Upon entering No.10 in May 1979, Margaret Thatcher quoted Catholic Saint Francis of Assisi in her promise to bring harmony and prosperity to Britain. Salivating at the prospect of finally getting to play with her new toys, she duly set about writing the most acidic epitaph for the British state and its people, in the most destructive display of political megalomania unseen before or since.
From Liverpool to Brixton, people across the country have been celebrating the death of one of the most reviled politicians in this country’s history. In the recent NUS National Conference in Sheffield, there were shouts delight amongst some of the delegates at the news. The international reaction has been considerable, with her death being mourned across the world, in countries whose people were taught to walk, talk, eat, love and betray by glorious free market economics.
A few things struck me watching the worryingly sycophantic retrospectives of Thatcher’s premiership, and reading the column pieces eulogising her alleged successes. Many commentators have portrayed her as the aristocrat’s wet dream- a Conservative dominatrix who laid Britain across her lap and gleefully spanked it in act of brutal sado-monetarism. I’m sure I’m not the only one to find the concept of Thatcher having sex appeal, let alone any kind of appeal, completely absurd. To me, Thatcher had all the sex appeal of a lab rat in a jar: and it’s unlikely to improve any time soon.
Secondly, and unsurprisingly, the mainstream media has been very gracious in its coverage. Quivering politicians of all stripes have been diligently queuing up, simpering “whatever you thought of her politics, she had convictions and carried them through”, “I admire her determination and courage” and “I didn’t wash my face for a month after Thatcher used me for a dinner plate”. Other revered leaders which also had noted convictions and ruthlessly followed them through were Benito Mussolini and Josef Stalin: and Thatcher now joins those venerated champions of the people, in the knowledge she has certainly left the world a better place than when she first came into it.
Her “supporters”, deluded as ever, have been bellowing her praises through gilded tears. They should dedicate a row of buildings in the Square Mile for the way she saved our economy, they cry! She should be canonised and made patron saint of the service industry, they squeal! She was so magnificent, I named all my sons after her, they shriek! Much of the analysis of her tenure seems to centre round the well rinsed and well worn events that crop up regularly in A-level History textbooks. But Thatcher’s legacy is much, much more, than her turbulent relationship with Europe, and kinky late night sessions answering correspondence.
Much has been made of the fact that she was Britain’s first and only female Prime Minister. However, it would be wrong to think for one second that Margaret Thatcher helped women crack the male dominated world of Politics, and should in no way be considered an inspirational female icon. Thatcher loved Queen Bee status. She surrounded herself with men, and extraordinarily only had one female cabinet member in her time as Prime Minister: Janet Young, who was Leader of The House of Lords, and therefore a benign presence of no immediate threat to the tyrant queen. She clearly inhibited the development of promising female MPs within her own party with her successively exclusive male cabinets. Several female politicians, including Margaret Beckett and Shirley Williams, have criticised Thatcher for not doing more to help women in their pursuit for the top jobs and yet having the power to enable change. Their criticism demonstrates Thatcher’s self serving solipsism syndrome, and the low number of female Conservative MPs today a hangover from the missed opportunities of that era.
Internationally, much is made of her relationship with eminent grease ball Ronald ‘Regan’ MacDonald, and her role in toppling the iron curtain. Outside of her doughnut molesting trans-Atlantic troupe of eagle baiters, she had a rather exotic contacts list that would turn every pouting, graveyard bothering Kensington socialite crimson with envy. She backed, aided and abetted tyrannical Chilean Dictator General Pinochet. Her government was also bffs with one Saddam Hussein, who was seen as a key ally of the West in the battle against Islamic fundamentalism at the time and was armed appropriately, in the words of Michael Heseltine. Pol Pot, and Indonesian dictator General Suharto, could also count themselves as Maggie’s chums. And who could forget her heroic stance on apartheid in South Africa? She correctly branded the lunatic anti-apartheid African National Congress a “typical terrorist organisation”, backed the democratically elected white only regime and was forced into a meeting with crazed terrorist Nelson Mandela when the situation had deteriorated! In recognition of her tireless support of the world’s most oppressed and vulnerable, Barack Obama gave a moving, fitting and beautifully worded tribute that will echo through eternity, lamenting the loss of “one of the great champions of freedom and liberty and a true friend of America.” God bless democracy- and God bless America.
