Thursday, 21 October 2010

Hate Never Dies

When I was little, I remember my sisters and I (along with some family friends we thought of as 'plastic cousins') singing a little ditty that went like this:

Margaret Thatcher, put her in the bin
Pop the lid on, sellotape her in

If she comes out, knock her on the head

Glory, glory, Margaret's dead

I didn't think much about it at the time, but this means I've been wishing the worst on Baroness Thatcher (albeit death by bin) since I was about six. I certainly knew who she was - this was John Major era - and in the finest black-and-white logic of childhood, that she was a Bad Person. The curious thing is that, as Thatcher vitriol was presumably not knocking around on the playground, our parents must have taught us this. There is something potent about propaganda in song which meant this zoomed back into my mind when I clicked on this link, posted on Facebook today. I can see how the site might be humorous, but I didn't laugh - I was interested. Something is so culturally consensual about the 'we hate Thatcher' standpoint, whether you're the son of a miner or someone who was three when she resigned. But I only realised today, as I watched people counting down to her demise and making playlists to celebrate, how little I actually know about the woman, her career and her legacy.

It is clear that with this week's cuts came a lot of bad memories, and Thatcher's reported bad health and hospital stays have been consistently linked in with George Osborne's announcements. Unemployment has become a regular part of the news again, and though people aren't quite as vitriolic about Cameron, the resigned feeling that the Tories are going to cock it up again for the Average Joe has been wafting around since before the election. Although unlike Family Man Dave, it seems to me Thatcher never wasted much time trying to be likeable.

Funnier than Is She Dead Yet was the irony of the Chilean miners' rescue dominating what should have been her 85th birthday. People were all over Twitter and Facebook with their Thatcher/Miner jokes. Largely people who hadn't even hit puberty when she was at the peak of her power. Obviously a bad legacy spreads, and we all rightly hate Hitler without ever having been persecuted by him, but it just fascinates me how one woman has dominated decades as the villain of politics. She was our first and only female Prime Minister, a fact eclipsed by her Iron Lady image and the social mess she left. Will we ever elect a woman again? It seems unlikely, for if she has the balls to head up a party she will no doubt be compared to Thatcher, but if she is as saccharine and smarmy like Cameron, she'll have no chance either. One thing people appear to agree on is that these new cuts have a good chance of recreating the depression and turmoil of the 1980s.

Johann Hari thinks that Osborne and Cameron have 'blindly obeyed the ideological precepts they learned as baby Thatcherites: slash the state, and make the poor pay most.' He makes a good case against the depth of the cuts; their disregard of the advice of prominent economists, the Financial Times, and the evidence that countries like South Korea, who stimulated spending following the recession, have made a better recovery. British history, not only the Thatcher years, but the post-WW1 recession, also suggests that this is not the way to go. Forgive me; I am not a politics expert or an economist. It just struck me for a moment how much the shadow of a dying 85-year old continues to hang over the news and common debate. Something doesn't sit well with me about stirring up a mob of people eagerly awaiting a person's death, whatever they've done, however long they've lasted - and while unemployment can have devastating knock-on effects, there was no genocide here, no dictatorship. She was not one person acting alone, in this country is is a party and a parliament who make things happen, for better or worse. Hari may be right about the 'colder and crueller' country ours has just become, but let's not forget the many people, organizations and events that contributed to that. Including your vote.

Image: The Guardian


  1. Interesting post. No one divides opinion like Thatcher. As a lefty thirtysomething who can (vaguely) remember the Thatcher years I've been thinking the "give Thatcher a kicking" thing was a bit OTT.

    She was after all only the figurehead of a Tory party that was allowed to push-through it's destructive ideals (ruining mining communities, selling off all public services) unopposed because of the mess Labour had got itself into with the unions in the late seventies. I guess for every effect there is a cause?

  2. Exactly. There is such a thing as common courtesy and decency. There's a certain misogyny at work as well. (Incidentally, it's not 'what should have been her 85th birthday' - it was indeed her birthday, the calendar rolls round whether anyone is taking notice or not).

  3. I come from a working class background and I lived through the Thatcher years. I found it a fantastic time to be involved in politics. When I went to Uni in 1993 I did everything I could to fight against the militant lefties in the Uni. We managed to scupper the chances of a girl named "Red Paula" and managed to vote in a kind of Christian Democrat S.U president. Sadly, once we left Uni those lefties morphed into the "New Labour" movement and they hoodwinked the electorate into voting them into power. Thirteen years later we're picking up the pieces again of a failed Labour Government.

  4. I find it amusing that a lot of the people who are apparently so "anti-Thatcher" were not even conceived when she was Prime Minister. Presumably, like you, they were taught this anti-Thatcherite propaganda by their leftie-parents and no doubt have since automatically jumped on the "Hate Maggie" bandwagon because they never really knew the details of it all.

    This is someone who was democratically elected into power not once, not twice but THREE times. If she was so awful and making such a disaster of everything, why were people voting for her in their droves?

    Now don't get me wrong, I think she made a lot of bad decisions and I don't agree with many things she did. But let's not forget that people wanted her as Prime Minister and kept voting for her.

    And let's not forget the big achievements she did make. If you had lived through the 1970's in the years before she was elected you would have seen what it was like to live in a state held to ransom by strikes and union demands - rubbish uncollected in the streets, strikes, riots and no electricity. A great advert for the Labour government she took over from.

    A whole generation has now grown up knowing nothing of those times, nothing of the Cold War, nothing of what she actually did (both postive and negative). Instead its nowtantamount to a war crime to say what millions of Brits did in each of those 3 elections - that she had a lot going for her. I see Tony Blair now starting to be put into the same box...again, voted in by people repeatedly and seen as a hero, then consigned to the dump bin by the next generation.

    A much more balanced view would be to say that Maggie did a lot of positve things for the UK, some negative, was loved by many, hated by many, was voted into power democratically three times and then voted out when views changed and times moved on. But that's a hell of a lot less cool than jumping on an anti-Maggie bandwagon....