Tag Archives: Edward Heath

Time to say goodbye

So a week to go before the UK votes on whether or not to stay in the European Union (EU). In a previous post (“If Lucha Underground Wants to Grow it Must Get Rid of Intergender Matches”) you might remember I mentioned I was against the UK staying in the EU and said I would explain why in a future post. Well the time is now….

First of all I would say it is NOT because of anti immigration feelings. I was against the UK being in the EU long before immigration became an issue in the UK. The reason I am against the EU is simple and it came during a TV interview in the BBC’s 1992 General Election coverage.

On the day after this election – the first one I took an interest in though I was too young to vote – the BBC were interviewing a couple of Labour supporting trade unionists. Now by this time it was clear that the Conservative Party had won and the interviewer asked the trade unionists if they would use European law to try and thwart the Conservative Government’s policies. The trade unionists said yes. That annoyed me. I felt that the trade unionists were not accepting the vote of the British people and if Europe could stop the UK Government from implementing its policies what was the point in voting (I should stress that if it had been Conservative politicians trying to thwart a Labour Government via Europe I would have felt the same way).

Two examples of the EU meddling in UK affairs. In 1973 when we joined what is now the EU the UK Government imposed 17.5% Value Added Tax (VAT) on tampons since they were “luxury items”. In effect it was a tax on women since only women used tampons and they had no choice – it was an essential part of their lives. It seems a ridiculous tax but it was the 1970s and that was a very sexist decade in the UK. Quite rightly Prime Minister David Cameron thought that the “tampon tax” was a ridiculous sexist tax that should not exist in 2016 and it has been abolished. But Cameron could not abolish the tax without the backing of all the other 27 EU countries. He got their backing but should he have had to grovel to the EU anyway? No. It was none of the EU’s business and they should have had nothing to do with it. It should have been the UK Parliament that decided to get rid of the “tampon tax”.

Same with another abominable tax that is still with us because of the EU. In 1993 the Conservative Government imposed VAT on domestic fuel at 8% (a bid in 1994 to raise the rate to 17.5% was defeated).The Labour opposition was against VAT on fuel so when Tony Blair was swept to power in the 1997 landslide you would think it would be bye bye VAT on fuel. But no. Blair only cut the rate to 5%. He did not abolish it. Why not? He could not. Once the Conservative Government had imposed VAT on fuel it could only be reduced to 5% it could not be abolished… because of EU rules. Again it is ridiculous. It should be up to the UK Parliament to decide tax – not the EU. EU law needs to be secondary to UK law but while we are in the EU that cannot happen.

While my main reason is sovereignty another problem is that the EU is totally contemptuous of democracy. Countries including Denmark, France and Ireland have voted against EU treaties in the past. Did the EU accept the verdict of these countries voters? No. The countries were asked to vote again and voted in favour the second time they were asked. But what if they had voted against the treaties again? Would they have been forced to vote again and again until the EU got the result they wanted?

I also think we should never have joined the EU in the first place. The Prime Minister when we joined – Edward Heath – was an egomaniac and us joining the EU was his personal vanity project. When we joined in 1973 he celebrated with the “Fanfare For Europe” which was a waste of £350000 of taxpayers money spent on concerts, art exhibitions and even a football game at Wembley which attracted only 36,000 fans. Seventy five per cent of people thought the Fanfare should not take place (“Dominic Sandbrook, “State of Emergency, The Way We Were : Britain 1970-74, pages 171-72). It should be said that Heath’s Conservative Party had been pro Europe since the 1950s but French President Charles de Gaulle had vetoed Britain joining. I suspect with the British Empire breaking up Conservative politicians were deluding themselves that Britain could rule Europe which was tripe. I also suspect that if Heath had allowed us a referendum in say 1972 (as Ireland, Denmark and Norway had) we would have rejected membership as Norway did. Norway have still not joined the EU and seem to have survived! When Heath lost power in February 1974 the new Labour Government gave us a referendum (1975) which I still think only went in favour of Europe because the UK economy was a mess at the time with inflation reaching 26 per cent!  Since the UK people have never embraced the EU it would be in Europe’s best interest to lose at best an apathetic and at worst a hostile member.

