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Opinions of Monday, 15 April 2013

Columnist: Otchere-Darko, Gabby Asare

What Ghanaian politicians can learn from Thatcher


On Saturday, I was driving through the University of Legon campus, in a four-wheel drive, when one of a small group of young men (about 8 in all) at a junction, shouted “Ghana money!” at me. I patiently got to a safer part of the road, turned the vehicle around and drove back to the students to have a small not-so-friendly chat.

I told them how disappointed I was in their exhibition of envy as they prepare themselves for a competitive adult world. I told them that I was also once a student and worked hard to get to where I am today and continue to work hard to get better. I would hate for them to go through all that to be envied for trying to be successful through hard work. I advised them, in not so many words, not to equate success to corruption when they have no basis and to rather celebrate success, be inspired by it and aspire to it.

On Wednesday, thousands of people will gather at St Paul’s Cathedral in London for the funeral of Baroness Thatcher – who, before Tony Blair, was Britain’s longest serving democratically elected leader. But, her enemies are also celebrating her death. The Witch Is Dead, the controversial song from the Wizard of Oz film taken up as the anthem of the anti-Thatcher movement in the wake of her death, reached number one in the UK's leading download chart at the weekend. Labour MP George Galloway, who defends Saddam Hussein to this day, reportedly said, “May she burn in the hellfires.” Craig Parr, a 27 year- old teacher at a famous school for children of the elite left, was pictured waving a "Rejoice: Thatcher is Dead" banner in Brixton, south London, last week, during a street party. A billboard read “Margaret Thatcher’s dead LOL [Laugh Out Loud]”.


Meanwhile, on Friday, hundreds of Ghanaians in the UK, dressed in red and black (mourning colours), gathered in the rain at Belgrave Square, in front of the Ghana High Commission, not far from the Belgravia home of Margaret Thatcher, to protest against the John Mahama government and to encourage the Supreme Court to deliver justice in the election petition trial in Ghana. My favourite placard from the lot must be the one held by a woman in her forties, which read, ‘GHANA IS NOW AN AKOMFEM REPUBLIC’.

A day after the protest by the Ghanaians, the biggest street party so far against Baroness Thatcher saw 3,000 people gathered in the rain in Trafalgar Square on Saturday night to "celebrate" her death, with some protesting against what they saw as an attempt by the mainstream media to “detoxify” the Iron Lady. Other spontaneous street parties were held earlier in Bristol (where they celebrated under the banner, “May she never RIP”), Leeds (where a celebration cake was shared), Liverpool (people danced at her “Death Party”) and Glasgow, where revellers drank champagne, wore party hats and sang, “Ding, dong, the witch is dead”.

One group on Facebook called ‘The Witch is Dead’ has more than 5,000 members and calls for “demonstrations of disapproval” across the country. Even as the Ghana Police hides behind a controversial court order, citing Supreme Court sittings of the presidential election petition to stop Ghanaians from demonstrating against economic hardships in Accra, the Metropolitan Police in London have given the all clear to those planning to hold demonstrations at Thatcher’s funeral. The high security funeral will attract some 2,500 local and international dignitaries from across the world, including the Queen of England and all surviving former US Presidents. Interestingly, the only African I saw on the list was F W de Klerk.

There is great irony in the fact that the death of the Iron Lady is being celebrated by a loud minority on the left side of politics, who claim to represent the cause of the masses (or the poor) even though Prime Minister Thatcher did more than any British leader of the 20th century to accelerate upward social mobility. She fought and won battles against class warfare. Hers was for a society where people will be less defined by the social class they were born into than how well they are able to develop and use the opportunities and talents they have to become whatever they want to be.


It is what the New Patriotic Party here in Ghana defined in the last election as building a society of opportunities and aspirations for every Ghanaian. To me, the NPP should make Margaret Thatcher a serious case study, both the good and the ugly, and see how much they can take from her in their quest to win more and more of the Ghanaian masses to their side through words and deeds. Writing in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph, American columnist, Janet Daley summed it up beautifully when she said, the radical idea of Thatcherism’s social philosophy was that everyone had a right to progress. “What Thatcherism did was offer modern property-owning capitalism – with all the personal liberation that it implies – to the mass of the population.”

The central radical idea of Thatcherism’s social philosophy would never be beaten back, she wrote. And what is that social philosophy? That everyone should have a right to progress as far from her beginnings as her talent and ambition can take her, and no one – not least the state or its agencies – should despise her for the attempt. In fact, it is one of the chief functions of government to do everything in its power to clear the obstacles to that progress, including reducing the cost of living and increasing the freedom to make private choices. Nana Akufo-Addo’s tribute to Baroness Thatcher gives a clear insight on this. He said, “She eagerly pursued the aims of a property-owning democracy, helping more ordinary Britons to own their own homes and have shares in their nation’s wealth, thereby expanding significantly the UK middle-class within a generation. “ With the Tories in the UK, like the NPP in Ghana, seen as the party for the well to do, the electoral relevance of her policies saw her win three consecutive elections for the Conservative Party, the first leader to have done that in Britain under universal suffrage. The more people are able to climb up the social ladder the more people appreciate the policies that made that happen. Ironically, the Tories became a victim of the Thatcher success story because they forced Labour (after the unelectable Michael Foot) to change to become ‘New Labour’, with Tony Blair shifting the socialist party to the centre to make it electable again. It was good for Britain on the whole, because politics had been pushed from the empty populist, anti-aspiration, celebrate-poverty, class-tribal-allignment culture of competitive politics to one of ‘what-is-in-there-for-me-my-family-and-country.’


