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Comment: The death of Margaret Thatcher, and the legacy of Thatcherism

By Timothy Lynch, University of Melbourne

On the eve of her resignation as British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher pondered her options.

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In a little over 36 hours time it seemed likely the parliamentary Conservative party would again refuse the wholehearted support she required to remain in office.

In those crucial hours she sought the advice of numerous colleagues. One such meeting was particularly telling. It took place with Thatcher’s “gallant friend” Alan Clark. “Fight right to the end,” he urged her. “You lose…but what a way to go! Unbeaten in three [general] elections, never rejected by the people. Brought down by nonentities!” “Your place in history,” Clark assured her, “is towering”. The death of Margaret Thatcher allows us to begin assessing what that “place” might be.

It has become academically unfashionable to pursue a “great man thesis” of history. Such endeavours have been replaced by the colder logic of social-scientific enquiry with its emphasis on demographics, econometrics and historical determinism.

The career of Margaret Thatcher offers a refutation of such an approach. In that career, the scholar is presented with a striking account of the force of character in human affairs. Few leaders of her generation were credited with an ideology – “Thatcherism”. Mikhail Gorbachev may claim copyright of glasnost or perestroika, but neither concept embraces something so fundamentally personal as Thatcherism. “Gillardism”? Unlikely.

Even the powerful impact of Ronald Reagan failed to become embodied in a concept linked inextricably with him. “Reaganomics”, unlike Thatcherism, suggests a narrowly economic approach rather than an all-embracing ideology. Defining Thatcherism thus means understanding Margaret Thatcher.

The assessment of a personality is a complex task. Few people display a linear development of thought and approach. But this complexity need not preclude the drawing of patterns. In the case of Margaret Thatcher we are able to discern a consistency of statesmanship in her political actions. From these actions – and Thatcher’s explanation of them – can be constructed the essential principles of Thatcherism.

Thatcherism is an expression of moral force in politics. This is its creator’s most fundamental contribution to modern politics. At its core is the notion of right and wrong. Thatcherism does not embody a scale of options which the statesman may pick and chose. Rather, it urges resolve and fortitude. This is exampled in two distinct manifestations of Thatcherism: economic policy and diplomacy.

The Thatcher Revolution was economic in method: “the object,” said Margaret Thatcher, “was to change the soul”. Again, the personal orientation of Thatcher herself is important here. Her memoirs are a constant call for the sound economics of the corner store, and the “sober virtues cultivated and esteemed in that environment”.

Her childhood was an economic education of the profoundest kind; it taught the young Margaret that the pursuit of prosperity was a disciplined and, above all, a moral endeavour. Wealth can easily be the product of corruption, so wealth at any and all cost has no place in the Thatcherite model of the good society. Prosperity, under Thatcherism, is an expression of the moral worth and ethical strength of a nation. Unbridled capitalism is thus the antithesis of the moral discipline of Thatcherism.

Rather than alienating each man from his neighbour (as Marx predicted), capitalism for Thatcher was “a lively, human social and sociable reality”. It went hand-in-hand with religiosity (Methodism in Thatcher’s case) and communal obligation. “There is no such thing as society,” she said in 1987. This brief sentence is often quoted by Thatcher’s opponents as if it were an expression of an essential heartlessness in her approach to politics and social policy. However, to quote these words out of context is to distort their true meaning. What should be added is her following rider:

There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then to look after our neighbour.

This is a call for individual responsibility. It is little wonder that Americans overwhelmingly admire her since she seemed to express and embody the twin principles of democracy and freedom which lie at the heart of the US constitution.

Thatcher’s conception of liberty is very much in the tradition of 19th century liberalism, which is to say that the state exists primarily to create the conditions in which the individual may exercise his or her individual rights. The state is never a substitute for personal, moral action. The antithesis of Thatcherism to socialism may thus be said to spring from an impulse which is universal: the right to pursue one’s own legitimate (and by implication, moral) interests without interference from officialdom and bureaucracy.

Can then a nation build a society upon these fundamental tenets? Is Thatcherism capable of application outside the West? Indeed, does its destiny begin and end in the Anglo-American world, Britain its home, the United States its great admirer?