Another reason to leave the EU is that I think eventually the EU will collapse. It is not only the UK that is hostile to the EU other members are becoming more hostile. Hardly surprising when you think what austerity forced on Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain to keep the fantasy currency the Euro alive has done to those countries with horrific poverty and youth unemployment the result. Plus history has shown that all artificial unions collapse – the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, our own British Empire and the Soviet Union being examples. The EU will collapse. It might take 20, 30, 40 years but it will. Smart people get off the ship before it sinks! We have a chance to do it!

Another problem with the EU is that it is just too big. It expanded into Eastern Europe when the ex members of the Soviet bloc joined it which means the countries in it have less and less in common and it became less effective. The EU should have stuck to the founding clique of six and added just Spain and Portugal when those two countries got democratised. Groups are more effective when they are small. A bizarre but apt analogy is with the New World Order (NWO) in wrestling which started with a small clique of members ballooned out of control by having far too many members and eventually collapsed in a heap. Just like in my opinion the EU will.

If we vote “Leave” on June 23rd we will take control of our country. The UK people will decide immigration policy. If we vote for a pro immigration Labour Party and it goes wrong it will be our fault not the immigrants. It will shut UKIP up as they will have no foreigners to blame for our problems.  Also there is a big wide world outside Europe that is becoming more important (China, Japan, India to name but three countries) and we can build relationships  with them outside the EU. Add to that the fact that the EU is like FIFA arrogant corrupt and unreformable and that we should never have joined in the first place and it becomes clear the best choice is to leave.

Finally I would stress that I am not stupid enough to say everything will be perfect if we leave but I think we must take control of – and responsibility for – our country. Being out of the EU might actually get rid of some of the racism/xenophobia in  the UK since we could not blame the EU for our problems like we do now. To quote the 1997 hit by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman it is “Time to Say Goodbye” to the EU.  

