Ray Smith (OT, Trinity 2017) overlooks Margaret Thatcher’s divisiveness, not only in life but in death. While one section of British society accorded her a state funeral in all but name, in some other parts people lit bonfires to celebrate her going. But as Mr Smith points out, Tony Blair was also a controversial prime minister — and David Cameron and Theresa May too, in their turns. Ignoring the question about Oxford University’s near-monopoly on 10 Downing Street since 1945, I simply ask why honorary degrees should be offered to any national politicians — beyond, perhaps, the aim of flattery.
But Mr Smith should be more careful with his facts. He writes that under Labour in early 1979, ‘Inflation was in excess of 20% and militant trades unionists were holding the country to ransom.’ In point of fact, in May 1979 retail price inflation stood at 10.3%; when Labour came to power in February 1974 it had been at 13.2% but then rose to a peak of 26.9% in August 1975; and one year in to Mrs Thatcher’s time, in May 1980, the RPI rate was back up at 21.9%.
Economists still disagree about the causes of the mid-1970s inflation. However, with their members’ real incomes falling so rapidly, it is hardly surprising if many trade unions became ‘militant’. As the Wilson, Heath and Callaghan governments attempted to reduce inflation by controlling incomes, I finally leave open the question whether it was those unions which held the country to ransom or successive governments which held their members’ livelihoods to ransom.