I've written two articles on Margaret Thatcher (here and here) and am constantly trying to reconcile my understanding of economics and politics with the scenes of decay and heartfelf bitterness that her legacy has produced. Although the UK economic reforms of the 1980s were divisive, if there is some common ground then it's because almost everyone accepted that something had to be done.
Despite the mechanism by which inflation and unemployment came down, the true blame should never be thrust at the doctor that diagnoses the condition and takes responsibility for the painful cure - the blame should rest firmly with whoever it was that created the underlying problems.
If a doctor says that you've got weak blood pressure, it's not his fault. If he forced you to take exercise, don't curse the cure.
It would be utterly wrong to paint Thatcher as a vindictive individual, since that implies the lessons of her stewardship are irrelevent for today. On the contrary, the lesson is relevent and should be never again.
We all accept that the closing of certain industries was difficult and harsh (although does that mean freed slaves should compensate their former owners?), but rather than blame the doctor lets learn the lesson and ensure that the country never again gets held to ransom by the unproductive. Lets not encourage young people to enter industries that can't sustain them, or pump money into a gravy train that will inevitably need to be realligned. Lets not fuel bubbles, or deflate one (assets) by inflating another (housing).
So before it all happens again, lets take note of what's happening at the moment. This time lets blame the underlying cause of structural problems -- as they happen -- rather than whoever might come along to push through the necessary, yet painful cure. So we should all be worried by this recent article in The Economist:
This litany of complaints sounds drearily familiar. The exceptional decade has not transformed the economy, although it has helped it to work rather better than in the past. Mr Brown's reversion to tax-and-spend, together with the ever-rising burden of regulation, is starting to do increasing damage to work incentives and business interests. The price for past excess, both by consumers and by the chancellor, will be future slower growth. As the feel-good factor fades, the politics of plenty will give way to the politics of austerity.
So here's the paradox - the more you hate Thatcher, the more concerned you should be by Gordon Brown. It's time for old Labour to confront economic reality and ensure that they don't create the very problems they so readily use to blame others. Once should judge a Chancellor by the state of the economy 5-10 years after leaving office. Despite initial promise, the jury's still very much out on Mr Brown.