As an regular readers of my Blog know, I’m an irregular and typically infrequent poster. But, I concluded that I really need to pull my finger out again and on entry to my Blog was greeted by a reminder of an unfinished post from earlier this year, about the late and frequently unlamented Margaret Thatcher. It seems appropriate to finish it, with the benefit of hindsight. So…here’s the start:
Margaret Thatcher died today. I came of age in July 1979, just after she became Prime Minister, and spent my 20s dealing with the onslaught of her policies. I was born in a small town in Nottinghamshire called Warsop; from my bedroom window as a child I could see the winding gear of 5 collieries. By 1990 I think maybe one was still operational. My family were striking Notts miners. To anyone unaware of the relevance of this, most of the Nottinghamshire coalfields were strike-breakers. My family showed loyalty to the Union and stayed out on strike. They experienced police harassment, abuse, discrimination. Those of us who supported them found ourselves on the wrong end of things like phone taps. If 2 or 3 men were travelling from Yorkshire in to Nottinghamshire by car, there was a very good chance you would be waved down by the Police and questioned as to why you were travelling. It happened to me more than once; the Police were basically flagging anyone down who they suspected of being pickets. It was a strange time; 1984 looked like being a documentary rather than a dystopia. I was self employed in ‘new technology’, so didn’t feel a lot of the deep impact of the financial policies, but the social change was massive and permanent. The big storm of 1987 seemed to reflect that changes wrought; whatever we did, things would take years to change back or would never be the same again…
And no she’s gone. ‘Ding, dong, the witch is dead’. All the folks who said they’d call a party when she went are doing so. So, why don’t I feel terribly like partying?
I’m what an older generation would have called a God-fearing man. As a Christian, I try to take on board the part of my doctrine that says that it is not by job to judge; ‘before you point out the speck in someone else’s eye, deal with the clod of earth in your own’ or words to that effect. She did some evil things, and I reflect on that and have actively fought against her policies, but I don’t feel comfortable about celebrating the death of anyone.
Now, that’s where I stopped writing. So, the following is written with a little distance between the death and my words…
Her death has changed nothing; she stopped being a political force in the early 1990s, and her legacy was first seen in Blair’s New Labour – a magnificent subversion of true Labour values by ‘red’ Thatcherites – and we see it continuing today in an even stronger form under Cameron. We’ve seen policies introduced in the 20 years since Thatcher left power that would have seemed unthinkable back then. The popular left’s response of partying and celebrating the death of an old woman who was probably so senile that she knew little of what was happening anymore leaves a nasty taste.
Because, ultimately, the responsibility for what Thatcher did lies with the people of the UK. Whilst it’s true that she never had a majority of the popular vote (the figures for the Tories in 79, 83 and 87 were 40%, 42% and 42%) more people activeley supported her than didn’t. Her vote INCREASED even after she’d shown the true harshness of the policies. Many people either voted for her or couldn’t care enough to vote against her; “the fault lies not with the stars, but with ourselves”. We created the monster of ‘Thatcherism’.
‘Thatcherism’ always reminded me of the way in which some Communists used to call Nazism ‘Hitlerism’. They knew the power of the cult of personality, having experienced it with Stalin; they also knew that once you attach a name to a set of policies, it gives them the appearance of being the ideological child of an individual, who can be reviled and hated in life and death – Thatcher became the Goldstein in our real life version of 1984 for most of the left, whereas the true enemy of the people was the apathetic or Tory voting British Voter who basically put her populist policies in to power.
And for that reason, ‘Thatcherism’, like the poor, will always be with us. We’ll call it something else, but ultimately the form of Reactionary Populist governance that she pioneered where safety nets were removed and an emphasis was put on private enterprise and achievement over public good is still with us. Celebrating her death did nothing to remove it; in fact it simply allowed ‘closure’ for some people of a still raw and bleeding wound.
The true victory over this sort of political movement is rarely won by the death of one of it’s proponents. The idea lives on – and that’s what needs to be dealt with, and we still don’t do it. Today, the force of Populsim that she and her party developed is more prominent than ever, because it has continued to reflect the simple fact that many people are selfish and see no further than their own personal well-being. And that is going to be a hard nut to crack.
I will celebrate the death of Thatcher’s Government’s ideas when they finally die, not before. And my celebration will be of the positive change that will come when we finally get back to the idea that we need a social contract, we need to help those less fortunate in society and those blessed by society should help those who’re afflicted. My celebration will be best summed up by the words of Bobby Sands:
“Our revenge will be the laughter of our children.”