So the Iron Lady is no more. She seemed so eternal, yet my father-in-law outlived her. Or did he? There’s generally a taboo against speaking ill of the dead, but I have to agree with Paul Cornell’s recent tweet – “Except Thatcher’s not dead. She’s in every bloody atom of this so-called coalition’s Britain.”
Yes, she broke the power of the unions, and a lot of us appreciated that at the time. Believe me, I lived through the Seventies and I wouldn’t want to return to the three-day week and the piles of rubbish in the streets. She took on the miners and ultimately won, and arguably that had to be done. I’ve been a Socialist for most of my life and I still accept the reality that somehow Britain had to transition to a post-industrial future.
But the brutal welfare cuts being cynically introduced today by Cameron’s government (because that’s what it is, regardless of any pretence at Coalition politics) wouldn’t have been necessary if Thatcher’s policies hadn’t thrown entire communities on the scrapheap with little thought for their social cohesion and self-respect. If people have grown up in a dependency culture, it’s generally because her poliicies left them with little alternative. They were implemented at a time when, cushioned by North Sea Oil and the short-termist sale of public assets like social housing and utilities, we could afford to ignore their social and financial cost. Now those pigeons are coming home to roost and of course the Tories are trying to blame the largely mythical feckless poor, conveniently ignoring the awkward fact that a large percentage of the people claiming welfare benefits are working poor and that the generous arrangments for pensioners, whose Tory votes can be relied upon, are far more expensive than the miserly and humiliating provision for the unemployed.
Yes, Thatcher’s achievements were monumental, though we shouldn’t overlook the role played by what Anthony Eden famously called, “events, dear boy” in securing her a second term at least. She was the first female Premier, but it’s sad that she acieved her high office by emulating the worst aspects of the male sex rather than embracing what is best in the feminine. She died in relative dignity and comfort, a privilege that has been denied to many people in the NHS or the so-called “care in the community.” Obviously there will be grief on a massive scale, but I hope we won’t see an outbreak of Diana-like, mealy mouthed hysteria. She doesn’t deserve that, and we need our wits about us to deal with the paticularly cynical, poisonous brand of Conservative politics that is running the country these days. At least Thatcher knew what it was like to stand behind a shop counter and weigh out bags of sugar. She wasn’t just a blinkered Old Etonian, and she didn’t preside over a Britain where the Prime Minister, the Mayor of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury all had that particular distinction in common.
Shakespeare knew a thing or two about power. In Hamlet’s gravedigger scene, the euponymous hero holds up a skull and muses on mortality. The groundlings would have recognised his unnamed target:
Now get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come