So, the inevitable Thatcher post…

I suppose it doesn’t have to be inevitable. I could just opt out, leave the semi-rational, reflective moments to some seriously talented writers (and all the non-rational, unreflective moments to the Daily Mail). And yet, I feel like marking the moment.

I was born in 1981. I grew up in Cornwall. I remember local mines shutting down when wheels I used to pass on my way to swimming lessons stopped turning, not because of any memory of the drama and the trauma that accompanied it. One of my earliest concrete set of memories, and engagement with politics came with Thatcher’s removal from office. But actually, most prominent in my mind, since the mass eulogising of Thatcher in parliament this week, has been my first trip to London, aged seven. I remember being very excited about the tube and black cabs, and trying to hide behind my dad from my local MP when he greeted us at the House of Commons when we went to see Prime Minister’s Questions. I also remember going through the subway passages around Waterloo and the Southbank. I don’t know where we were going, or why. But I remember it was dark, and miserable, and full of people, and cardboard. It was oppressive, and scary for a child. It came back to me yesterday, when Glenda Jackson gave her speech, saying

London became a city that Hogarth would have recognised…

Since visiting, and then moving to London as an adult the Southbank has become a haunt of mine. The subways that so unnerved me as a small child have become my route home – and they’ve been safe ones, even for a single woman walking for a train after a show. But they’re not empty of a late evening any more. The last couple of years, as austerity has hit, people have been starting to sleep down there again.

The current government, like me, are the childrean and heirs of Thatcher – but they were old enough in the 80s to be politically conscious throughout it. Russell Brand, in between some other blindingly insightful comments about compassion in the response to her death, and the impact of Thatcher shattering the glass ceiling for women, wrote about the way Thatcher engendered individualism:

”What is more troubling is my inability to ascertain where my own selfishness ends and her neo-liberal inculcation begins. All of us that grew up under Thatcher were taught that it is good to be selfish, that other people’s pain is not your problem, that pain is in fact a weakness and suffering is deserved and shameful. Perhaps there is resentment because the clemency and respect that are being mawkishly displayed now by some and haughtily demanded of the rest of us at the impending, solemn ceremonial funeral, are values that her government and policies sought to annihilate.”

In another reflection Dan Rebellato quoted a section of Thatchers famous Women’s Own interview:

”I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand “I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!” or “I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!” “I am homeless, the Government must house me!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour”

These are the values that the current government grew up with – and their upbringing is showing. It’s not so much austerity politics that are the raging debate today (although there should be a stronger debate on whether austerity is good economics and politics), but the privilege of those setting the debate, and the sense that the government lacks compassion for those most affected by the cuts. It’s hard, with Thatcher, not to speak ill of the dead, because while the policies and ideology do make many people angry, but because the personality of the leader that set them in motion: the implacability and apparent mercilessness are the thing that makes the anger so uncontrollably furious.

So, I don’t like the parties in Brixton or Glasgow, but I can see where that sentiment comes from. And I have a certain empathy for the idea of Rough Music, which has started to be mooted for the day of the funeral – for the raucous dissent, a tradition of communities broken during Thatcher’s government, “dramatically enacted to humiliate one or more people who have violated, in a domestic or public context, standards commonly upheld within the community” And while much of the outcry behind it is about Thatcher, a lot of it is also about the current government – and about there refusual to engage critically or subtlely with what has happened in the UK over their lifetimes, now it’s all started to fray at the seams.


P.S. Other pieces you should read on the memorialisation of Thatcher:
Glenn Greenwald on the ‘misapplied etiquette’ of not criticising the politics of our deceased politicians and Jonathan Freedland on the battle to write the history of the Thatcher years.

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