Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher

Well, we've all had a few days now to come to terms with the fact that Britain's first female Prime Minister has died, at the age of 87, after struggling for the past few years with the effects of dementia. In the immediate aftermath of her death there was much said in many forums that was emotive, passionate, vitriolic and downright abusive, but these were the kinds of feelings that 'The Iron Lady' seemed able to engender in people - whether they were her supporters or her detractors.

It's not easy - certainly for those of us who lived through her leadership - to be ambivalent about Margaret Thatcher. I turned 18 in 1979, and so the first election she won was the first I had voted in (though not for her or her party). To some, she's the Woman who saved Britain; to others the woman who destroyed Britain. For those of us from the north of England she will be forever synonymous with the erosion of the traditional industries of coal-mining, ship-building and steel-making, and the almost civil war of the 1984-85 miners' strike, which tore apart so many communities and families in our industrial heartlands, and pitched ordinary working folk against the 'bobbies on the beat' who had for so long been stalwarts of decency and community.

Margaret Thatcher always professed to be a person of faith. She was brought up under the Methodist umbrella in Wesley's home county of Lincolnshire, but showed little of his Arminian zeal for the excluded and marginalised in society; she famously quoted the Prayer of St Francis on the steps of 10 Downing Street following her victory in 1979, but then promulgated policies that seemed to reverse the sentiment of that prayer, bringing discord, hatred and division and sending the country to war in the South Atlantic. I have to confess that I have always found it hard to see her as a fellow-traveller, following in the footsteps of Jesus, though I concede that she may have felt the same way about me.

There is no doubt that her legacy is huge and tangible. Not only do the present government of this country look to her with almost sanctified awe (as did Blair and his ilk), but the present financial crisis we find ourselves lumbered with is, it seems to me, as a direct consequence of the policies that she and her government adopted and fostered. Thatcher and her '-ism' made greed virtuous, and politicised a Darwinian 'survival-of-the-fittest' mentality which led to 'the fittest' being 'the richest'. Upward mobility was almost deified, but obviously came at the expense of those unable to lift themselves as high as others. 'Labour isn't working' (as the Saatchis had screamed from the hoardings in 1979) became its own parody, as unemployment soared, and Society (of which there was no such thing, according to Mrs T) gave way to the individual, out for all that they could get. Credit beyond peoples' means was encouraged, so that we could have all that we wanted now, and thus we got used to living on borrowed cash (and, as we have now discovered - at least those on the lower rungs of life's ladder - borrowed time too).

I do not rejoice (one of her favourite words) at her passing, though I have to confess that the first thing to pass through my mind when I heard of her death was a particular song from 'The Wizard of Oz'. Nor do I, though, rejoice at the effect she and her policies had on this country. We will never be the same because of her - but not, to my mind, in a good way.