Thatcher and the non-sexist myth

Not everybody in the UK agreed with Rashida Manjoo’s view (see previous post) that the UK was the “most in your face sexist country”. The right wing press used the fact that we had a female Prime Minister back in 1979 – long before among others Germany (2004) and Australia (2010) – and of course the US has never had a female President – as proof that the UK is not sexist. But the fact is that Margaret Thatcher became leader of her party despite sexism not because there wasn’t any. In fact she used sexism to her advantage! She got the job due to a conjunction of circumstances and a mixture of luck bravery and people underestimating her. As tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of her becoming her party’s leader I thought I’d explain the story of how she became leader of her party 40 years ago.
The fact she became leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 was quite remarkable. After all the Conservative Party has a poor record in electing woman MPs. In 1975 she was one out of just 7 (out of 276) Conservative MPs who were women. There have been 18 post war elections in the UK. In only two of them – 1970 and 1983* has the party elected more women MPs than Labour. Add to that the fact that Thatcher herself – in a BBC interview in 1973 – said “there will never be a female Prime Minister in my lifetime”. Yet she became leader of her party only two years later. So what happened in between?
The first event that led to her becoming leader was in February 1974 when Conservative leader and UK Prime Minister Edward Heath called a General Election he did not need to. He had a secure majority and his mandate lasted until June 1975. But he wanted a new mandate to deal with a miners’ strike. His election slogan was “Who Governs Britain?” The voters decided “Not you mate!”. Although the election produced a hung parliament Labour had 301 seats to Heath’s 296. Heath tried (and failed) to form a Coalition with the Liberals but eventually resigned. He had thrown away power and went on to lose a second election the following October. People thought a leader that had lost two elections in a year should go.
It is interesting to note that in October 1974 Thatcher was still a 50-1 no hoper with the bookmakers to be leader and only Robert McKenzie of the BBC seemed to think she was a runner. During the BBC’s October 1974 results programme he said “Returned (to Parliament) a few minutes ago Mrs Thatcher could be one of the contenders”. William Whitelaw – a Heath loyalist – was considered the favourite.
But Heath wouldn’t resign. He would have to be forced out. This meant that as Whitelaw was still loyal someone would need to be found to challenge him. It could have been controversial maverick Enoch Powell – the Nigel Farage of his day – but back in February he had resigned his seat said he was voting LABOUR and told the electorate to do likewise. That of course meant he could hardly be the Conservative Party leader. So who would challenge Heath?
And this is where Thatcher got lucky. She had no intention of running for leader. As the British General Election of 1979 (page 62) put it “She was a supporter of the claims of Edward du Cann and Sir Keith Joseph. It was only after these two declined to be considered that she decided to oppose Mr Heath”. And of course no one gave her a chance. An example of the sexism she faced was from the Daily Mirror (February 3 1975) which said “with Margaret Thatcher it is sometimes a bit hard to tell whether she wants to be Prime Minister or housewife of the year”. In fact her campaign manager Aiery Neave even used sexism to her advantage. As she was the only serious candidate** to oppose Heath Neave was able to say to Conservative MPs “the only way to get a serious candidate like Whitelaw was to vote for “the filly” on the first ballot” (Dominic Sandbrook , “Seasons in the Sun: The Battle for Britain 1974-79”, page 246). Neave’s plan was not for Thatcher to win but to stop Heath getting a majority on the first ballot. One Conservative MP said “there were never 139 votes (the figure needed for a majority) for Margaret”
But on February 4 1975 Thatcher caused a sensation. She beat Heath by 130-119. Heath, humiliated, promptly resigned. But as she hadn’t got 139 votes other candidates could now enter the race. And they did. FOUR men announced their candidacy. Not just Whitelaw but Sir Geoffrey Howe, James Prior and John Peyton. The press weren’t fooled. It looked like a bunch of sexists were desperately trying to stop her winning. The Glasgow Herald headline on February 6th 1975 summed it up. “Male stampede to stop Mrs Thatcher”. The Daily Telegraph – on the same day – said “A whole herd of faint hearts had left it to a courageous and able woman to topple a formidable leader and then ganged up to deny her her just reward”. But it turned out to be another stroke of luck. Conservative MPs saw through the plan, momentum swung towards her and on February 11 1975 she won easily trouncing Whitelaw by 146-79 (no one else got more than 19). Britain against all the odds had a female leader of a major party. The governing Labour Party were happy though. Ministers said in private “That’s it We’re home and dry… no need to worry about the next election. It’s a forgone conclusion”(Sandbrook page 252). As it turned out they were wrong and Thatcher went on to win three elections in a row. But the fact was although she was brave to oppose Heath she was lucky to win. MPs were voting not for her but to get Heath out. And just look at this list of “Ifs” that would have changed history:
If Heath hadn’t called the February 1974 election.
If he had won it.
If Powell hadn’t told everyone to vote Labour.
If Heath had resigned after October allowing loyalists like Whitelaw to stand.
Or ifJoseph or du Cann had stood.
If any of those events had happened Thatcher would never had stood for the leadership never mind won it.
But did Thatcher’s win mean the UK is not sexist now? Hardly. First of all as Prime Minister Thatcher was no friend of women. During her 15 years as leader the number of Conservative female MPs only rose from 7 to 17 and for most of her time as PM she was the only woman in her Cabinet. That is why despite smashing the glass ceiling for women most feminists hate her as she did nothing to help other women. And since she resigned as PM in 1990 no other woman been elected leader of one of the UK’s three main parties***. In fact only three women since Thatcher have even stood for leadership of their parties – Diane Abbott, Jackie Ballard and Margaret Beckett. And only 22.8 per cent of MPs are women even today.
However there is hope. It is highly likely that whichever one of David Cameron or Ed Miliband loses this year’s election will also lose his job. And both the Conservatives with Home Secretary Theresa May and Labour with her shadow Yvette Cooper have genuine female contenders for leadership. In fact May has been mentioned as a future leader far more than Thatcher ever was. I reckon the odds are 50-50 that 2015 will be the year the UK gains its first female leader of one of our big parties since Thatcher back in 1975.
Yes Thatcher’s achievement in becoming Conservative leader and then Prime Minister was a great one. But anybody who thinks because of that the UK is not a sexist country needs to stop burying their heads in the sand like ostriches. Sexism is a problem in the UK. And anyone who says it is not are lying.
* And in 1983 the percentage of Conservative MPs who were female (13 out of 397 or 3.3 per cent) was lower than Labour’s (10 out of 209 or 4.8 per cent)
** There was one other candidate in the first ballot – Hugh Fraser the MP for Stafford and Stone. He was such a nonentity my politics teacher had never heard of him and he was not a serious candidate. He got 16 votes.
*** The Labour Party have had two female Deputy Leaders. Margaret Beckett and the current holder of the job Harriet Harman. Both were acting Leaders when the Party was between leaders – Beckett in 1994 and Harman in 2010.