Monday, 8 April 2013

Thatcher

Let's be blunt. I hated Thatcher. I hate her politics. I hate her legacy. So no, I'm not about to mourn her passing or say nice diplomatic things. You knew where you stood with the Iron Lady, so it's only proper you know where you stand with me. Though, let's be truthful too, the Thatcher I grew up under, the Thatcher who left behind a record of no discernible merit whatsoever, died many years ago. Thatcher had long sinced slipped into senility, becoming a frail old woman with little of the person she once was. But as Thatcher declined, as the fog of confusion descended over her faculties she would have felt comforted that hers was a job well done. Regrettably, she did not live to see her "achievements" come crashing down, and she died at the moment the politics that indelibly bears her name is as strong as it ever was. Almost 30 years after her 1983 election triumph, the Coalition government's reheated Thatcherism is battering the poor as it forcibly redistributes resource from those at the bottom to them at the top. Not everything changes. The past isn't always a foreign country.

Thatcher exemplified the class she came from - the nation of shopkeepers - and came to embody the class she married into; big business. By chance, shrewdness, connections, so-called great men and great women can climb the greasy pole. But to become feted and deified as Thatcher is, something else is needed. One needs to be the condensation and repository of the interests, the passions, and aspirations of social movements, class fractions and entire strata that work, flow, and shape societies. Thatcher came to concentrate those interests in her person not by superhuman ability, but through a fortuitous set of circumstances. She was lucky to be at the right place, at the right time when she successfully challenged Edward Heath for the Tory leadership. She was fortunate that a Labour government badly bungled the so-called Winter of Discontent, which handed her the 1979 general election on a platter. She was blessed the Argentine Junta chose to invade the Falklands at just the right point in the electoral cycle. And she was doubly charmed that her opponents - the Labour Party, the labour movement - were divided, split, and walled off in sectional ghettoes. Propitious times for Thatcher. Less than propitious times for the country.

In warfare without and conflict within, the Thatcher myth was carefully midwifed in mainstream politics. Here was a woman unafraid of saying the unsaid, of wrapping herself in the flag and standing up for Britain, whether it be against dictators, terrorists, trade unions, or Europe. She was the strong hand who would lead the country out of stagnation and chaos, restore our pride and Make Britain Great again. And in so doing, she served her class well. Under the guise of a 'popular' capitalism that asset stripped tax payer-owned businesses and utilities, Britain's infrastructure was sold off at bargain basement prices. Council housing got flogged at knock down rates to tenants, ultimately benefiting a burgeoning strata of petty landlords. These two measures - creating a layer of small shareholders, extending the number of property owners - represented Tory attempts to socially engineer enough Conservative voters to return them to power time and again. It didn't pay off, but the consequences of these policies; spiralling energy prices, housing shortages, out-of-control rents, these disasters ultimately lay squarely at her door.

Appropriately, the most divisive of politicians gifted us a divided society. The Britain she found was cut across by class. The Britain she left is scarred by dog-eat-dog paranoia, scapegoating, the twins of fear and despair, and crucially, insecurity. Overt class warfare has given way to the multiplication of points of conflict. Class against class was replaced by all against all. The strangest kind of Tory, she ushered in the era of market fundamentalism at the expense of people's sense of place in the established order. By strategically defeating the labour movement, and, perversely, shackling it in the name of "flexibility", millions upon millions of working people live in a permanent state of insecurity. Short term work, part-time work, low pay, the obscenity of the zero hour contract, all of these are the real children of Thatcher.

This afternoon, Obama and Cameron both have hailed her as an example who will echo down the centuries. I would sooner forget her, but she does need remembering: as a warning to be heeded and a phantom to be exorcised.

But tonight, as her admirers can't help themselves heap tribute on effusive tribute, as the Thatcher family prepare a round of soft soap interviews about their wonderful mummy, my thoughts are with two families who have also known loss and in all likelihood, had that brought back to them today. Davy Jones and Joe Green were killed in the course of the miners' strike almost 30 years ago. They died defending their communities from the ruin Thatcher determinedly visited upon them. On this day it is these two men we should be toasting. And the most effective way of showing our respect is trying our damnedest to bury Thatcherism once and for all.

18 comments:

Val Tinsley said...

Bless them and their families I have got a drop of champaign left that as been on ice since 1979 I raise my glass to Davy Jones and Joe Green

levi9909 said...

Very powerful stuff that. I've seen lots of childish celebratory stuff that seems so happy about Thatcher's passing that it forgets to be unhappy about Thatcherism. And then I've seen sanctimonious condemnations of the same. I think you've struck up the right balance but when I heard the news I couldn't help thinking of this Private Eye cover on the death of South Africa's Dr Verwoerd:

http://tinyurl.com/cj3jed7

Anonymous said...

I don't celebrate Margaret Thatcher's passing. I did my high-fiving and air punching the day she was ousted from number 10. Her death now, does nothing to repair the damage done.

Speedy said...

Everything you write is correct of course yet I can remember the grim pre-Thatcher years too and they were no Socialist paradise, far from it - a small taste of what their comrades had been inflicting East of the Iron Curtain.

You talk about her class, yet compared to Blair and Cameron her experience was far more in touch with ordinary people (as was Major's), and this is where I think the Left failed and failed again: Thatcher responded to the frustration people felt. She was consistently supported in the polls, not least by the working class, their vulgar appreciation of the fruits of the Thatcherite revolution memorably lampooned by Old Etonian Harry Enfield.

