I wasn’t overjoyed or saddened at the news of Margaret Thatcher’s demise. She was the UK’s first woman Prime Minister, yet seemed less concerned about what concerned most women – their children. I’m not British, and seeing the trend of ‘capitalist’ and ‘neo-liberal’ behavior she set in motion in Britain and in other countries of similar economic persuasion during her term as PM, I might feel glad not being a claimant of her legacy.
The impression I had of her, after the feeling of triumph that followed the first time she took office, was that she was a hard character. Perhaps, she felt she had to forget being a woman and a mother, to be the “first among equals” in a man-dominated political world. That was one of the saddest things about her, she forgot those struggling to survive, she forgot she was a mother, although an influential and wealthy one.
Her devotion to privatization of basic amenities caused leaders of other countries like Malaysia to follow suit, with high hopes that capitalistic enrichment of the few would filter down to the masses. The consequences of these and other measures she resorted to like increasing the cost of tertiary education about 400% for foreign students in the 1980’s caused hardship and heart-ache to middle-income parents who had sent their children to Britain hoping to give them a better future. For some of these, their hopes were dashed as finances dried up in trying to cope with such tuition fee increases, apart from living costs.
To work on a student visa, then, would be to break the law and face deportation and an end to university study. So, those who couldn’t find the money or a more viable alternative were cut-short. Their studies suffered sudden death as did their aspirations for the future. They would have wasted the first two or three years of their university lives in Britain and come away with nothing to show for it. Did Margaret Thatcher care? Of course not, they were simply a bunch of foreigners willing to pay for a world-class university education.
The UK certainly had world-class university education, second to none, up to then, accessible to those who could afford it. Not everyone, but still a fair chance on the basis of merit – those who qualified. Scholarships were also available, although only to the very best.
But, when Mrs. Thatcher, as she then was, raised the fees without sufficient warning, so many fell through the cracks in the system and had to deal with this fall out. So, Mrs. Thatcher ruined the hopes of a generation of international students in Britain. But that was only the beginning…
A few more years down the road, Thatcherite privatization began its organized erosion of public utilities in the UK. She had started earlier by turning off the ‘milk tap’ for nursery school kids. The four and five- year- olds were left milkless at school, earning Mrs. Thatcher the title of, “Thatcher, Milk Snatcher”. However, neo-liberal conservatism was in fashion and Mrs. Thatcher rode the waves, digging a widening trench between the wealthy , middle-class and social security dependents in Britain. She made many friends among the like-minded. One such person being Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, PM of Malaysia.
Dr. M, as he is popularly known in Malaysia, counted Mrs. Thatcher among his closest allies and friends. He was easily persuaded to join the Thatcherite club. Malaysia then began to ape British privatization policies, minus the ‘liberal’ from ‘neo’. Malaysia was plunged into a privatization frenzy, making the rich, richer and the poor, poorer without any practical social security safety net. Yes, there was the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) which came with SOCSO. Yet, these didn’t form any comprehensive social security system being tied to employment. Those unemployed, including housewives and volunteers were excluded from these flimsy social security options.
Malaysia took to a trend where financial security was only found in one’s savings and investment capabilities. Since then, Malaysia’s free-market became an even freer capitalistic one. Middle-income earners were encouraged to buy shares in the newly privatized utility companies, to increase financial security from dividends received. The system was complicated by affirmative action policies intended to create an economic level playing field but which ultimately served to stratify society and cause a deeper chasm between haves and have-nots.
Worse still, rampant corruption, nepotism and cronyism has set in and appears to have become the norm. Thanks to Baroness Thatcher and Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, Malaysia’s recovery from the damage done, especially to those struggling to keep families afloat on meager incomes – RM1000 and below, striving to swim against a current that keeps pushing them downstream. Basic necessities for survival get more and more out of their reach as prices of goods and services keep spiraling. It will take a huge, really HUGE OVERHAUL of our government systems to bring back a more equal distribution of wealth in this country, even to pre-Mahathir/Thatcher levels, over a very long period.
‘Terimakasih’, and hopefully, your soul will rest in peace. As for the still living Tun, destiny will decide.
Goodbye, Mrs. Thatcher, perhaps it is the end of your era.
- Margaret Thatcher dies: Former British prime minister stands tall in the history books (manchestereveningnews.co.uk)