Margaret Thatcher did not believe so. Her memoirs expound what she sees as the enduring global legacy of Thatcherism. The tabulation of measures is never so precise as to form a universal political program (Thatcher had a profound detestation for dogmas), for her capitalism was “familiar and creative” rather than harsh and rigid, but all reactions against an over-collectivised economy have certain objectives in common: “keeping down inflation and taxation, curbing public spending, cutting back regulations, promoting competition and avoiding protectionism”.

Of course, such broad prescriptions are not embodied in Thatcherism exclusively. Margaret Thatcher’s great economist-heroes – men such as Adam Smith, Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman – all argued for the measures Thatcher pursued as prime minister.

An important caveat is necessary here. It is one which introduces the second important strand – alongside economic policy – of Thatcherism, that of diplomacy. Thatcherism, though it values individual endeavour and frowns upon state-intervention, does not seek the withering of nationhood.

The passing of Margaret Thatcher has sparked widespread debate about her legacy in Britain and abroad. EPA/Andy Rain

For Margaret Thatcher any international organisation – the European Union, the United Nations, NATO – was the sum-total of the separate nations that compose it. While legal traditions between nations vary, morality is constant. The rule of law in the international arena thus becomes a fundamental expression of morality upon which notions of legality are founded.

While there exist both good and bad laws, morality is a constant; conduct is either right or wrong. Thatcher’s appreciation of this dichotomy led to her understanding of the world in essentially moral terms. “Sovereignty”, she wrote, “has strong legal foundations” which means, given the synonymous relationship of law and morality, that the “illegal” denial of sovereignty, for example, constitutes an “immoral” act. Such reasoning made the British reclamation of the Falkland Islands from Argentina in 1982 a moral duty.

The implication of this “world-view” might be to suggest a rigidity in Margaret Thatcher’s diplomacy. Certainly, her stand against the Soviet Union was strong and principled but never to the point of blindness. Famously, she described Mikhail Gorbachev as a man with whom she “could do business”.

This suggests a pragmatic element within Thatcherism. It would be strange indeed for an ideology that calls for a fresh and vital approach to stale and conventional thinking to refuse change when it emerges. Thatcherism is a cautiously optimistic ideology. It warns of dangers but does not pass-up opportunities. Again, the Gorbachev phenomenon is illustrative in this regard. Thatcher urged her western allies to treat the Soviet leader with “realism and strength…we shall reach our judgments not on words, not on intentions, not on promises, but on actions and results”.

Likewise, pragmatic assessments need not preclude moral conclusions. When Margaret Thatcher consented to the American air-strike against Libya in 1986 – an action finally brought to a conclusion by Barack Obama in 2011 – she did so after considerable calculation as to how the West’s moral case against Gaddafi would be furthered.

Can Thatcherism exist without the unique moral leadership Thatcher offered Great Britain? This is perhaps the greatest test of her legacy. Thatcherism is not about quick profits; it decries the arrogance of wealth; it facilitates prosperity but bids that it be responsibly channelled by the individual lest it be expropriated by the state.

Margaret Thatcher herself would never assert that Thatcherism, however defined, holds the key to human happiness. Only the failed dogmas of the left dared to claim so much. But for a people animated by the morality of the market – its need for discipline and self-sacrifice – Thatcherism offers a sure guide. Her experiment on a little island may yet still engulf the world.

Timothy Lynch does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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Explainer: what is BRCA1?

By Geoff Lindeman, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

Actress Angelina Jolie has today written an op-ed in the New York Times explaining that she’s has opted to have a double mastectomy because she carries the hereditary BRCA1 gene, which she says increases her risk of breast cancer by 87%.

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Her mother died from breast cancer after a ten-year struggle at the age of 56.

We asked an expert in breast cancer and genetics to explain more about the breast cancer genetic mutation and what it means for women.


What are the BRCA1 (and BRCA2) gene mutations?

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that have been linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Women who inherit one of these faulty genes are at an increased risk of breast or ovarian cancer. Men who inherit a faulty gene may be at increased risk of prostate cancer. Breast cancer in men carrying BRCA2 has also been described in the medical literature.

