When I got into work yesterday it was to news that Margaret Thatcher had passed away. I immediately made the decision not to look at Facebook all day, because I knew that there would be equally as many “Greatest. Leader. Ever.” posts as there were proclaiming “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead”. Incidentally – there’s a pretty good chance that the 1939 song recorded by Judy Garland could end up being number 1 in the UK at the weekend – which just goes to show the depth of feeling about her.
What I’ve found weird is my work colleagues’ surprise at finding out that Thatcher isn’t revered in Great Britain. Over here she seems to have attained some sort of legendary status, probably due to her close relationship with the Reagan administration in the 1980s. Many of the hallmarks of her government align quite closely with what the modern Republican party seems to aspire to – buzzphrases like “personal responsibility”, “small government”, and the like, so maybe that is why, but in Britain she’ll always be associated with the destruction of the manufacturing industry, privatisation of the utilities, and the hated “poll tax” (which caused riots in the streets, and eventually led to her downfall).
It must be said that it is quite hard for me to write about the specifics of Thatcher’s time in office; even though I lived through it I was too young to really understand what was going on. You’re not an expert in socio-economic policy when you’re seven. In fact, I was nearly eighteen before there was any government other than Conservative, and it was only as I got older (and started to develop and then refine my own political views) that I began to think of Thatcher’s reign as anything other than a sort of background noise to my childhood.
This means that a backward glance towards that time reveals things that make sense. For example, I remember a few genuinely great records, like Ghost Town by the Specials, and One in Ten, by UB40 – songs that I’d always enjoyed simply for the music but now understand to have a deeper meaning and anger behind them. There are other, more obviously anti-Thatcher songs, like Tramp the Dirt Down by Elvis Costello and Stand Down Margaret by The (English) Beat, but it was until much later that I became aware of the political undertones, particularly the edge of hopelessness and a feeling of having given up.
Anyway. I digress. The point is that for years I have felt, or heard, that I should be outraged on behalf of my working class roots, but it’s always been quite hard for me to get angry about something for which I have little frame of reference. The sepia-toned years in the 80s when Thatcher’s government were doing the most damage are nothing but a childish memory to me, and because my family were not miners, or affiliated with the trade unions, or working in the utilities, it’s hard to say I was directly affected by their policies. However, the effect of sudden cuts in public spending on things such as housing, recreational areas (particularly for schools) and education are still felt now. (something the current Conservative-led government could probably pay attention to).
What is more, Thatcher’s intractability on various issues probably created more problems than could have been expected – the best example of this is probably in her dealings with the IRA and Sinn Fein, which arguably delayed any kind of peace process getting started until after she left office. (mind you, the Provisional IRA had tried to assassinate her at a Brighton Hotel in 1984, so maybe you can at least forgive her that)
I think what I’m trying to say, in my roundabout and rambling way, is that I am not the best person to judge the merits or otherwise of Margaret Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister. And neither are most of the people either celebrating or mourning her death. That’s what history is for. I have little doubt that over the next few years her tenure will be examined very closely and – helped by the declassifying of various Whitehall papers – examined even more closely, and hopefully without any of the visceral ideology-led reaction that she has always engendered.
I know that there are several friends of mine who – in the highly unlikely event that they were ever to actually read this – would be incredulous that I’ve not embarked on spittle-flecked polemic about Thatcher’s inherent evilness. I don’t really believe that – although I think that many of Thatcher’s policies were socially damaging and (in hindsight) largely irresponsible, I don’t believe that this was her intention. The actions she took while in office (and before, in some case) fit exactly into her political beliefs, and into the beliefs/ideologies of the right. It resonated, too – I mean, she won 3 elections! (it’s always interesting that you can never find people prepared to admit they voted for her). Does that make her an ‘evil’ person? Well, depending on your viewpoint, it could, but not to me. Misguided, arrogant, borderline negligent, yes, but ‘evil’ is a word that is thrown about too recklessly to be bandied at somebody with Thatcher’s global reputation and good standing in the sphere of world politics.
Actually, having said all that it’s probably for the best that no fucker ever reads this.