Sunday, April 05, 2009

Thirty Years Ago Today...

Thirty years ago to this day she came to power. The papers over here are wrestling with what we should make of her legacy.

It's exactly 30 years since she came to power, nearly 20 since she was unseated and still none of us can rationalise, quite, what we feel about her - either our loathing or our adoration. Even as her era and her "-ism" abruptly ends - in the bail-out and humbling of her market economy, the smashing up of the banks - no one can get to us as a nation quite like she can.

It's why I'm up here in Grantham, to have another go at figuring her out, to see what traces remain of Margaret Hilda Roberts and the values she so ruthlessly imposed. And in Grantham, as on the television, she seems both everywhere and nowhere. There is no Thatcher tour in the town, but you can easily make one up, find your own stations of the cross. It is a narrow place in every sense, one high street, mostly built in no-nonsense East Midland red brick, formerly the main A1. Thatcher lived the first 18 years of her life along a short stretch of the carriageway, mostly in her domineering father's shadow.

I have no sense of puzzlement over Margaret Thatcher and her legacy and I certainly won't be spending today trying to work out what she meant or whether my assessment of her legacy is fair or unfair.

There is no other politician who elicits the hatred that Thatcher brings up in me.

The suffering she visited upon the working men and women of Britain, the devastation she caused to working class communities all over the north of Britain, where she deliberately presided over an unemployment figure of more than four million, whilst telling us in her quasi-regal tones that "there is no such thing as society", is seared into my memory.

No other politician in my lifetime has ever affected me in the way that Thatcher did. I remember delivering newspapers, in streets where no adult male had a job, and listening on TV as our Prime Minister referred to "Social Security scroungers."

This was a woman who was proud to say that she did not believe in consensus, and that she regarded those who did believe in consensus as "quislings" and "traitors". She believed in and she encouraged conflict.

There have been a spate of programmes about her recently, attempting to put some human spin on the Iron Lady.

I have enjoyed them, but my opinion of her remains unchanged.

She was a cruel, heartless, vain woman. The most striking thing about the programmes that I have seen is that, even as they attempt to win my sympathy for her, I am left realising that her downfall came about entirely of her own making.

She demanded loyalty from a cabinet in which she berated grown men as if they were young boys. She simply never appeared to understand the British concept that the Prime Minister is the first amongst equals. It is not a presidency. Without the support of the cabinet the Prime Minster is nothing.

And anything I have seen regarding her downfall always downplays the fact that she was, in the end, demanding loyalty from a group of people who owed her nothing.

In politics people are useful as long as they serve an ideology and are capable of making the implementation of that ideology possible. The minute they are not, they cease to be of any use, and loyalty doesn't even come into the equation. That's harsh and requires one to suspend all emotion, but if anyone should have had no difficulty understanding that concept, it should have been Margaret Thatcher.

Politics is about fulfilling the aspirations of millions of people, it is far more important than one politicians ego, no matter how much that politician feels she has done for the party.

Thatcher never seemed to understand that it wasn't all about her.

And today, thirty years to the day since she came to power, the carnage that her philosophy has unleashed is clearly seen in the collapse of financial markets all over the world. Our children's children will still be paying the bill for the orgy of greed which this woman - aided and abetted by Reagan - unleashed.

Of all the books written about her, by far the oddest and most compulsive is that by Leo Abse, the late Freudian Labour backbencher. Entitled Margaret, Daughter of Beatrice, it ascribes all of Thatcher's fight-picking character to a profoundly damaged psychology in her early years.

The prime minister never stopped talking of her admiration and respect for her authoritarian father. Her mother, Beatrice, however (and her elder sister, Muriel) were erased from her biography. Her mother gets not a single name-check in the 913 pages of the former prime minister's autobiography. Elsewhere, she once suggested: "I loved my mother dearly but at 15 we had nothing more to say to each other. It was not her fault. She was always weighed down by the home. Always being in the home."

That disgust at domesticity no doubt informed both Thatcher's ambitious childhood and her unnerving adulthood. Abse, observing Thatcher daily across the floor of the Commons, developed the theory that all her stentorian behaviour was a result of an infant rejection by her mother and her overwhelming attraction to her father.

I have no interest in whatever it was that so damaged this woman, I am much more concerned with the damage she inflicted on millions and millions of working class people up and down the country. She enriched the south east of England whilst destroying the nation's industrial base in the north and the midlands. She threw millions of adults on to the scrap heap and she did so without making any provision of any kind for what happened to them after she had done so.

There were no education classes in advance to prepare them for new employment; indeed, there was no planning of any kind for what they might do next.

In truth, she loathed them and thought that they were everything which was wrong with Socialist Britain. And I, as a consequence of that, have always loathed her right back. Thirty years later, I feel no differently.

Click title for full article.


nunya said...

For some reason I think of her, Reagan and Ayn Rand, and then I want to bleach my brain, lol

Kel said...

All three were abominations.