The British media and half the planet can’t shut up about Margaret Thatcher’s death. I suppose that somewhere in Meeja Land there’s a balanced debate going on about her life and deeds; and at least there seems to be general agreement that you either loved or hated ‘that woman’.
During the 80s I was one of the UK’s four million young unemployed, stuck in a rural backwater with no transport (the Tories removed our local bus service), few qualifications and slim chance of escape. For a number of years my life was extremely unprivileged. I lived with my parents, had virtually no money and experienced the kind of aching grief in the pit of my stomach and the back of my throat which the long-term unemployed understand only too well.
A few people were sympathetic – but many of them resented me. Why? If you dropped someone in the middle of a desert would you resent their lack of water?
I may have been on the back foot in those days, but I wasn’t stupid. The Conservative government was entirely transparent to me: attack the unions, destroy local industries, axe jobs and public services and pretend that this would somehow lead to ‘growth’. If the Thatcher years were characterised by economic growth, it follows that cemeteries are places of birth and physical renewal.
It is possible for ‘growth’ to occur in some regions and be completely absent in others, and in those days we often discussed the very obvious north/south divide. Or at least, it was graphically obvious if you lived outside London and the rather smugly named ‘home counties’. After all, my home was in the Midlands and I learned with horror that during the 80s it was one of the poorest parts of Western Europe, economically on a par with Sardinia.
It is perfectly possible for virtual money to be shuffled around between profiteers, and for this to never ‘trickle down’ into the pockets of ordinary people. On the other hand, inter-generational poverty, ignorance and social deprivation trickle down all too easily, to the point where it can take decades to reverse those trends. Very sadly, decades is all we have in this world and these things curtail that time even more.
The mantras of the Thatcher years were deliberately simplistic. Simple ideas for simple people. ‘The recession is bottoming out,’ – it wasn’t. ‘There is no alternative’ – there always is. ‘There is no such thing as society.’ Perhaps not if you’re a sociopath with a single idea and you’re incapable of empathy.
I could say a lot more about those times, but a few things come back to me. I knew, even then, that in years hence the Tories would try to reinvent Margaret Thatcher as a great leader. Bullies and tyrants love to rewrite history to suit themselves. Thatcher and her entire cabinet of monsters were brutish, unimaginative and callously devoid of sense.
Personally I’m not pleased that she is dead; I simply regret that someone like that could ever gain political power in the first place. But most of all – something often said during the 80s – I’m sad that I live in a country where people would support such an appalling regime. Mrs Thatcher was but the murky reflection of all that is mean spirited, insular and self-serving in British society. She is most certainly dead; but political ideologies have a way of haunting us – even if there is scant evidence that they actually work!
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but so is foresight. During what turned out to be Mrs Thatcher’s final years I had a growing feeling that we would soon be rid of her. Especially when the comedian, David Allen, read out a satirical poem about her, suggesting Atilla the Hen had more to fear from her friends than her enemies.
He was right! From that, and from many bitter years of friendless seclusion, I learned that tyrants and bullies ultimately have even fewer friends. They may well have people who fear and respect them, but that is little comfort in a world where human affection should be the most valued thing of all.
The neoliberal free market policies which Thatcher preached are her true legacy, and they have turned England nasty. People whom many would consider to inhabit the lower rungs of society are too busy resenting each other to turn the tables on David Cameron’s amoral coalition of liars and halfwits. Real communities have nearly vanished, to be replaced with self-serving individualism. We could do so much better than this, and one day we will.