The list of abject failures enshrined in the landscape goes on. Nuclear deterrents? The argument over whether we should have one or not has gone up in a mushroom cloud, due to Maggie’s love of all things bright and devastating. Now, Trident sits smugly near Scotland’s west coast and anyone wanting to scrap it is accused of keeping the company of owls, walnut trees and people from Grimsby. Lack of affordable housing? The infamous ‘Right to Buy’ scheme George Osborne tried to ape recently with his ‘Help to Buy’ scheme was admittedly popular with some families at the time. However, the sell off was still met with protests, and it’s muddled execution left a shortage of new housing due to councils not being allowed to build new affordable properties by the government, with the money acquired from the sell offs. The short term gain has given way to the murky modern scenario of an unstable housing market, exploitative rents and rogue landlords. Discontent in the inner cities? The Brixton and Toxteth riots of 1981culminated from stop and search abuse by police against the black community, high unemployment and poverty. Inner cities areas today, both in the north and south, languish limply: skeletal and monochrome.
In the midst of all the carnage, bands and writers had a lot of material to plunder from. The Specials, Pink Floyd, The Beat and Morrissey all wrote songs “dedicated” to Margaret Thatcher, which documented the rampant unemployment, social discord and overwhelming bitterness. Writer Ian McEwan has stated recently that it was also a fertile time for he and his contemporaries, as there was a wealth of issues to write about. It’s a strange paradox: though people were suffering under her measures, but they managed to harness their anger and frustration and channel it into great art.
Perhaps her most alarmingly legacy is that of New Labour. What Margaret Thatcher did, beginning with the inept Neil Kinnock, was neuter the left of politics. By all accounts, New Labour was a pale pastiche of the Conservative party of the eighties. They adhered to her neo-liberal mantra with unabashed relish: little regulation of the banking sector, weak trade unions, maximum competition and a focus on controlling inflation, rather than seeking full employment. Thatcher’s DNA coursed through the Major, Blair, Brown governments, and now leers over the Coalition. Her most powerful message during her premiership was “there is no alternative”: that any other option, other than the chosen one, is bound to fail. You can hear that when George Osborne prosaically defends his ailing economic strategy. She is the reason why there is no clear cut identifiable opposition today. The greatest irony of all however, is that today, the feral financial sector that benefitted so much under her government holds the country to ransom in the same way the trade unions were accused of doing in the seventies. This can be traced back to Nigel Lawson’s set of deregulatory measures dubbed ‘The Big Bang’, in 1986, which unleashed the city of London, and exposed the country to the volatile forces of the private sector that we are governed by to this day.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of all of this, is how commentators have dismissed those critical of Thatcher who weren’t alive during her government. Not only is this another cheap ploy to silence knowledgeable young politically charged men and women, but it also means budding Thatcherites singing her praises who weren’t alive during her day aren’t allowed an opinion either. It’s a feeble argument that means anyone not over the age of 150 has no right to talk about modern British history with any authority.
The Coalition government loves to recycle the grating line “we inherited this mess from Labour”. My ears have gone rusty from hearing the same nonsense mechanically regurgitated in every interview. However, I think it is more than apt for me to use that line here. OUR GENERATION HAS INHERITED THATCHER’S MESS. The depressed wages and crippled trade unions whose power is greatly diminished and worker’s rights left vulnerable as a result, the broken coal mining communities who had their lives shattered by her rabid dogma, the housing shortages and dominance of the financial sector. I have every right to be angry, because I am living in Thatcher’s free market dystopia. I am angry because every day is a struggle for those at the bottom of the ladder. The society she didn’t believe existed, the society she was filled with hatred for, she completely fragmented.
The cheering of her death at the NUC Conference was absolutely justified. The parties from Ireland to South Africa were absolutely justified. George Galloway’s spectacular article entitled ‘Tramp the Dirt Down’ was absolutely justified. No doubt there will be protests at her funeral next week. The mainstream media will try to ignore them. The politicians will play them down. But the anger against this woman, who can only be described as evil incarnate, held by the communities she destroyed, remains molten. She will never be one of us.
And I commend this statement to the House.
By Rudi Abdallah