live at home with mum and dad, they will need a further £12,000 a year to meet the average cost of living.

Many young people from low income families were terrified at the thought of coming out of nursing school with £60,000 of debt and avoided the profession. That didn’t matter so much before Covid-19 because the Government had been able to poach trained nurses from the Philippines, Indonesia and the European Union.

This was jolly clever. The money saved on training nurses in the UK, plus cash from hugely increased university fees, could now be given back to the people in tax cuts.

If you cut taxes by, say, two percent, a person earning an average £25,000 a year will get an extra £500 in their pocket. That’s £10 a week. However, now that the Government has less money because of tax cuts, the after school violin lessons or football practice that used to be free will now have to be paid for – and will probably cost more than £10 a week. There will be a need for cuts in school budgets, provision for free school meals, outings for people in care homes.

On the other hand, the person earning £100,000 a year – heads of hospital trusts, university chancellors, newspaper editors, police chiefs, most Members of Parliament – will have an extra £2,000 a year from their tax cut. That’s enough to have a winter holiday or buy an electric bike and save the environment.


Dominic Cummings know how to take back controlThe Dominic Cummings Brexit-winning slogan Take Back Control was assumed by working people to mean that they were taking back control from the unanswered telephones and distant institutions that ignored their run down schools, lack of jobs, hospital waiting lists, broken roads, food banks, and all those things that weave together to create what we think of as society.

The slogan was brilliant because people believed they were taking back control, while control would in fact be gripped ever more firmly by those in control: Cummings, Johnson, Gove, Rees-Mogg, Farage and their billionaire backers.

Mr Johnson told us, ‘We have taken back sovereignty.’

What that means is the Government now has the sovereign power to lower wages, regulate trade unions, extend zero hours contracts, provide Iain Duncan Smith with a knighthood for introducing Universal Credit, continue the stealthy privatisation of the NHS and do all the things billionaires like to do with fewer workers’ rights or the oversight of the European Court of Human Rights.

Seventy years of negotiating and achieving greater social justice gone in a flash.

Austerity since the 2008 bank crisis has resulted in an exponential rise in food banks, more children in poverty, more evictions, more homelessness, more despair and mental illness. Working people have not taken back control. They lost what little control they had.

According to Full Fact, the independent fact-checking website (20/01/2020), during a 12 month period, 2,000 people forced to wait five weeks for their first fragment of Universal Credit gave up waiting and took their own lives.

Dominic Cummings is an illusionist, a trickster. For him, Brexit was fun, a game. His clever campaign with its easily digested slogans enabled the Conservative Party’s extremists with their subservient press to take back control and take the country out of Europe. Johnson never had a vision – except his reflection in the mirror – and sees himself as the golden child of Churchill and Thatcher completing Thatcher’s dream to create a land where there is no such thing as society – ie: no safety net – and control is back where it has always been, in the hands of those who wield the whip and write the slogans. 


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  1. I think that the problem here is dealing with ambition and ego from Johnson and his peers…Populism “Make Britain Great Again”
    what a drag!

  2. Excellent, incisive and readable summary.

    My (Jewish) husband died in April of coronavirus and the rabbi at Charing Cross was unable to be with him in his last days because there was no PPE for him. Of less significance than shortage of PPE for hospital staff but still regrettable.I hope your article is as widely read as it deserves

  3. I think your article is an excellent summary of what has been happening in this country for the past four decades. I wish people made an effort to understand what is going on behind the headlines. People should ‘take back control’ — of their own minds and not let snappy slogans do their thinking for them.

  4. Austerity measures are always targeted at the middle class poor and elderly. It’s as if they are being asked to die quietly and cheaply. That woman was ruthless. If her buddy Reagan was allowed to govern for as long a she, the marginalized in the US may not have survived it. The man was closing mental health facilities, how cruel can you get? He repealed most, if not all, of The Mental Health Systems Act of 1980 just about the moment he took office. Cruel bastards, those conservatives.

  5. Highly tendentious and I would expect no less, but the references don’t support the arguments to which they are adduced.

    The Ridley paper is rightly described by OpenDemocracy (sp.). It is a fine analysis that I was sorry not to have read before. It specified exactly what was needed to deal with the nationalised industries, and mostly carried out by the ensuing Conservative government (possibly Clifford was abroad and missed Britain in the ’70s?). The Ridley paper uses the word “stealth” but there is no mention of health among the nationalised industries that I could see.

    Aside: When Ridley was the Secretary of State in charge of the Bill for what was to become known as the “poll tax”, he was doorstepped leaving 10 Downing St after a Cabinet meeting.

    “Mr Ridley! Mr Ridley!”
    “I’m going to lunch.”
    “What about the Bill?”
    “It’s a Bill. It won’t be having lunch.”

    The European Court of Human Rights belongs to the Council of Europe, in which the UK participates. It’s the EU’s Court of Justice that can no longer rule on UK affairs. As to social justice, the British electorate can choose how to provide that instead of having to accept what we can again call “foreign” rules, just as in the first 25 or so of the last 70 years.

    The reference to 2000 suicidal claimants doesn’t match what the Full Fact link says: a charity guessed that 1700 people might have died over 6 months while waiting for a Personal Independence Payment to be awarded. Though tragic, this would have reflected the fact that many of the claimants would have been dying, eg according to the link, of lung cancer. Unfortunately no statistics are provided for the total number of applicants so it’s not trivial to compare the death rate (etc) for PIP applicants against the population in general. Certainly suicide is not supported as the sole or main cause of death.

    For some reason the link at the bottom, probably to more pinko ranting ;-), is in Symbol font so it’s all Greek to me, and, perhaps more problematically, may also be to other readers.

    Your correspondent who takes issue with closing mental hospitals should know that this was internationally considered to be the progressive answer after patients (“inmates”) had been found to be institutionalised for little reason or benefit, but such policies typically failed when implemented excessively or without matching community facilities: in the US, a State issue. This article has more: apparently the cruel former Presidential bastard favoured re-opening (for a few milliseconds before thinking of something else?).

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