The demise of Margaret Thatcher will certainly prompt a wide range of reactions/emotions. Me? I feel surprisingly rather numb about the matter, but somehow feel compelled to write about it on the same day.
I anticipate being able to relate to many of the diverse sentiments that will be expressed over the coming days; she was not too bothered about popularity: re-engineering a society is bound to make as many friends as it will enemies.
"I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left." ~ Margaret Thatcher.
Having spent pretty-much all of my early working-years under her governance, I still find it difficult to assess her in an objective manner. In many ways I was a typical example of the new-society she was seeking to nurture: I was working-class but had developed my career via a variety of well-paid jobs in the City (working with the investment banks, but from an IT perspective). I even drove a Golf GTi (in white, of course) - and had a full-to-bursting Filofax (although I later migrated to the much more clinical German Time-Manager system: the Filofax had become little more than a Yuppie fashion accessory, and lacked business-gravitas, you see). This was long before the days of the PDA - my having a mobile ‘phone was pretty rare; albeit it was a mobile ‘phone insofar that it was attached to the dashboard of my Golf GTi.
The miners-strike was something that happened in a different world to us. We down in London were totally detached from the traumas that ensued. There was no social-media back then to expose and virally spread the many horrors going-on in the mining communities across the country. It’s ironic that decades later I have ended settling-up home in a former mining village that was at the time in the midst of the strikes and turmoil. To this day in the village pubs around here you can hear first-hand tales of what people experienced. I can assure you it puts a very different perspective on how she transformed society. Whilst I, and others like me, were swanning around in our GTi’s, full of our own importance in this new free-market, people in the village we now live in were at that time scavenging for bits of coal to warm their homes. Food of any sort was a luxury. The miners-strike was symbolic of the Old Britain being smashed and remodelled by Thatcher: she told us - assured us - that the future lay in the service-industries: leisure, shopping, finance. Nobody needed to ‘make’ anything, it seemed. We’d all get richer by following her credo. For a while it worked, for a lot of people…
"Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery." ~ Winston Churchill.
And there were plenty of people suddenly enjoying this whole new lifestyle experience: disposable income, and being on the social-ladder. This was brilliantly - and cynically - brought about by councils being mandated by her government that they had to offer for sale their council-housing stock under a ‘right-to-buy’ scheme. Very clever messaging. Portrayed as representing personal liberty but in fact, overnight, changing the political landscape of the country. Suddenly, a whole new demographic became home-owners and within a few years they had inherited a large (and rapidly growing, back then) amount of equity which they could leverage for personal-loans, etc, and so become fully-fledged members of the nascent consumer-economy. This was social-engineering on a scale Hitler could have only dreamed of. A New Jerusalem beckoned.
"All propaganda has to be popular and has to accommodate itself to the comprehension of the least intelligent of those whom it seeks to reach." ~ Adolf Hitler.
It’s a shame that she lost her mental faculties a number of years ago, for what she would make of the consumernomics-mess we are in the midst of would be fascinating. Tragic though her illness was, she was able to skip any form of accountability. This leaves one with a somewhat pyrrhic feeling of schadenfreude.
"You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life." ~ Winston Churchill.
Sure, consumerism had been with us before, but in a very modest way - a new rental colour-TV and maybe a foreign holiday, every couple of years. Under Thatcherism the pool of consumers exploded, along with their access to modest amounts of disposable income. Most importantly to Thatcher and the Conservative party, this new demographic now had wholly new voting intentions and a whole new credo. Her credo. I knew hardened socialists become (discreet) conservatives (ie, with a small ‘c’) within a matter of months. This was an absolutely genius tactical move by her. Many of these new conservatives (small ‘c’, remember) had bitter memories of the chaos of the 3-day working week: fuel-restrictions, perpetual strikes, shoddy services and products. And this chaos and misery was under ‘their’ (ie, the working-classes) Labour government. Utter incompetence. For much of the 1970s, Britain felt like one was living in some noir Russian documentary inspired by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
She enabled London (ie, the ‘City’) to become what it is now: a rather surreal chimera-like Monaco, but on a vast scale, accelerated by HFT, in so many ways. How ironic that her philosophies have enabled the Russian oligarchs to buy-up much of the prime real-estate in London. “We can do business together.” Indeed. Greed is Good. Venal is Better; or so it seems, nowadays…
However, we do have to thank Thatcher for catalysing some of the best music of recent times. Would we have had this without her? I doubt it. Her legacy in many ways will have been the inspiration for more great music than Simon Cowell could ever aspire to being the Svengali of. Somewhat bizarrely, for all the social-unrest, political and economic turmoil now, we have music like this to reflect our ‘angst’ (see below, for my theory regarding this).
"In that sense, I became politicized because the people in the coal mining villages who were involved in the struggle knew why they were there. But they couldn’t understand why some pop star from London would want to be there." ~ Billy Bragg.
I suspect this is largely because contemporary political ‘leaders’ (sic) have realised it is far safer to be anodyne and annoying, rather than radical and confrontational. Plenty of posturing and platitudes but no real action.
"To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects." ~ Margaret Thatcher.
Whatever you may think of her, and her legacy, she was pretty transparent: effective and brutal - for good or bad. She has my respect for her authenticity. We should credit her with that, whatever our preferred style of polity may be: authenticity is a rare commodity.
Clever stuff, when you think about it, eh?