Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Sharp Elbows

A lot of people seem to want to mourn the passing of Margaret Thatcher. 

A few will be family and friends, of course, who knew her as a person, and didn’t hate her. 
Others may think of her as someone who gave them opportunities when she was in power, to ‘get on’ and to strive to do well. 

Still others will feel that, although they didn’t benefit personally from her policies, she did achieve a number of much needed reforms, such as breaking the power of the Unions and privatising a lot of state-run industries so they could 'thrive' away from the public sector. 

And of course there are the Tories who, as well as falling into one or more of the camps above, are taking the opportunity to turn the whole event into a long-running party political broadcast.

I’m afraid we at TANH don’t fall into any of those groups.

The greatest peace time Prime Minister of the Twentieth Century? Unquestionably Clement Attlee, who achieved more, of greater and longer-lasting benefit to the people of this country in one term of office than she managed in three.

And the things the Attlee government achieved – the welfare state, the NHS, a cradle-to-grave safety net for the citizens of the UK – helped the poor and the disadvantaged, helped to build and nurture people’s lives, and helped to construct a fairer society.  They assumed an inherent sense of community and shared values.

Whereas the ethos and spirit of the Thatcher-led changes were captured brilliantly by Glenda Jackson last week: vices become virtues; you need ‘sharp elbows, sharp knees’, not care and compassion.

In ThatcherWorld, you get on by shoving people aside, pushing them out of your way, and getting one up on them.  You don’t inhabit a common society with shared goals.  Her policies were needlessly brutalising and destructive; if you accept that her objectives and intentions were sound (and we don’t), there were more collaborative, less plain nasty (to quote Theresa May), ways to achieve them.

Jeremy Hardy on the News Quiz refused to crow over her death, saying he sided with John Donne: ‘every man’s death diminishes me’ – a sentiment, I feel, she might have struggled to understand.

One of the things we’ve found interesting has been the way in which any dissent from the institutional praise of this most divisive of politicians has been carefully muffled.  Not silenced entirely, but certainly sat upon - from the BBC playing only a few bars of ‘Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead’ (no. 2 in the download chart as a result of market forces), to the criticisms of the ‘Turn Your Back’ movement, and the Sun’s ‘Spot the Leftie’ headline. 

Of course, some of this is understandable – a reticence about speaking ill of the dead, a desire not to upset her family and close friends, but we detect more.  The industries and cronies that have grown up on the coattails of the awful changes her government made to the way our country works are trying to avoid an Emperor’s New Clothes moment.  

Because if the death of Margaret Thatcher gives the right a chance to eulogise, it gives the rest of us the opportunity to point out just how fundamentally, fatally, destructively and hatefully wrong she was.

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