These genes are important in helping repair breaks in the DNA in our cells, so a faulty gene can mean that DNA repair is less than optimal. In some people this can lead to the development of cancer.

Should I be getting tested for them?

Not routinely. In general terms, genetic testing should be carried out following counselling in a familial cancer centre after a proper assessment of risk.

Testing is offered to people who have developed breast or ovarian cancer where there are features that might suggest a mutation is present.

These can include an early age of onset of cancer, or cancer in both breasts, multiple cancers in the family, male breast cancer, ovarian cancer, certain ancestry (such eastern European Jewish ancestry), or where there is a known mutation in the family.

Sometimes the appearance of a tumour, reported by the pathologist can help make a decision regarding whether testing is necessary.

How are they tested for?

This is generally done through a blood sample.

What is the cost of the test/s and why?

At present testing for these genes in Australia is expensive – about A$2,000 to A$2,500 – but costs are coming down.

Once a mutation has been identified in a family member, other members can be tested and this is much cheaper.

In Australia, the test is offered for free in familial cancer centres where a person meets suitable criteria for testing.

How many women (people?) are affected?

About 5% of all breast cancers are hereditary, and can involve the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. That is why it is important to look for special features that suggest risk.

In our community the risk of carrying a gene is relatively rare at about 1:800 for each of the mutations.

Say I have the gene/s, what is the likelihood that I will develop (a) breast cancer and (b) ovarian cancer?

Having the gene does not mean that a woman will definitely develop either of the cancers.

The risk is believed to be on average somewhere between 40% and 65% for breast and 15% to 40% for ovary, depending on the gene.

In her op-ed, Angelina Jolie said her risk of developing breast cancer was 87% and that she had a 50% risk of developing ovarian cancer. This is because the risk for BRCA1 carriers can be higher than for BRCA2 carriers.

Jolie has reported the upper end of risk for breast cancer that was first described when the gene was discovered. Looking at the general population, the risk is probably less, but for some families with very striking family histories, it could be this high.

What are the treatment options?

If a cancer develops, it is often treated in a very similar fashion to other breast or ovarian cancers.

For breast cancer, sometimes women might consider more extensive surgery (such as mastectomies). There are new drugs called PARP inhibitors that are being developed that are being tested for BRCA-associated cancers.

What are the prevention options?

There are a number of options. For breast cancer, this includes close monitoring which includes MRI scans and mammograms starting at a suitable age.

Breast cancer prevention drugs such as Tamoxifen are likely to be helpful and may even halve the risk of getting breast cancer.

Some women may consider mastectomy with breast reconstruction. The uptake of this option differs; on average about 20% of women carrying the genes take this option in Australia but the precise numbers are not known.

Importantly, due to the potential risk of ovarian cancer some women will be advised to have their fallopian tubes and ovaries removed at a suitable age (and after they have had children).

If this is carried out at age 40, it can halve breast cancer risk. It is known to be safe to give women hormone replacement therapy in most cases, so that they don’t experience menopausal symptoms.

What are the side-effects of mastectomies, if any?

These are generally minimal. In the short term, there can be surgical risks of infection and bleeding and, of course, cosmetic results (breast reconstruction) may differ.

What are the chances of survival for preventative measures vs treatment options?

The chances of survival for preventative measures are excellent and the risk of breast cancer is very substantially reduced. Since screening can detect cancer early, this helps improve outcomes.

Treatment for breast cancer has substantially improved over the last two decades, including for BRCA1 and BRCA2-associated cancers, so with proper treatment of early cancers, the outlook can be very good.

Geoff Lindeman receives funding from NHMRC and the Victorian State Government and the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

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Referendum to be held on local government

Australians will be asked whether they agree to the financial recognition of local government in the Constitution.

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But, although the proposal has bipartisan support at a federal level, the opposition is predicting it will fail, just like two previous attempts.

The support of a majority of voters in at least four states is necessary for any federal referendum to succeed.

In the past, two states – Victoria and Western Australia – have urged voters not to support the local government proposal at referendums.

Their concerns centre around the fact that the change would allow the Commonwealth to directly fund projects handled by local councils.

This would mean the states would have no control over allocation of the money.

