Sunday, 21 April 2013

Coda: Thatcher Triumphans

The "Iron Lady" was as everyone knows laid to rest this week with £10 million of taxpayers cash funding her cremation and a further £15 million now proposed by David Cameron to pay for a completely unprecedented publicly funded Thatcher museum (even when we already have the historically themed National Coal Mining Museum near Wakefield in Yorkshire, which probably tells more truths about Her Legacy than any new foundation ever would). 

Unprecedented and unwarranted. Where is the Churchill Museum or the Attlee Memorial Library? Both were politicians who, whatever their failings, achieved infinitely more in unifying the nation than she ever did. And yet here we are with this hagiography, the State paying to remember someone who detested the State. 

All you need to know about Thatcher - the National Coal
Mining Museum is sited in a closed pit.
And yet, her mark is indeed indelible. "Thatcherism" has redefined the country and has been followed by every Government since - more and more, our public services are opened up for profit by privateers with virtually our entire NHS now up for compulsory competitive tendering courtesy of the Coalition Government, its extreme neoliberalism the culmination of the Thatcher Project. And our society is atomised - the rich are smaller in number than ever, but wealthier than at any time since the Feudal Age; while everyone else is set against each other by the media owned and run by the elite: Asian against white, able bodied against disabled, worker against unemployed, old against young. She said there was no such thing as society and, in her years and the times since, she and her successors have worked hard to bring her words to fruition.

She was an agent of change; but not the only one. And this is where focusing on her alone and her demise is a mistake - Thatcherism would still have happened without her; and long after her "friends" knifed her in the back and threw her out of office, others have carried on, taking her work further and further, to places maybe even she never imagined possible. As radical comedian Jeremy Hardy pointed out, her funeral was an opportunity to remind ourselves of just what unpleasant company she kept - a grim assortment of (nearly entirely male) plutocrats, including criminals, racists, tax dodgers and arms dealers. These men are the rulers of our nation, the people who shape the agenda and control the communications that set the tempo of what passes for national debate. Her funeral was as much a celebration of their omnipotence as it was of her life, their presence perhaps a final thank you to their masthead.

Can the tide be turned back? Of course it can, and maybe in the ashes of our society, a new collective will can yet emerge to rebuild a country where citizens look out for each other even when they will never meet; where a spirit of generosity exists, recognising it may be better that 0.5% of benefit claims are fraudulent rather than live in a society where illness or unemployment threatens hunger and homelessness; and where we find a way to marshall our finite resources for the good of all rather than meekly accept the obscene wealth of a tiny elite.

This will come. But for now, we still live in Thatcher's Britain and we need to oppose her legacy and any attempt to lionise it or turn it into some sort of Diana-esque beatification of someone who, as they say, was no saint - no saint at all.

I watched the video below in a pub with some friends waiting to go to the election count in Glasgow in summer 1987. We were in good spirits - the BBC had just announced an exit poll pointing to a hung parliament; at last, after eight years, Tory Britain might be drawing to a close. Sadly though, the Conservatives were to win again and in the next three years Thatcher was to preside over the rise of the yuppies, the end of the Cold War and finally over-reach herself with the ill fated poll tax.

But the song in the video, a satire by the sadly missed Spitting Image team based on a scene from the film Cabaret and incorporating the Nazis favourite ditty, remains as powerful today as all these years ago. Long after she fell from power, and now even in death, the day does indeed belong to her and her poisonous ilk.

But, eventually, in its darkest hour, every day comes to an end.


  1. "All you need to know about Thatcher - the National Coal
    Mining Museum is sited in a closed pit" No fan of Thatcher but to argue that the post-war economy of steel and coal would still be thriving but for Thatcher is total nonsense. Pit closures and running down coal mining could have been done more humanely; but it would still have been run down under any government and especially any government that including Greens.
    I don't buy the idea that Britain in the 1970s was an Eden of neighbourliness and public spirit which Thatcher's policies destroyed.One of the reasons that she won in 1979 was because many British voters had come to see the labour movement as selfish. Thatcher of course made selfishness a public virtue, but we should not pretend things were rosy before Maggie.

  2. Anonymous, Greens are no fans of carbon fuels, but to compare that with how Thatcher destroyed the coal industry is wide of the mark. Greens would posit a transition from carbon to renewable energy which would be planned and would create much new employment to offset the jobs that would inevitably have disappeared in the carbon sector. Thatcherism by contrast shut down the industry with no regard for future energy needs other than to build a terminal at Hunterston in Scotland to receive coal imported at massive environmental cost from South America. So the processes were very different.

    Likewise, no one would pretend that pre-1979 UK was Eden before the Fall: but...the post-war settlement had brought increasing equality as well as growing prosperity, as well as shared institutions such as the NHS and wider and wider higher/adult education.

    The economic crisis of the mid-1970s undoubtedly threw a lot of this into the air and the resulting conflict was a factor in Thatcher's rise - but bear in mind she never polled above 44% support and yes, she began the march away from any form of collectivism and community which has culminated now in the abject selfishness of Coalition Britain. So nowhere does this article suggest things were "rosy" pre-Thatcher, but they were certainly headed in a far better direction than we have been during or since her period in office.