I'm in London on Wednesday. Not for Thatcher's funeral, but for reasons more mundane. That said I cannot let the jamboree pass without saying something, especially as I first became interested in politics under her reign. But not as a critic or an activist that stood with the labour movement. Quite the opposite, actually.
When I was 10, my junior school ran a parallel contest to the 1987 general election. Obviously, before then I was aware of such a thing as politics - of the blonde lady in Downing Street, of something called the 'Labour Party'. I have hazy memories of the Falklands War, the Miners' Strike and Spitting Image (I can remember this send up of McDonald's then advertising jingle). But I didn't really understand what it was all about until I asked my Nana about who I should vote for.
Nana was of the sort that many on the left find incomprehensible. A life-long working class Tory.
She admired Thatcher and fully subscribed to the view that her policies would ultimately benefit everyone, despite the short term pain. Labour on the other hand wanted to get in everyone's way, and had "made a mess" last time they were in government. Thatcher was a woman of action who had sorted out the unions and empowered council tenants by giving them the right to buy their own homes. In short, my Nana was an archetypal working class Tory supporter. They aspired to better things for themselves and their families and it was Thatcher who was clearing the way for them. The state, the unions, Labour: they were the real conservatives holding Britain and British people back. And at election time, she was one of the few in our former pit village who proudly displayed Tory literature in her bungalow's windows.
The conservatism she weaned me on was firmly in the bootstraps mould. I've never been one to doff the cap, and neither was Nana. She believed in taking the world as it was, rolling up your sleeves, and making your own way. It was your oyster if you worked hard enough. But also her conservatism had little time for bigotry. As far as she was concerned what you did was always more important than your background. She firmly believed education was the passport to a better life that was denied her, my granddad, mum and uncle and was properly chuffed when I became the first family member to go to college AND university.
Until shortly after the 1992 general election, I was a true blue believer. Thatcher bestrode the political stage as a colossus, and she exemplified everything my young mind valued: hard work, conviction, patriotism. To my mind, poor old John Major paled (or rather greyed) in comparison.
My politics are a million miles away from that now, but you can never completely eradicate your political DNA. Tiny fragments of it still kick around my head. The remnants of bootstraps conservatism helps explain why I'm very sceptical towards those who more or less see socialism as a service performed by them to liberate the lower orders. I am a big fan of mutualism, less so of 'nationalise this' panaceas. I don't believe in chopping up welfare, but it shouldn't work to disempower people who are forced to subsist on it. And I've always favoured the organising model for trade unions, though, of course, services have their place. In other words, my socialism is about approaching people as people in all their complexity - not drones who'll never know what's good for them, and therefore should be written off if they do not behave the "correct" way.
Sure, I came to hate Thatcher for the damage she wreaked on the people my younger self thought she stood up for. And I equally detest this foul, elitist, incompetent abomination of a government bent on deepening her legacy. She is expired, but her politics are not. Yet I cannot deny my history. Thatcher was the nearest thing I ever had to a political idol and even though I was incredibly young, an indelible mark remains imprinted on my basic politics. So no, I did not and will not mourn her passing. But I can't say I feel pleased that she's dead either.