Efforts to secure the states’ support for a referendum intensified after the High Court ruled last June that the national school chaplaincy program was constitutionally invalid because it exceeded the Commonwealth’s funding powers.

That ruling threw into doubt Commonwealth funding of local government projects such as the Roads to Recovery program, as well as services such as childcare, sporting fields, swimming pools and libraries.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the proposed consitutional change is all about catching up with today’s reality, and would not affect the relationship between local and state governments.

“The referendum, the proposal for change would not change the ability of state government’s to legislate for local government including legislating amalgamations,” This is about recognising local government’s role. Decisions are made by federal governments and by state governments and local governments themselves which goes to their available resources,” she says.

Local governments are backing the proposal, saying it would be a simple change to enshrine in law what already happens.

Australian Local Government Association president Felicity-Ann Lewis says a yes vote would ensure communities keep getting vital money from the federal government.

“That we can have the surety and assurance of funding payments coming from the federal government into local communities, Ms Lewis says.

“There are a vast range of programs which regularly and have done for many years received payments to provide vital infrastructure and programs and services within our community. That’s what this referendum is all about.”

Federal Local Government Minister Anthony Albanese has urged people to vote ‘yes’, saying constitutional recognition would simply reflect modern Australia.

He says it’s a modest change but an important one.

“It recognises the reality of modern Australia. The reality in which local government has long ago moved beyond just being rates, roads and rubbish,” Mr Albanese says.

“Local government that’s engaged in child care, that’s involved in a range of service provisions, and we want to recognise that.”

Nationals local government spokeswoman Barnaby Joyce says it is unclear how the government would win the states’ support for the changes.

He’s told the ABC the Coalition supports the proposal, but he’s predicting it will fail.

“Yes we will be urging a yes vote. There is the answer, we will be urging a yes vote. But of course what’s going to happen it’s going to fall flat on its face,” Mr Joyce says.

“And once these things are off the agenda, once the referendum is lost. You know we are up the proverbial ditch.”

Australians have approved just eight out of 44 federal referendum proposals since federation.

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Tributes pour in for Chrissy Amphlett

She was one of Australia’s greatest female rock voices, who shocked audiences across the globe with her risque image and lyrics.

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Former Divinyls singer Chrissie Amphlett has died aged 53 after a long battle with breast cancer.

Amphlett died at home in New York surrounded by friends and family, including her husband Charley Drayton.

The Geelong-born musician shot to fame in the early ’80s with The Divinyls, the band she founded with Mark McEntee and Jeremy Paul.

Her ‘schoolgirl in fishnet stockings’ hard rock image made her stand out from the pack, and the Divinyls soon had their first hit with the electrifying Boys In Town, featured in the movie Monkey Grip.

The band released six albums between 1982 and 1996, peaking in 1991 with the success of the single I Touch Myself, which reached No.1 in Australia, No.10 in the UK and No.4 in the US.

Also a talented stage actor, Amphlett played Judy Garland in the original production of The Boy from Oz, which won her a Helpmann Award nomination for best female actor.

The Divinyls reunited briefly in 2006 when they were inducted into the ARIA Hall Of Fame.

The following year Amphlett shocked fans by revealing she had multiple sclerosis. In 2010 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Amphlett remained positive throughout her illnesses and vowed to return to the stage in a post left on Facebook in March last year.

“My illnesses have really exhausted this little body of mine that I have thrown from one end of the stage to another and performed thousands of shows that sadly some of you missed,” she wrote.

“With that said I am getting stronger but there is still some fine tuning and work to be done on myself.”

Her cousin Patricia ‘Little Pattie’ Thompson and family have released a statement, describing Amphlett as a true pioneer for women in music.

“Chrissy’s light burns so very brightly,” Thompson said in a statement. “Hers was a life of passion and creativity; she always lived it to the fullest.

“With her force of character and vocal strength she paved the way for strong, sexy, outspoken women. “Chrissy expressed hope that her worldwide hit I Touch Myself would remind women to perform annual breast examinations.

“Chrissy was a true pioneer and a treasure to all whose lives her music and spirit touched.”

Tributes have been pouring in from fellow musicians and members of the Australian music industry. Jimmy Barnes tweeted: “RIP my dear friend Chrissie love you and will miss you.”

