Monday, April 08, 2013


Says it all, really.
It's the kind of headline she would have railed against in one of her trademark tirades, and somewhat ironic, in the light of the announcement from No. 10 that Mrs Thatcher would be accorded a state funeral with military honours.

There was a time when I would have been one of many cheering for the death of Margaret Thatcher; Now, I can't say that I really care that much - she was a very old lady who suffered from dementia and must have felt terrible loneliness after the death of her husband, and I don't wish that on anyone, no matter how much I disagree with them politically. There's rarely anything to celebrate in a person's demise.

To be honest, I started off my teenage days rather admiring her. I was fourteen when the Falklands War happened, and it all seemed terribly exciting. The Labour party of the day were disorganised and extremely poor at getting their point across - besides, no-one trusted them after the debacles of the 70's. Thatcherism and Monetarism seemed to be the way forward, for a while, and it was clear that characters like Arthur Scargill, Michael Foot and Ken Livingstone were at best, irrelevant and at worst Dangerous Commie Sympathisers.

It was only when I got to university and met people from a much, much wider social range that I realsied how much damage and havoc had been created within society - after all, Maggie had once famously said 'There is no such thing as Society!', and it seemed that she was hellbent on dismantling it all. Privatisation after privatisation happened - but where was the money going? Telephones, Water, Gas, Electricity - all the utilities, all put in the hands of whoever bidded the most. Tenants in council housing were allowed to buy their own houses - something that seemed like a great idea at the time, and one that liberated many people. But looking back nearly 30 years later, I wonder - there is not enough social housing, and rents are astronomical because there is such high demand, while Welfare payments for housing go directly to the private landlords who have put the prices up in the first place.
Well, what about the Miners' Strike? Now there was a clash of two mighty egos. I personally have no time whatsoever for Arthur Scargill - I believe he is just as responsible for the loss of all the mining jobs as the Conservative government of 1984-85 was. It was blatantly obvious to anyone with sense that the mining industry had to slim down as it was uncompetitive. It's just that the way it was done was awful - instead of shearing the sheep, it was strung up upside down and slowly, painfully eviscerated. And what for? For the sake of ideology.

Much has been said, and will be said over the next few days, of how divisive a character Margaret Thatcher was, but in fact you can say that of pretty much any major political figure -  Tony Blair over here, Bush (x2), Clinton and Obama over in the US are ones that immediately spring to mind. But why should this be? Well, in my opinion, it comes down to a simple matter of belief, or faith, if you like. When we vote for a party, we invest a bit (or a lot) of ourselves in that group. In fact, this is a well-known phonomenon - for example, if you want to get someone to like you, ask them to do you a favour: They are then much more likely to view you positively and assume that you both share some common bond(s). So, when you believe in someone, or something, you are far more likely to a) defend it and b) refuse to criticise it in any way. Why? because that party, or person is in a way an extension of yourself, your values and your ideals - an attack upon the party or person is in effect an ad hominem attack on you.

And what Margaret Thatcher (and, later, Tony Blair) was all about was BELIEF. She believed with all her soul in what she was doing, and literally could not comprehend any viewpoint that remotely differed from her own. And because she believed, all her acolytes believed all the more. She understood, instinctively I think, that the personal IS political - and, importantly, vice versa.

And it is this, perhaps beyond all the other things - the quelling of the unions, the selling-off of state assets, the unleashing of the stock market - that has so profoundly (dis-)figured the modern political landscape. The personal had become political; the criticism of a political viewpoint becomes an attack upon the person, and the criticism of the person becomes an assault upon  the politics. Look at the past week, where a newspaper's headlines equate the death of six children with the excesses of Welfare. Look at the Chancellor, making political capital out of the same event.

So, no, I won't be small, petty and vindictive in celebrating the death of a little old lady, one who was still, by any reckoning, a remarkable figure of her time. I will celebrate when the destruction her policies unleashed have died away, when we can fairly, honestly and without rancour dispute our political stances, and when we can show that there IS such a thing as Society.