The news broke yesterday that Margaret Thatcher had died at the age of 87. Since then, Radio 4 has broadcast seemingly endless comment on her premiership. As it is not British to speak ill of the dead, there has been much lauding and fawning-I have heard more times than I care to remember that it was Mrs T who put the ‘Great’ back in ‘Great Britain.’ The miners and the people of Liverpool have been more vocal in their hatred and indeed street parties have been held in Durham , Brixton and Glasgow, celebrating her death. Tony Blair has condemned this as “bad taste”
In 2013, and living with the consequences of Thatcherism, I find hard to stomach the tributes that praise her as the greatest peacetime Prime Minister; she was divisive, destroying communities and fuelling class war. She sold off the utilities and we now have to pay prohibitive costs for energy. She shut down coal mines, destroyed our industries and our manufacturing base has never recovered. She sold off the council houses, deregulated the banks. She created havoc and we have never recovered. There is a dearth of social housing, mass unemployment, people queuing up for Food Banks and some very rich men running the country. And we still think she was successful? She was the architect of all of this.
Listening to a phone-in discussion today on how lives were affected by Thatcher, it soon became clear that the Thatcherites were those who had made a great deal of money during the time she was Prime minister. Many bought shares in BT or British Gas, families could buy their council houses at a massively discounted rates, the armed forces enjoyed a big pay rise and, for the xenophobes we had the Falklands War. For many others, Thatcher represents repossession of their homes, 16% interest rates, redundancy, commmunities destroyed, friends and neighbours being set against each other, poll tax, riots, inequality, weak unions. Money and property were the watchwords of her beliefs; she promoted the huge myth that anybody could do anything they wanted if they worked hard enough. If a lowly grocer’s daughter from Grantham could become leader of the United Kingdom, the world was surely everyone’s oyster. Marrying a multi-millionaire probably didn’t hinder her in her quest but that was never mentioned.
Thatcher was a good friend of the police force. Officers enjoyed a huge pay rise and many earned huge amounts of overtime during the miners’ strike (she decribed the miners as “the enemy within”). She also went to great lengths to cover up police involvement in the tragedy at Hillsborough; there was a huge campaign in Liverpool called ‘Expose the Lies before Thatcher Dies.’ Even when it was known that she was directly involved in the cover up which so wrongly blamed the Liverpool fans, no apology was forthcoming.
Awful as her reign was,and everything she stood for Iam opposed to, her legacy does indeed live on; even the Labour Party has changed. As Owen Jones wrote in today’s Independent:”Thatcherism is not just alive and well, it courses through the veins of British political life. The current government goes where Thatcherism did not dare in its privatisation of the NHS and the sledgehammering of the welfare state.” It would be wonderful if her death galvanised the Left in to forming some real and credible opposition, but I think the revolution will be a long time comimg.