Inevitably after a fairly long time without blogging, the theme that has returned me to my keyboard is the death of Margaret Thatcher.
Now, up front I have to note that as a youngster in the late 70’s and early 1980’s not only did I vote for her, but as a member of my local conservative party I actively campaigned on her behalf. I was, as the saying goes a true believer. As was my father who aquired the nickname ‘maggies man’ where he worked, and as was my mother the daughter of a company director, and deputy head of a private school
I bought it all: the unions were destroying the country, people on benefits were scroungers, if someone worked hard they would be successfull, etc, etc.
But something changed for me, in about 1985.
It wasn’t a moment in history, or a policy advocated by the conservatives, I simply met someone who was well informed who argued with me. Essentially I was challenged to ask questions. And slowly over a few months, my ardent support of Thatcher and her policies crumbled.
Factually, Thatcher did not cut the subsidies which were propping up the mining, steel and manufacturing industries, they were transfered to support banking and financial services, and communities based on the heavy industries left to fend for themselves. Thatchers government was spending if anything a little more on subsidies at the end of her career as government was at the beginning, except they were being paid to rich areas, rather than poor ones.
And all those years ago this is what convinced me Thatcher was not, and never had been worthy of my support, whatever her right hand appeared to be doing, often her left was doing the opposite.
If she had been a stage magician, she really would have cut her assistant in half, but convinced you she hadn’t, by parading an identical twin through the blood of the slain sibling.
I noticed a phrase I liked recently concerning the “inhabitants of Thatcherland”, which seemed to sum up those who continue to buy into her narrative. Touting phrases like “there was no other way”, “Thatcher saved Britain”, ect. Thatcherland, exists only in the minds of the followers, a magical world in which there is only ever one solution to a problem, only ever one opposing argument, where bad things “we do” can be ignored, and in all the intervening time nothing new has been learned.
The backwash of her death seems to have thrown up similar duplicity in todays conservatives. Some reporting noted, it had been agreed that parliament would not be recalled in the event of her death, yet Cameron did so.
Its worth asking, were the unions too strong before Thatcher? And they probably were, but the really odd thing is that Thatchers Policy and Legislation put in to deal with the problem, were almost identical to those proposed by the Labour party of the time.
A song by writers persecuted in the US for their Socialist views, Arlen and Harburg, almost made it to no 1 in the British Charts (The Scots and Welsh would have had it as no 1, only south east England prefered the forgettable track that actually made it.) Yet Ding Dong the Witch is Dead, was ‘banned with spin’ from radio 1’s chart show. Only a small section played with a ‘news report’ to ‘explain’ why it was in the chart. Following Newsnight on Saville, misreporting other abuse scandals, and the sycophantic reporting on Thatchers death, the BBC is unfortunately beginning to look more like a state broadcaster than it ever has.
The same thing seems to be happening with Thatchers Funeral: Its not a ‘state funeral’, but it is in central london, with full military honours, and a parade through the city. With her body lying ‘not in state’ in the palace of Westminster. A ‘State funeral with spin’.
Somehow this seems ironically appropriate, for the politician, who didn’t ban homosexuality, or ban plays about homosexuality, but stopped any public organisation, e.g. schools, councils ect, from saying or supporting anything which showed homosexuality in a positive way. A ‘ban with spin’.
The cry of those living in ‘Thatcherland’ has been that public displays despising Thatcher, are ‘disrespectful’. Yet in a time of austerity £10 million, ($16 million €12 million) spent on her funeral is more than the annual budget to tackle domestic violence in the UK, some would say that is disrespectful of people (particularly but not exclusively women) trapped in abusive relationships.
It has been in my mind for some time that the political right, seems to imagine that if they feel angry, or disgusted, or saddened by something, then everyone else should change what they think, say, feel and do to accommodate this. Comments typical of this mind set I have encountered, include the ‘ashamed to be British’ soundbite.
Well the reaction to Thatchers death, has not made me ashamed to be British, it has made me inordinantly proud to be British. When Reagan died, is was cringeworthy the way the US lauded him, even Tricky Dicky Nixon, got treated with kid gloves when he died. Which seems fundamentally hypocrytical to me.
The word ‘respect’ has been bandied about by the inhabitants of Thatcherland, as if holding a political office, or even just being a politician demands respect. There might be ordinary respect for persons, but beyond that respect has to be earned. And I reserve the right to withold my respect where I feel it has not been earned. Thatcher did not earn respect, she conned it out of people with slight of hand.
Anyone choosing to become a politician should not expect respect.
But of course if someone wants to respect a politician, they are free to do so, my personal choice is Tony Benn, purely on the basis that he tapes all contact with the media, and subsequently never gets misquoted.
I can’t help thinking that the real objection of the inhabitants of Thatcherland is that those expressing ‘disrespect’, won’t just go along with their favoured narrative. It was supposed to be all old news, the objectors long defeated, the battles all won, a heroine cast in bronse never to be torn down. They thought vainly that a period of mourning would let the story be told their way without objection, but the British decided this would be a lie.
What will happen at the funeral? Frankly I don’t know. I suspect ‘Ding Dong the witch is dead” will be chanted by some during periods of silence, some will turn their backs on the Hearse as it passes. Will it be dramatic, possibly possibly not. The Boston Marathon Bombs change things a little as peolles minds turn to that tragedy.
Does it matter? Probably not at this point, the other stories of ‘Thatchers reign’ are back in the mix, the division is out in the open not hidden by the eulogies of the establishment. The myth of ‘consensus’, the ‘spell’ is broken.
All in all, in the end, “Ding dong the witch is dead” turns out to be a wholey appropriate epitaph for Thatcher.