Russell Crowe, who appeared on stage with Amphlett in the first Australian production of Willy Russell’s musical Blood Brothers in 1988, tweeted: “Dear Chrissie, The last time I saw you was in the Botanic Gardens, loving life and reciting verse. That’s how I’ll remember you, your boy, R.”

Arts Minister Tony Burke said: “Terribly sad news about Chrissy Amphlett dying after a long battle with cancer.

One of the all-time greats of Australian live music.” Music critic and producer Molly Meldrum told Seven News she was a ground-breaking artist in the history of Australian rock.

“She was honoured with the Hall of Fame by ARIA, and if anyone really deserved such an award it was her because she was not only a pioneer of what she fought for with breast cancer … but as the lead singer of the Divinyls (she was) one of the first female acts to really, really head a band in this country.”

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Comment: The bra boys of South Korea

With North Korea propagandists hearing a ‘sinister swish of skirts’ from South Korea’s new female president Park Geun-hye, they overlook even more gender bending south of the Demilitarised Zone, writes Roald Maliangkay.

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The female body has long been used in advertising, often for no other reason than to attract the male gaze, and then redirect it to a product or service. The suggestion is: if men buy the product, they are buying into a style that will attract a girl like the one shown.

In South Korea, however, the roles have been reversed. Perhaps inspired by the notion that most shoppers are female, the vast majority of posters and billboards now offer mostly male celebrities to swoon over.

As with female models, the men are often just there for their looks, attracting the female gaze and redirecting it to a product or service. They are even used to sell women’s bras. The images tell women that if they buy the product, they buy into a style that the model endorses, making them attractive to him. Heck, in the case of the bras, it might even be him who one day helps them take it off.

You don’t hear Korean men complain about the growing obsession with male looks, nor with their commodification; at least not yet. It’s partly because the change has been both radical and recent.

Women were the primary poster models in the early 1990s, when male celebrities still represented the promise of physical and mental stamina. The majority had a brawny get-up-and-go look, wore nondescript dark-coloured comfort wear, and only showed their emotions to the criminals they beat up on screen.

The heavy hit South Korea took in the 1997 Asian financial crisis put a serious dent in the image of the macho male. With women too often the ones laid off first, the idea that power made a man more attractive became ridiculed.

A more effeminate, savvy male emerged; strong in character, but understanding and modest. It also translated into an interest in fashion and household activities traditionally considered the realm of women.

The ideal man now dominating South Korean advertising and TV screens is stylish and fashionable, moves elegantly, and expresses himself comfortably and articulately. Icons of the new ideal, commonly referred to as kkonminam (kkot = flower; minam = handsome man), use liquid foundation or lip-gloss, have carefully groomed, dyed hairstyles and, unlike their predecessors, wear fashionable, tailored clothing combinations, including brightly colored accessories.

The departure from the earlier male ideal is marked and is found across industries and generations. Koreans have always commented on people’s looks, but now men in their 50s and older are becoming more aware of their appearance, and a growing number of them are doing what is in their power to improve it.

To most Westerners, South Korea’s new-look male models appear effeminate. But Koreans have become accustomed to this new ideal of male beauty, and many men are emulating it. Studies show that Korea now boasts the highest per capita use of male cosmetics, and many men are seeking cosmetic surgery to boost their chances of success in dating and employment.

But it is certainly not for everyone. The majority of men appearing on posters and billboards are celebrities. Although the wide use of cosmetic surgery is making men look increasingly similar, they are often associated not merely with a product, but also with a popular drama, and in some cases, a steamy bed or bathroom scene. That is not something the average worker would ever seek to emulate, nor be able to, as the nation’s corporate dress code remains conservative.

Many studies of the use of female models in advertising discuss the domination and commodification of women through their depiction in patriarchal societies.

What makes South Korea so unique is not only the predominance of male models on posters and billboards, but also the fact that the country remains one of Asia’s most male-controlled societies. Korean society still hardwires men to assume and expect a certain authority as the family’s primary provider. What is more, women continue to be under pressure to conform to a high standard of beauty.

Dr Roald Maliangkay teaches and researches South Korean popular culture and society at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific.

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