There can’t be anyone in the UK over the age of, say, 40 who hasn’t spent some time this week reviewing their opinions of Margaret Thatcher, who died last week. I’ll nail my colours to the mast right away and say I hated her and everything she stood for. Last year I went to see Meryl Streep portray her in “The Iron Lady” and was quite taken aback by how angry I felt. I first became aware of Thatcher when I was a student and she, as minister for education, withdrew free milk from primary school children. “Maggie Thatcher, Milk Snatcher” was the chant then. I am also angered that, even in death, she is manipulated by the grey suits of Tory politics to take the blame for what they, and some of the rest of us, were and are responsible for.
In many places this week she has been blamed for single-handedly creating the greedy ‘loadsamoney’ culture that ultimately bore fruit in the global financial crash. Tosh. She, and her backers, just created the conditions in which it thrived: the greed and selfishness of the 80’s and 90’s was just waiting to be unleashed and so it was embraced by many ordinary people. She was doing what the rest of the Tory party wanted to do but didn’t think they could get away with. Thatcher was quickly dumped by her own party when they realised she was an electoral liability (remember the Poll Tax?), so it wasn’t all conviction about a new order: hanging onto power was more imortant. That’s how we got John Major instead of Neil Kinnock. While it suited her party and her backers, they let her run her chariot all over the lives of ordinary people, as well as destroy the industrial base of Britain, and for what? Buy your own council house (what a legacy of underprovision that has left for social housing)? I see in one paper today that one of the first council houses sold to a sitting tenant back then for a measly, and much subsidised, £8315 has so far been sold and resold for a total of £680,000 – yes, £680K. Now you could argue that the wealth created by the sale and resale of that one house, in estate agencies, DIY shops and lawyers offices, is the epitome of free enterprise. And let’s nor forget the individual wealth created for the erstwhile owners: the first owners sold it on for 7 times what they paid for it. But it fuelled the notion of home ownership being a neccessity, not an option as it is in many less property-owning European countries, and the use of unsustainably ludicrous increases in value to underpin debt. It appears we haven’t really learned from that: I saw an advert today offering ‘buy now-pay later’ terms on some IT kit – at 29% APR – and Pay Day loans, at up to 4000%. I was absolutely staggered to recently have my ‘ethical’ bank offer me a loan, which I hadn’t asked for, down the ‘phone. Apparently we are so wedded to consumerism that we are still up for debt to underpin a bankrupt lifestyle. Ask any ‘Big Issue’ seller how they feel about the right to buy.
How about selling us shares in the industries we already owned as taxpayers, and which she privatised? I know it will be argued that injecting the profit motive and “modern” management techniques revitalised otherwise ailing industries. But what happened? Energy companies, mostly foreign owned, make obscene profits while pensioners and the under/unemployed go cold in winter. Our banking system is corrupted by roulette croupiers, our car industry is almost all foreign owned, as is what is left of our steel, while our railways stagger from one franchise crisis to another on 19th century infrastructure with shiny trains (with Richard Branson leering at us) that are overcapacity, and a fares and timetable structure you need a degree to understand, and an IT qualification to get the best value from. The East Coast mailine franchise failed twice and, wonder of wonders, is running profitably under state control. Meanwhile the Civil Service, and Local Government, having embraced the private business ethos, are heaving with private sector graduate-speak about mission creep, inputs, outcomes and risk analysis – but are they any more efficient at the coal face, where the ‘customer interface’ is? Are they buggery.
Anyway, back to Mrs T. What she presided over was a wholesale abandonment of the idea of “society”, in fact she said there was no such thing. She sold us the idea that we would all be better off if we put ourselves first. She took us, conveniently, to war in the Falklands; she cosied us up to Raygun Ronnie when he showed her the size of his cruise missile(s). She emasculated the historic, honourable, trade union movement (leaving care of the weak and vulnerable to charities), destroyed our coal and steel industry, in the process disembowelling whole communities and consigning generations to unemployemt, and the even more cancerous poverty of hopelessness. She gave us the conditions where the only ambition of a generation is “to be famous”.
One good thing she did was turn Scotland into a Conservative free zone. It may be that an unintended part of her legacy is an Independent Scotland, but it would be a mistake to think Scotland is, or the rest of the UK will ever be, really Tory-free. My dear old Ma would say “Scratch a Liberal and you’ll find a Tory underneath”; these days it’s hard to tell the difference between the parties as they fight over the so-called centre ground trying to out-tory each other. I for one am glad to see the back of her but I’m happy to extend condolences to her family in the loss of their mother. That’s the limit of my compassion, and as for a triumphal funeral procession through London – round Canary Wharf might have been more appropriate.
When Her Majesty’s Nuclear penis, HMS Conqueror, sank the Argentine cruiser Belgrano in the Falklands war, The Sun newspaper had the headline “Gotcha!” Vile and tasteless as it was in that context I can’t think of a more fitting headline for this week’s Socialist Worker, or Daily Star. ‘Gotcha’!