Margaret Hilda Thatcher
13-10-1925 to 08-04-2013
After a long and debilitating old-age, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is dead.
Easily the most divisive and controversial Prime Minister the UK has ever seen, the reactions to her death, as one might expect, have been extreme. The daughter of middle-class parents from Grantham, the fabled green grocer’s daughter, the Iron Lady was elected to parliament in 1959. From there she rose through Tory ranks to become not only the UK’s longest-serving Prime Minister of the 20th century but it’s first and, to date, only female premier.
There has been no other British politician in modern times who has exerted such a dramatic influence on the nation. Thatcher’s impact was, indeed still is, nothing less than seismic. Traditional, ‘cuddly’ One Nation Toryism was scornfully dismissed as ‘wet’ as she set about ruthlessly skewing the state and economic apparatus in favour of the rich and away from the working class.
The Conservative victory of 1979, which gifted Thatcher the keys to 10 Downing Street, came against the backdrop of the so-called ‘Winter of Discontent.’ Apparently, the UK electorate, sick to death of trade unions ‘holding the country to ransom,’ were keen to see someone take a strong line on industrial militants. Cometh the hour, cometh the woman. It is now established in popular consciousness that the 70s were a time of outrageous working class extremism and Maggie arrived in the nick of time to sort those pesky subversives out.
The years that followed saw ‘Thatcherism’ rolled out across the UK with a vengeance. Steel, coal, ships, automotive, and anything else resembling a manufacturing base, were ruthlessly run down, wrecked and/or sold off to City spivs. The twin objectives of making the rich richer and putting those uppity proles back in their lowly place, was successfully carried through.
The list of her crimes, both at home and abroad, is endless; from snatching milk from children to supporting Chilean mass murderer, Pinochet. A man who slaughtered 50,000 trade unionists and their children in mass executions in football stadia across the country, backed by the CIA, was an admired figure for Thatcher. ‘A friend of Britain’ no less, as she disgracefully remarked. The miners’ strike of 84/85, an act of sheer class spite and revenge, which led to the ruination of not just an entire industry but entire communities who relied upon those pits, still makes itself felt in ravaged pit villages all over the UK today.
Her greatest hits also included the Poll Tax, the Falklands War, shoot-to-kill in Northern Ireland and the criminalisation of whole swathes of the populace leading, amongst other things, to the scandals of Hillsborough and Orgreave. An enthusiastic supporter of the racist South African apartheid regime, Thatcher condemned Nelson Mandella as a ‘terrorist’ and while accusing Arthur Scargill of attempting insurrection, was quite happy to send aid and support to the Polish scab union Solidarnosc. Her hypocrisy was shameless and brazen; trade unions and liberation struggles were fine if abroad and aimed at left regimes but here in the UK? The full force, might and spite of the state were our blood-soaked lot. Just ask the relatives, supporters and friends of Bobby Sands, a democratically elected MP left to rot to death in the horror chamber of the H Block.
For all that, though, her greatest, single achievement, and it lives on strongly today, was shifting the narrative of popular discourse far to the right. Scape-goating the sick, the infirm, the disabled and the unemployed for the unparalleled greed of the crooks in the City and boardrooms is now the received wisdom. Get on your bikes, idle proles. Poverty is the fault of those labouring under it. The market is infallible and the state is evil and must be shrunk.
The pre-Thatcher years, the 70s, are viewed now as a dark and shameful chapter in the nation’s history. However, those unions that ‘held the country to ransom’ represented the majority of the people in the country at that time. In a very real sense, the unions were the country. A situation existed where the rich were taxed and the majority were subsidised, to a certain extent, by them. Why was that so bad? Today, on the other hand, the reverse is the case; we have millions driven into grinding poverty so the rich can grow ever richer at the expense of the poor and yet that’s acceptable? The world went mad somewhere along the way and Thatcher was largely responsible for driving it there.
The decline of the post-war boom and the collapse of Stalinism immeasurably aided Thatcher and her acolytes internationally but today we see the impact of her singularly toxic legacy; terminally-ill cancer sufferers booted from benefits to die in poverty and squalor, record youth unemployment and a casino economy bankrupt and busted to pay for the greed of her co-thinkers and followers; with those at the bottom blamed and witch-hunted for the excesses of those at the top. Add to that an effectively privatised NHS, poverty pay and a dismantled welfare state and her disciples have much for which thanks is no doubt given.
Ideologically, Thatcher was a consummate and effective class warrior and it is to the eternal shame of the Labour party that far from producing their own equivalent, they, instead, cravenly capitulated to Thatcherite orthodoxy. Arthur Scargill, the only man with the resources, backbone and principle to combat Thatcher’s vicious class offensive, was disgracefully betrayed, attacked and undermined by Kinnock and the Labour Party leadership during the working class’s hour of need. The results of that shameful treachery are here, today, for all to see in Blue Labour. Itself the progeny of Tony Blair’s New Labour, gloatingly crowed by Thatcher herself to be her ‘greatest achievement.’
While there are many who say we should not glory in the death of a frail old woman, there will be many, too, with greater insight and longer memories. By all means, celebrate the demise of a pitiless, stone-hearted, blood-soaked monster whose only concern was enriching the rich still further, irrespective of the human cost. By all means, break out your champagne and party ‘til you drop. For someone with as much blood on her hands as Thatcher, for someone responsible for so many millions of utterly ruined lives, there can, and should be, no false sympathy. No crocodile tears of faux grief. And to those who decry our celebrations and demand we show respect, let us say we’ll accord her the same respect she afforded her victims.
Thankfully, fittingly, to quote Arthur Scargill, ‘The Lady’s not returning.’ Hallelujah indeed. Her virulent legacy, though, lives on. Our historic task is to tear it down and consign it to the dustbin of history. To establish a system of planned economic organisation based on the needs of the many, not the greed of the few.
For the sake of humanity, for the sake of our children and all our futures there is no greater task, no more noble endevour. Let’s get to it. And while we’re at it, let’s tramp the dirt down. Good and hard.