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For a future that is better than the past - Leanne Wood marks the death of Margaret Thatcher

09/04/2013

It has been described as the end of an era. The passing of the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gave way to an outpouring of tributes for "a strong, determined & principled PM", "the first woman PM" and a politician who, according to the current PM "saved our country".  Not everyone, though, has such fond memories of Margaret Thatcher's premiership.

Where I live in the valleys, people's chief memory of her time in office is that of the closure of the pits. The bitter miners’ strike changed industrial policy - and we are still paying the price for that today. Margaret Thatcher’s deliberate switch to a service based economy from a manufacturing economy  reaped rewards for London and the South East of England, but  threatened to sink us here in Wales.

The privatisation of our utilities now means that hundreds of thousands of people in this country - a country rich in energy, are now living in fuel poverty as the companies cream off greater profits. Taking milk away from our school children, the decline of public transport, the introduction of charging for students, the stealing and wasting of revenues from Scotland's oil, the intensification of tensions  in Ireland -  these were  the legacies of "Thatcherism".  It was a politics that took a turn away from the post-war consensus favouring a strong welfare state, free at the point of need, caring for all from the cradle to the grave.  Thatcherism started the attempt to "roll back the state".  It signalled the introduction of neo-liberalism into British politics, which has been faithfully followed by all British Prime Ministers since , including the Labour ones.

My grandmother, who was a very wise woman, always told us that we should never speak ill of the dead. That is sage advice.  Plaid Cymru has issued a statement of sympathy for her family.

It is, however, inevitable and right that we remember her political legacy at her passing. Some will undoubtedly feel anger when remembering those difficult times.  It could, however, be very powerful if those emotions could be turned into a pledge to do something positive to reverse the Thatcherite philosophy. Mrs Thatcher told us that "there is no such thing as society".  In Wales, we do not believe that to be true.  Let's prove it wrong by creating a well-functioning and more fair and equal economy as well as a network of vibrant, caring and tolerant communities.  With powers over the levers which can shape our economy, we can reject and reverse the "greed is good" culture that comes with neo-liberalism and which has caused many of the problems we face today.

Where I live in the Rhondda - and I know this to be true of many other parts of Wales - there still is, in many places, a very real sense of community.  People in Wales have an opportunity, if we want it, to create an economy and "Welsh society" based on the principles of fairness, equality, peace, and co-operation instead of the neo-liberal principles which continue to dominate politics at a British level.  I hope that in the valleys and in wider Wales people will take Margaret Thatcher's passing as an opportunity to look to the future, to learn from, but not to dwell on the past.  I would urge everyone to use the energy that could be taken up mulling over her economic legacy to think creatively about how we overturn it.  Let's turn this into a time for all of us in Wales to decide collectively, as a society, that we want to create a future that is better than the past.