This is what the Left can never forgive - she understood the people better than they did. The venom is there in today's Guardian editorial but behind it I can't help feeling a tremendous sense of pique.

Thatcher stood for the Left's failure. It's worse today even than before: its utter alienation from the aspirations of ordinary working people. Hence its preoccupation with the "isms" - anything to avoid looking directly at the issue they failed to address: the aspirations of ordinary people, the true class struggle.

And the proof is in the pudding: despite the economic disasters that, yes, Thatch played a major part in creating, the youth of Europe still stream to the UK. Why? it's not for the pop music. It's because largely thanks to Thatcher it is a place they feel they have the opportunity to get on. This "vulgar" ambition is what people want and what their own countries so often signally fail to deliver. Until the Left can recreate the same sense of hope, Thatcher will continue to haunt it, and rightfully so.

Still, it's easier to have someone to hate, eh?

Gary Elsby said...

......meanwhile back in Phil's socialist Stoke....

Care homes are shutting.
Parks disposed of.
Libraries mothballed (shut).
1000s workers sacked
more care homes shut
wages slashed (living wage introduced/enhanced overtime pay to be slashed/executive pay increased).

I think your appraisal of Thatcher is pretty shite Phil, particularly the bit about hating her.


Anonymous said...

The England she created her children do not want to live in.

Anonymous said...



I am an immigrant to this country - I arrived in 75. The lady did a lot of good as well as bad. She was worth 10 of today's politicians who have no backbone, and all come from privileged backgrounds (and that includes the MIllibands and many of the left). I see no one that can match her for backbone and principle...


Anonymous said...

I concur with everything that Speedy wrote...

The left is out of touch with ordinary people...

Anonymous said...

This myth that the 70's were an economic basket case needs challenging, I was alive in the 70's and remember it being great. Maybe for some wealthy people things were not as good as they could have been, who knows?

PS bloody great article!

Anthony L said...

The neo-liberal project is going great guns and so Margaret Thatcher will be celebrated and thrust in our faces continually. Her funeral is to have "the same status as that of Diana's" (BBC). Indeed. I expected nothing else.

Phil said...

I don't agree with where you're coming from Speedy, but you do have a point. Since Blair politics has come to be dominated by those who have had careers in politics before they became elected politicians. How has this come to be? Part of it comes back to Thatcher's legacy. As she smashed up the communities post-war politics depended on - Labour AND Tory - for renewal, so the decline of traditional party organisation was accelerated.

Part of UKIP's appeal is that it short circuits the alienating professionalism of official politics. Getting populist figures at the top of either the Tories or the Labour could only ever be a short-term measure. How to ensure this situation is permanently reversed?

Phil said...

Ah, the great Gary Elsby, the man so exercised by the closure of services that he can't tear himself away from the keyboard to campaign to save them.

Phil said...

Re:third anonymous, what's the point in celebrating Thatcher's qualities when she put them to the most destructive possible use?

Gary Elsby said...

....and what did Phil's beloved Labour party and Council do with those that did come out to protest and sign petitions?

You binned them.

Call another by-election and then see who comes out to defend services.

Phil said...

The City Council may be responsible for many things, but putting protesters in bins isn't one of them.

George said...

“I've seen lots of childish celebratory stuff that seems so happy about Thatcher's passing that it forgets to be unhappy about Thatcherism. And then I've seen sanctimonious condemnations of the same.”

This was always the Thatcher manoeuvre. Give the Left an easy target to hate, have them all rave on about “The bitch! The cow!” And then come in like the voice of reason about “responsible privatisation” etc. And it’s still working now. Any clear criticism of her will be swamped by the howls of inarticulate triumph, people dancing on her grave. And then her defenders come on like the voice of reason etc.

Gary Elsby said...

Of course, the very idea that it is quite reasonable to despise the idea of privatisation to the core without having to partake in gesture politics of hatred, is quite beyond the juvenile mind of some.

When Tony goes, those that despised Thatcher will come out to despise Tony.

They don't know it yet, but they'll despise Ed just as they despised Neil.

Shite politics with no answers.

Loz said...

Thatcher understood base instincts.

It is a base instinct to want more money and buy shiny new things in the shops and show off and be more important than the person next to you.

It's not a virtue. But it is largely an instinct.

That's why she created the finance capital bubble, privatised everything and exploited the North Sea gas and oil to make us all appear richer while simultaneously destroying the industry that provided our real wealth.

By trying to make us all richer in the short term, and ignoring the long term, she fucked the country, created false expectations in the electorate as to what can be achieved under capitalism

As for all this garbage about how she was the last true "conviction politician" that is bollocks as well - she didn't dare go for the NHS or things she would have really wanted to do because she knew people woudn't stomach it. And let's not forget why her own party - now queueing up in the commons to pay homage to her - knifed her in the back because she started to go insane and push through measures that nobody had voted for.

She wasn't a conviction politician - but she WAS the first PM to properly understand PR and was the first PM to apply the vile "presidential" style of government from which we have never recovered and which has created the dangerous anti-politics now threatening the entire basis of British democracy.

She understood people alright. She understood how to appeal to the worse instincts in them.