09 April, 2013

Margaret Thatcher dies: More tributes from Wales and legacy debated

Margaret Thatcher dies: More tributes from Wales and legacy debated

Political friends and foes said Margaret Thatcher had changed society
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Welsh tributes
Baroness Thatcher: Legacy for Wales
What did Wales think of Thatcher?
Remembering Iron Lady Thatcher

Baroness Thatcher's legacy for Wales continues to be debated, after her death at the age of 87.

The board of the Welsh Conservatives called her a "towering political figure," but former first minister Rhodri Morgan said she had been a "lucky" prime minister.

Welsh MPs face a recall to parliament on Wednesday to hear tributes to Baroness Thatcher.

Flags at government buildings in Cardiff are flying at half-mast.

Nick Bourne, the former leader of the Conservatives in the assembly, speaking on BBC Radio Wales, said he met Baroness Thatcher in about 2003 and discussed the changes that she had brought about in society.
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Prof Patrick Minford of Cardiff University, former economic adviser to Mrs Thatcher

The industries [coal and steel] were completely uneconomic.

They had been bailed out throughout the 1970s by first the Heath government and then the Labour government but everyone could see there was no hope for them. They were totally uneconomic.

When places like China are producing coal at vastly lower prices, and steel coming from India and places like that at very low prices, there's just no way you can compete.

You have to get into industry where you can actually employ people profitably and they can grow, so you can get productivity up and people's living standards go up.

What Margaret Thatcher did was make it possible for the British economy to grow so ordinary people's living standards could improve.

Prof Minford was talking to BBC Radio Wales

"I put it to her that her changes domestically meant that the Labour Party had to confront itself and make changes to the way they operated," he said.

"They were unelectable in the 1980s and she effectively had made them electable. She agreed with that. She said: 'Yes, that's my fault'.

"It's hard to think there would have been Tony Blair without Margaret Thatcher, perhaps put it that way. Her reach was such that she changed the scene completely, domestically, and forced other political parties to look at their agenda as well.

"We look around and it's still very much Margaret Thatcher's Britain that we live in today."

On the other side of the political spectrum, former first minister and Cardiff West MP Rhodri Morgan said she was a "lucky" prime minister.

"It's an extraordinary coincidence that she has passed away on the very day that the coalition government has started to cut back on the welfare state that she helped to create with this over-generous passageway from unemployment benefit onto sickness benefit," he said.

"This happened just as I had become an MP in the late 1980s when they had to massage the unemployment benefit figures down.

"The way of doing it was a one-way valve into sickness benefit, disability benefit and, of course, while North Sea oil was available to pay for that, fine and dandy.

Ivor England, ex-secretary of Maerdy miners' lodge

If I can speak on behalf of the people I live among, as an ex-miner, there wasn't a lot of sadness about the death of Margaret Thatcher.

The death of anyone is of course a sad occasion, but the legacy of Margaret Thatcher in the valleys, particularly the Rhondda Valleys where there was a huge mining community, [it] has had a very saddening effect.

A lot of people realised we embarked on a strike to try to save the industry and try to save the communities and we didn't.

There were mistakes made on our side of course, there were mistakes made by [miners' leader] Mr Scargill, serious mistakes - an undemocratic decision to take us forward.

There was a lot of opinion in the mining areas including the area where I lived, Maerdy, that we were embarking on something we weren't going to win, but the most important thing was that what gelled people together was that they felt they were fighting together to save the community.

Ivor England was talking to BBC Radio Wales

"She was a lucky prime minister in that regard, but now 30 years later the coalition is having to try and reverse that and get people off sickness, the disability benefit, back onto unemployment benefit because the North Sea oil has run out."

Her industrial legacy in Wales, particularly the coal mining communities of the south Wales valleys, has drawn much debate.

Sir Deian Hopkin, a historian of the labour movement, told BBC Radio Wales that she had failed to mitigate the impact on those communities.

"If the intention was to transform the industry by bringing in Ian MacGregor from the British Steel corporation - famous for cutting jobs - if the intention was to cut jobs and reduce the industry... the challenge is how do you actually protect the communities from the impact and it's that bit that was missing," he said.

"There was no serious strategy to try to produce alternatives to what was going on in the mines and that I think is the consequence that we now face."

The Welsh Conservatives' board added: "Margaret Thatcher was a leader of courage and conviction who transformed the British economy for the better and increased our standing in the world."

Tributes from Baroness Thatcher's political opponents include former Labour leader Lord Neil Kinnock who said he recognised and admired her "great distinction" as the first woman prime minister.

But in a tribute recorded before her death he also described her political legacy as an "unmitigated disaster for Britain".

He said she was "fortunate in her enemies" in the likes of Arthur Scargill, the miners' leader, while her "judgement wasn't fully working" in bringing in policies like the poll tax.

On Monday, Welsh Labour First Minister Carwyn Jones said Baroness Thatcher's "place in the history books is assured" as a "major force in British political life who undoubtedly had a significant influence on the political, social and economic landscape in Wales and the UK".

MPs are due to return to the House of Commons on Wednesday.

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