"I know which side I am on" - full text of Midland MP David Winnick's speech attacking Thatcher
The title of the special debate about Margaret Thatcher in the Commons this week was "Tributes to Baroness Thatcher". And most of the MPs taking part did just that - they paid tribute to the former Prime Minister, whose funeral is held next week.
But there were exceptions, including Walsall Labour MP David Winnick.
He said Margaret Thatcher's policies "caused immense pain and suffering to ordinary people" and warned that the Black Country and West Midlands were "devastated" by two major recessions which occurred during her time in office.
Here is his speech in full:
Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): I do not doubt for one moment that Lady Thatcher was kind and considerate in her dealings with those who worked for her. Indeed, I would be surprised if that were not the position. No doubt some of her Cabinet colleagues would have appreciated, at least in the later stages, the same consideration. However, it would be wrong and hypocritical if the views that we expressed at the time--strong views about the policies pursued by Mrs Thatcher's Government from 1979 to when she left office--were not mentioned today.
It is right and understandable that those who support her have spoken and will, I am sure, continue to speak in this debate, but the House is a place where opinion should be expressed freely, even if it is controversial, and those of us who so strongly disagreed with the policies pursued by Lady Thatcher should make our views clear today. It is more political than personal. Of course I regret, like everyone else, the passing of Lady Thatcher. I recognise that by becoming the first female Prime Minister in Britain, she made history, and that cannot be disputed. However, we have to remember what was done during the 11 years--or, to be exact, as she always was, the 11 and a half years--of her premiership in No. 10 Downing street and the way in which those policies were carried out. It was my view, and that of those on the Opposition Benches at the time, that those policies were highly damaging and that they caused immense pain and suffering to ordinary people.
I therefore believe that it is right that, while tributes are being paid to the life of Lady Thatcher, we should not forget what happened at that time. Those of us who were here in the House of Commons used every opportunity to protest on behalf of our constituents who were the victims of those policies, and we were not wrong to do so. This is not so much about Lady Thatcher herself as about the way in which, once the election had been won in 1979, it was decided to pursue policies that almost immediately--certainly within a year or two--caused the outcomes that I have mentioned.
In April to June 1979, the rate of unemployment was just over 5%. In March to May 1984, it was just under 12% and well over 3 million. Those are the percentages, but what did they mean in human terms for the men and women who were made redundant? As we said at the time, many of those people had worked all their lives since leaving school. When they were made redundant in their 50s, they discovered how unlikely it was that they would ever work again. We have to understand the human cost of the policies that have been praised today.
In 1979, 14% of children lived in relative poverty--that was bad enough; the fact that any children were living in poverty was to be deplored--but by 1991, 31% lived in such poverty. Are we really saying that those policies that Conservative Members have been praising today were unrelated to those children living in such poverty and deprivation? The fact that they were living in those conditions should certainly be deplored by Opposition Members.
I have heard it argued many times, not least today, that the policies undertaken by the Thatcher Government were almost inevitable, and that whoever had formed the Government of the day would have had to pursue policies of deindustrialisation involving the closing of factories, foundries and coal mines. But even if we accept that some of that was inevitable, the unfortunate thing was what I can only describe as the indifference to and, at times, brutal contempt for, those who had lost their jobs.
David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr Winnick: In a moment.
It almost seemed that, instead of offering support and understanding what that meant to the many people involved, the Government of the day blamed those people who were made redundant. It was as though it was their fault, and it was suggested that if only they had got on their bikes, as Lord Tebbit said his dad had done, they would have found work. That is what I mean by indifference and brutal contempt for people who, through no fault of their own, found themselves in circumstances that none of us would want. Does the hon. Gentleman still wish to intervene on me?
David Morris: I note that the hon. Gentleman would not give way to me a moment ago. I was made redundant at the time he was describing. I set up my own business due to Thatcherism, I made a success of it and here I am now, preaching it forward.
Mr Winnick: Does that not prove the point? So many people were not in a position to do what the hon. Gentleman did. What he said very much expresses Thatcherism. He says, "I was made redundant. I found another job. Here I am today." What about all the others who were not in a position to do that? What about all the others I have mentioned--those in their 50s, who were never able to work again because, as they grew older, employers said that they were too near retirement age? My point could not be better illustrated, and I thank the hon. Gentleman doing it.
In the black country and the west midlands, we were devastated by the two major recessions that occurred during the 1980s. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) referred to the terrible hardship suffered by mining communities. Many of us believe that the miners were treated with utter contempt. However much it could be said that Arthur Scargill played into Lady Thatcher's hands, the manner in which the miners were treated is not likely to be forgotten by the communities involved. It is right and proper that that is said today, when tributes are being paid to the former Prime Minister.
Let me also just say this: mention was made, by the Prime Minister and others, that Lady Thatcher had a commitment to parliamentary democracy. I do not doubt that for one moment. She was long a Member of this House--32 years--and then went to the House of Lords, where she played an active role. It could be said that a certain Mr Gorbachev had a role to play in what happened in eastern Europe by the manner in which he made it perfectly clear, particularly to the East Germans, that the Russians would no longer, in any circumstances, bolster regimes that were totally discredited.
I do not want to dispute in any way the extent to which Lady Thatcher made a contribution in relation to eastern Europe. However, it is unfortunate, is it not, that she was so totally unsympathetic to the fight against apartheid in South Africa? To describe the African National Congress as a terrorist organisation and Nelson Mandela as a terrorist cannot be justified under any circumstances. I remember when Nelson Mandela came to Westminster Hall as a very distinguished visitor--as President of South Africa. We paid tribute to him and listened keenly to what he said. I could not but notice that in the front row listening to him was Lady Thatcher. I hope that by then she had realised that she had taken the wrong line on apartheid. We should not just be concerned about freedom in Europe, but in South Africa and Latin America. I was never a fan of Pinochet, a professional mass murderer.
Lady Thatcher was a divisive figure, and she would not for one moment have argued otherwise. One thing on which we can agree in this House is that "consensus" was not her favourite word. The Prime Minister mentioned former Prime Ministers. Of the two Prime Ministers who have made the greatest impression since 1945, in my view, and in the view of the Opposition Benches, Clement Attlee's tremendous changes--the national health service, national insurance and the like--made Britain a far more civilised country. The other figure, to whom we are paying tribute today, is Lady Thatcher. She believed that much of what occurred post-1945 was wrong and should be undermined. My view remains that what the Attlee Government set out to do was absolutely right, and that what Lady Thatcher set out to do--undermine many of the changes brought about immediately after the second world war--was wrong. I know which side I am on.