Margaret Thatcher, Boris Johnson. Photos: Wikimedia Commons Margaret Thatcher, Boris Johnson. Photos: Wikimedia Commons

Just like his idol Margaret Thatcher, Boris Johnson is lying through his teeth, argues John Westmoreland

That the Tories, and Boris Johnson in particular, are liars should not be big news. It seems at times that Johnson is such a habitual liar that he feels no need to familiarise himself with any policy detail. He just makes it up as he goes along.

Yet in virtually every BBC election broadcast they manage to root out a former Labour voter, often an ex-miner, who intends to vote Conservative. There is no doubt that the constant attacks on Jeremy Corbyn are very much responsible for this.

Johnson is such a vile racist, sexist and liar that the media have to work overtime to obscure the truth, painting Corbyn as antisemitic, a danger to national security and whatever else they can come up with. They hope their invented smears against Corbyn will balance out the reality of Johnson.

At this crucial stage of the election we need to take this strategy on. We need to explain – with desperate urgency – what a Johnson-led Conservative government would be like. We can never trust the Tories. They have a long history of lying and betrayal.

The stakes in this election are high. Johnson’s nose should grow another inch every time he mentions the NHS. The documentary evidence presented by the Labour Party that Johnson and Trump are planning to further privatise the NHS and give American drug companies access to it should be a slam dunk for our side.

But Johnson simply bunkers down and repeats his lie that the NHS is safe with him. There is a historical precedent for this scale of falsehood, and it concerns Johnson’s idol – Margaret Thatcher.

The 1987 election

1987 was the high water mark of Margaret Thatcher’s period in office. Thatcher’s mission had always been to first wreck and then abandon the post-war economic consensus by privatising national industries, slashing welfare for the poor and giving tax cuts to the rich. She wanted to instil a culture of pure capitalism on the British people.

The 1987 victory for the Tories gave Thatcher massive confidence. After nearly a decade of pursuing vicious anti-working class attacks on steel workers, nurses, miners and others she secured a whopping 102 seat majority in the Commons.

The Tory election campaign had been centred on the promise of a ‘strong economy’ that would deliver jobs – exactly the same as Johnson is claiming now. What Thatcher meant by ‘strong economy’ and its likely consequences were kept under wraps.

This subterfuge was made easier by the Labour Party under Neil Kinnock. Labour was moving rightwards in the mistaken belief that this would offer an alternative to Tory voters. It had the opposite effect. The Tories won, in the south particularly, because Labour was reinforcing the notion that market-led policy was the way forward.

Thatcher took the election result as a sign that she was invincible. Following the Tories’ third election victory, they were sufficiently confident to roll out their most aggressive privatisation programme yet. British Steel, British Petroleum, Rolls Royce, British Airways, water and electricity were among the major utilities for sale.

The crowning glory of her premiership was the regressive “Poll Tax”. In an appalling insult to anyone with more than one brain cell and even a shadow of conscience Thatcher proclaimed that the Poll Tax was egalitarian, because “the Duke will pay the same tax as the dustman”.

And if any group of workers should have learned from the 1987 election never to trust a Tory, it was the miners.

The fight to save the pits

The Great Miners’ Strike of 1984-5 was a turning point in Labour history. Arthur Scargill, the miners’ leader, knew what the Tories were up to.

Thatcher was an architect of neoliberalism. She saw trade unions and nationalised industries as ‘socialist’. The National Union of Miners was particularly offensive to her and her backers. The miners had a proud history of defending their own wages and conditions as well as providing solidarity to other workers in struggle.

Arthur Scargill knew the Tories wanted to shut the pits and destroy the NUM.

Throughout the 1984-5 strike, the Tories dismissed Scargill’s claims as fantasy. Far from wanting to shut the pits, the Tories claimed, they wanted to make them ‘efficient’. The police-led scabbing operation was done under the claim that it was the Tories who were enforcing the right (of scabs) to work, and Scargill was a threat to jobs.

But in 2014 secret Cabinet papers from the time were released. These proved that Scargill had been right and the Tories were lying through their teeth.

Declassified document from 1983 showing Thatcher was planning to close 75 pits. Photo: National Archives

The Tories had planned the confrontation with the miners all along. And as Scargill rightly said the Tories were planning to shut a raft of pits and slash the workforce.

The new chairman of the board was the right-wing neoliberal Ian MacGregor, brought in as a privatiser and union buster. As the released papers record,

“Mr MacGregor had it in mind over the three years 1983-85 that a further 75 pits would be closed. There should be no closure list, but a pit-by-pit procedure.

“The manpower at the end of that time in the industry would be down to 138,000 from its current level of 202,000.”

No wonder it was marked as “NOT TO BE PHOTOCOPIED OR CIRCULATED”.

Once Thatcher tasted victory in 1987 she took the mask off ‘caring, one-nation Conservatism’ and showed the mining communities her bloody, free market fangs.

She thought opposition would be minimal, with the trade unions weakened and the Labour Party in a political retreat that would culminate in Tony Blair. However, Thatcher would fall in 1990, confronted by the anti-Poll Tax movement, and “stabbed in the front” by her own ministers. However, Thatcherism lived on.

In 1992 the President of the Board of Trade, Michael Heseltine, announced the closure of 31 of the remaining 50 mines.

In hindsight, attempts are made to justify the closures in terms of economic efficiency and on environmental grounds. But socialists at the time, and groups like Women Against Pit Closures, were much more realistic about what was happening.

The devastating consequences of Conservative victory

The pit closure programme was about breaking trade union power in order to run the economy with a free hand. The Tories wanted to invert the 1974 Labour manifesto pledge of an “irreversible shift in wealth and power” in favour of working people.

The marketisation of public services and rampant privatisation gave people who already had too much wealth a lot more. And the wealth from the top did not “trickle down” to us at the bottom as Thatcher promised. As our wages felt market pressure, private profits grew.

This was especially true in the financial sector. Thatcher’s deregulation of the financial markets in the Big Bang of 1986 was massively boosted by Tory victory in 1987. As London became a centre of world finance, it pulled capital from the rest of the country. Local democracy was a major victim. Voting Labour was a crime in Tory eyes. Labour councils had their funding cut to satisfy financial considerations in the City. The Big Bang, as Thatcher’s Chancellor Nigel Lawson admitted in 2010, led directly to the financial crisis of 2007, and saddled us with austerity.

The Tories devastated areas of manufacturing. In the mining villages of the north and midlands, there were often textile factories and food-processing plants in the community. They went with the pits. Mining villages became socially deprived. Drug dependency and prostitution became visible in what had been respectable working class communities.

Although it is profoundly irritating to be told by ex-miners that they will vote Tory, we have to see it as a desperate cry from people who have had all hope kicked out of them. But they are still worth arguing with. They remember what solidarity meant in 1984-5, and what Thatcher did to the younger generation then.

When Johnson says ad infinitum that he “will get Brexit done” and “move the country forward” we should remember 1987 and ask ourselves what this means. Will he reverse the legacy of Thatcher? Or will he pick up the neoliberal ball and run with it, like the old Etonian and Bullingdon Boy that he is?

A vote for Johnson is a punch in the face for the coming generation. A vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour will land our punches on a more deserving target.

John Westmoreland

John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.