So. Farewell then, Margaret Thatcher as EJ Thribb (17½) would say in Private Eye. Keith’s mum can’t get re-housed because you sold off all the council houses and didn’t allow councils to replace them.
Well you didn’t really think I’d write about anything else this week did you?
We had been waiting some time for this day at our house. My Other Half had bought the Thatcher’s Gone party pack and pre-ordered Chumbawumba’s In Memoriam CD some years ago. You can spot our house, it has a “Rejoice!” poster in the window and “I still hate Thatcher” balloons around the front door.
I had been looking forward to the day, but when it came I felt strangely flat. I’ve been a bit off colour this week, which didn’t help but it was more than that. The woman might have finally gone, but her policies live on and are being taken to new depths by this government.
In sports commentaries they call it “momentum”. Your team may be one-nil up, but are on the defensive, the opposition are creating more chances – they have momentum.
Thatcher’s ideas of individualism, greed and private profit still have momentum. Blair’s New Labour government did some good things: the minimum wage, the Stephen Lawrence enquiry, civil partnerships, but it didn’t address the central question of the individual versus the collective.
Thatcher broke the post-war consensus. That consensus was forged in the Second World War when we were much more “all in it together” than we are today. Churchill may have been popular as a war leader (although not in Featherstone, where he is still remembered for shooting striking miners), but Attlee’s Labour government won by a landslide in 1945 and started re-organising British society on the basis of social solidarity. The welfare state – not just benefits, but access to the law through Legal Aid, to health through the NHS, to decent and affordable council housing.
These ideas had momentum for decades. In the 1950s it was called “Butskellism” after Rab Butler and Hugh Gaitskell (yes, that Hugh Gaitskell) the Conservative and Labour chancellors.
Thatcher set out to break that consensus, famously stating in 1987 that “There is no such thing as society”. She privatised public services whether it was hospital cleaners – thereby breaking the link between cleanliness and health that Florence Nightingale established – or water where there could be no market (there’s only one set of pipes!).
We were told that nationalised industries, sticking together with your work colleagues in trade unions, in fact caring about anyone else was unnatural.
As I vegetated in front of the television on Monday afternoon there was a re-run of Blue Planet (worth the licence fee on its own). By the way, David Attenborough also turned up on 6 Music this week and it turns out he was pivotal in bringing folk music to the BBC in the 1950s. If there’s ever an election for World President, I’m voting for David.
Anyway the reason I mention Blue Planet was that it showed examples of collective action in nature. Firstly there were the sea turtles who co-ordinated their egg laying so that the vulnerable baby turtles would all head for the sea at the same time to overwhelm their predators. Next up was the “co-ordinated panic” of cliff-nesting Kittiwakes – their defence against the attack of a (no doubt Thatcher-ite) Sea Eagle.
OK, I’ll concede that the eagle’s strong individualism is natural. But so is the collective approach of the kittiwakes and turtles.
I lived through the Thatcher years and I can’t forgive the damage she and her followers wrought. I saw Beeston descend from a respectable working class neighbourhood to a place where too many people had no hope in the future and turned to drugs, burglaries and joy-riding.
I worked in Hemsworth ten years ago and saw what had happened to once strong mining community after the pits were closed. I remember Hillsborough where the Police couldn’t be criticised, because that might raise questions about their behaviour in the miners strike. I watched her stand by whilst Irish hunger strikers died, putting back the chance of peace in Northern Ireland for at least a decade. And let’s not forget she supported the continued imprisonment of Nelson Mandela as a terrorist – he is of course, the other main contender for World President. She fought for her class and devastated the lives millions of ordinary people.
So I haven’t joined the street parties rejoicing in her death, but I’m glad they’re happening. On Monday, the media was gearing up Queen Mother style, national treasure sycophancy. They’ve had to report on the opposite view and concede that Thatcher was a divisive figure.
I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.