Below is my correspondence with said McNab, via the pages of the South China Morning Post:
Letter to South China Morning Post:
Keith McNab is “filled with horror” that a leader in the style of the late Margaret Thatcher might become CEO of Hong Kong. (“City does not need divisive Thatcher clone”, Letters, 3 February 2017)*.
As an Australian who spent three years in Britain in the seventies please allow me to comment on his criticism of Thatcher.
First, he says she was the “worst or most hated prime minister in the last 100 years”.
Not true. In 2004 the most extensive survey of previous UK prime ministers placed Thatcher at 4th out of 20 as the most effective, after Clement Atlee, Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George. [Reference]
Second, he says her policies led to “mass unemployment”. Indeed her shake up of the economy led to immediate unemployment, but by the end of her term, unemployment was back to normal levels. And these were employed in better jobs than lung choking coal mining.
Perhaps McNab forgets that in the seventies’ Britain the union stranglehold on the workforce, especially of the miners, led to regular strikes, high unemployment and crippling inflation. [After: and the Three Day Work Week].
Third, he says selling of council housing led to a “social housing crisis”. In fact, the sale of council houses to tenants (“the right to buy”), had been Labour Party policy. Thatcher took up the policy and accelerated it. It was hugely popular. Michael Heseltine said: "no single piece of legislation has enabled the transfer of so much capital wealth from the state to the people." [Reference]. The “crisis” McNab refers to is that there was not as much council housing built to replace that sold. But that was due to Labour Party insistence that proceeds from sales not be used for building new public housing. Thatcher had wanted more built.
Fourth: the poll tax. I agree with McNab. This was certainly an own goal by Thatcher. It was late in her stewardship, a clear misjudgment which she quickly corrected. It doesn’t detract from her overall legacy.
Finally: McNab calls for a leader that can “unite the people”. This may seem to be unarguable. But it’s part of human nature and the nature of politics that division is the norm. Mao Tse-tung said “one divides into two”. That’s why we have Conservative-Labour, Republican-Democrat, Liberal-Labor (in my own country). A call for “unity” sounds nice and uncontroversial, but is impossible.
Maggie Thatcher’s speechwriter said that she carried the following quote from President Lincoln in her handbag:
· You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
· You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
· You cannot help the wage-earner by pulling down the wage-payer.
I would certainly be happy to have a CEO of Hong Kong that hewed to those principles.
Mark Peaker wants to see Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor or John Tsang Chun-wah govern Hong Kong with the passion of Margaret Thatcher, and describes her as the UK’s greatest post-war leader (“Thatcher took a broken UK and fixed it”, January 20).
Such an outlandish statement cannot go unanswered. Thatcher is regularly voted as either the worst or the most-hated prime minister of the last 100 years and she divided the nation as never before nor since.
Her economic policies cost two million jobs and resulted in mass unemployment. Her housing policies, including selling off council houses, precipitated a social housing crisis from which the UK has never recovered. Her introduction of the poll tax resulted in some of the worst rioting ever seen in England. It was withdrawn by the next Conservative prime minister after Thatcher was forced out by her own party.
The idea that Hong Kong should have a leader in the style of Thatcher fills me with horror. More than anything, Hong Kong needs a leader who will unite the people, not divide them in the way that Thatcher did in the UK.
Keith McNab, Sai Kung