Margaret Thatcher was seen as a controversial Prime Minister not because she was a woman, but because of the extremely contentious social, political, and economic reforms that she passed through The Commons during her time in office. The most controversial being the attack on the trade unions in 1984, and the North-South divide “the rich get richer and the poor stay the same. ” One of her political ailments was that she abolished the Greater London Council, led by Ken Livingstone of Labour, in 1985 by announcing the “Local Government Act.
Livingstone had been purposely antagonising Thatcher for a number of years, through a series of actions such as displaying the number on unemployed on the side of the County Hall directly opposite The Houses of Parliament, and introducing the “Fair Fare” scheme, which meant heavy subsidies towards transport. It is for these ‘unofficial’ reasons that Thatcher abolished the GLC as well as the ridiculous “high spend socialist policies” and inefficient work which could be carried out by local councils.
Many believe, however, that abolishing the GLC was a step towards increasing Thatcher’s power, because she discarded anyone who presented her with opposition. The Act caused controversy as well as much opposition from all quarters, but it was eventually passed narrowly. Another controversial political move made by Thatcher was branding and dividing her party into two groups, the “wets” and the “drys. ” “Wet” was used by her to describe a policy or person who was “feeble” and this was controversial within the Conservatives, but not seen as paramount by anyone else because of its nature.
Poll Tax was introduced in 1989 and was instigated to assist funding of local governments. A key benefit of the tax was said to be that it allowed all adults to equally share the burden of funding their local governments. In theory, these equal taxes lower taxes and spending overall, which arguably is a good thing. However, in the case of Great Britain, however, the poll tax was not capped, which resulted in a rise in overall taxation and a drastic shifting of the tax burden from the rich to the poor.
Thatcher refused to compromise, and this led to considerable riots and many refusing to pay, which resulted in people disappearing from the electoral roll. Many of those who rebuked her idea claimed it to be out of touch with the people. Thatcher’s social policies were the most controversial of all, causing huge uproar amongst the people. The most notorious of Thatcher’s social policies was the smashing of the trade unions. In 1984, the miners strike was crushed. She used the industrial relations act to impose a secret ballot to be made before a strike action, and no secondary picketing allowed.
If any of these laws were broken then unions could be fined. This deliberate refusal to seek compromise was extremely controversial amongst the working class. By the end of 1982, unemployment was at 3. 3 million and this was completely contrary to what the Conservatives had pledged earlier in their campaign against Labour, with their slogan being “Labour isn’t working. ” Margaret Thatcher viewed unemployment as a “price worth paying” if it meant that they could get inflation under control. There was the “North-South divide” which was a perceived economic and cultural divide between Southern England and the rest of Great Britain.
Most people in the South, and particularly the South-East (outside inner London), were largely centre-right, and supportive of the Conservative Party, because they were more well-off than the northern more “working class” mining counties (who tended to vote for Labour and the SNP). House prices were higher in the south, particularly the south-east. Earnings were higher in the south and east and Government expenditure was proportionately higher in the South than in the North, which angered the Northerners because they paid the same amount of tax as the south.
This wasn’t a key factor, but many saw the divide as the tipping point between voting Labour or Conservative. In 1988 income tax came down from 33% to 25% for the normal tax payers, whereas the highest earners got a cut from 95% to 45%. This saw the rich get richer, and the poor stay on the same platform. This combined with her rise in VAT from 8% to 15% hit the poor the hardest, and did exacerbate the social division that she had created. Privatisation was another one of Thatcher’s debated policies.
Many believed that things should be run by the state, as it meant that it was cheap and the prices would remain fixed at the governments discression. However, by 1987, 14 British companies were privatised because it was being run inefficiently by the state, and the government needed to raise money in order to cut taxes. Harold Macmillan saw it akin to “selling the family silver,” and this pretty much summed up Labour’s view. Overall, I can conclude that the main reason why Thatcher was a controversial PM in politics is because of her policies, and what she achieved.
Her most controversial was the smashing of the unions, because it meant, that from then onwards, it was virtually impossible to call a strike unless a majority in the union voted on it. This was controversial because it meant normal things weren’t disrupted for normal people, but on the other hand, it meant that unions couldn’t call strikes whenever they wanted to, and had to make do with poorer pay, and see their private sector counterparts get larger pay rises. I think that this was the “tipping” factor of Thatcher’s controversial reign.