I was in England for most of the Thatcher years and personally benefited from her policy of share-holding democracy, particularly. I remember vividly, in 1986, the postman delivering envelopes to our Oxford home, containing application forms for shares in British Gas, one of the major state-owned corporations put up for privatization in the eighties. I first ignored it, thinking it had nothing to do with a 19-year-old black teenager like me, but went to the flat of a close friend, a college student, Emmanuel Kweku Addison, (son of the famous Takoradi-based industrialist), who was busily filling his form. Inspired by his enterprise, I also applied for shares in what was British Gas at the time, inspiring other friends to be among the nine million who bought shares at the time.

I remember many Ghanaians in the late eighties and early nineties who were among the two million people in Britain who took up the challenge and opportunity that Thatcher’s policy of a property-owning democracy offered, by buying their Council Flat, with a government-subsidized mortgage loan. Politically, Margaret Thatcher was deliberately pulling away from the Labour Party that large and growing group of aspirational working class Britons and she did so by pursuing what she believed to be right. Some lost out, of course, but it opened them up forever to a new vista of opportunities.

I see the NPP proposal of free secondary education in a similar light. President Kufuor in eight years, more than doubled the number of students gaining access to university education; doubled enrolment at the basic level and; increased private sector access to credit because at the heart of his party’s philosophy of a property-owning democracy is making it possible for the greatest number of Ghanaians to make meaningful contributions to wealth creation and own a part of the nation’s wealth, individually.


The NDC may call themselves social democrats, but, in fact, they are merely go-with-the-wind populists, playing on the bi-colour keyboards of tribalism and class politics. Theirs is the politics of form and not substance.

The centrist, market-driven trajectory of our supply-led politics is set. Thus, real politics has shifted to the natural ground of the Danquah-Dombo-Busia tradition. What is required, perhaps, is a more positively populist way of making the masses know that the NPP way is for them, with them and by them, as more opportunities are opened up to them.

The fundamental difference between the NPP and the other parties, (who describe themselves as leftist), is that the NPP believes in equal opportunities for wealth creation and the others believe, effectively, in equal distribution of poverty. To the NPP, the issue is not simply about getting everybody to have a share of the cake – because the cake is too small to reach every table. The issue is about how do we grow more corn, so we can mill more flour and bake more cakes and other pastries with a greater number of labour for the greatest number of consumers. Capitalism, after all, must be about the capacity to create and capitalize on opportunities.


In his tribute, Akufo-Addo highlighted what I believe African leaders must take from the Thatcher model: “She showed that a leader could take bold and far-reaching decisions and still succeed in competitive politics.” He goes on to explain his admiration for Baroness Thatcher: because she was a patriotic leader of immense conviction, “who did things not because they were necessarily popular, but because she believed they would be good for her country in the long run.” '

Indeed, the similarities mustn’t be lost on the NPP. Tories in the eighties were seen as “cruel and competent”. Many Ghanaians perceived the NPP under President J A Kufuor as “corrupt and competent”. But, even that ‘corrupt’ tag was a misnomer which was soon to be overtaken by the unprecedented heights to which the NDC under both John Mills and John Mahama took corruption, with judgment debts, inflated cost of business and the reckless manner by which hundreds of millions of dollars of unaccountable public funds were overspent in election year, 2012 alone. What Ghana’s politicians must learn from Margaret Thatcher is that she did not hide under the umbrella of consensual politics. She knew her country was in a hole and it needed conviction and courage to dig the people out of it; not soothing words. To her the mark of a politician is not about being loved, it is about being respected, being trusted to deliver. This usually means operating with values, evaluated principles, and solid convictions to pursue aims which are in the medium to long-term interest of your party and country, regardless of the enemies you may cultivate or encounter along the tortuous but must-travel route to success. It takes indecisive leaders to stand firm on the neutral ground of consensus when there is a crisis to resolve; crisis which calls for bold and visionary decisions to bring tackle. In politics, those who seek to please all, end up hurting more in the long run. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, regular columnist Matthew d’Ancona said the whole point of Thatcher and Thatcherism was their modernity. “She understood that politics was not about the protection of an inherited consensus but the precise needs of the time.” Her intention was for the entire country to share in the prosperity her policies were designed to create and she was ready to swing her handbag at those who stood in the way of progress.

As I urge our politicians to learn from Thatcher’s conviction politics, AFAG should tell the Accra Police to also learn a trick or two from the London Met Police, where officers plan to form a “ring of steel” along the ceremonial route from Westminster to St Paul’s Cathedral to prevent disorder, allowing protestors to have their shout in peace alongside the funeral.

As one facebooker, Andrew Swfc Parsisson, put it yesterday, “Well we shall be having the ultimate irony on Wednesday. The funeral of an evil bitch who believed in privatistion of everything and yet gets a state funded Funeral!” Indeed, the Iron Lady was after all the Irony Lady.

The writer is the head of the Danquah Institute, a centre-right policy think tank in Accra, Ghana.

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