South of the River – Ding Dong The Witch Is Gone

Compass-SouthSo. 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.

Jeremy MortonAnd as for spending £8m on her bloody funeral, don’t get me started.

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.

3 Replies to “South of the River – Ding Dong The Witch Is Gone”

  1. In my opinion Maggie was the most despicable politician of my lifetime. She was responsible for the misery of so many people in the UK through her policies and actions. She supported right wing regimes overseas. Our nationalised industries were privatised and we are all paying for the consequences of that today. Our mining industry has virtually disappeared. Employment terms and conditions that trade unions fought so hard for in the past have gradually been eroded since her attacks on them. Good riddance I say. What sticks in my throat now is that Cameron (we’re all in it together) expects us all to contribute to her funeral, including those who suffered at her hands – so much for austerity.

  2. I realise that the family and some friends will mourn the death of the iron lady. However unfortunately for those of us left the legacy of her rule is still around.
    She was devisive and many don’t realise the damage that was done and is still being done under her influence.
    The only privatisation to work was BT and that is because it is not an essential utility.
    Gas, electricity , water, transport, all essential, are now in the hands of foreign companies taking extortionate profits. Her obsession with the miners and coal have led to serious weaknesses. Millions have been spent on research into wind and wave power, both of which have shortfalls. Our gas supplies are in short supply because she closed coal fired power stations. If research had been spent on coal, we are informed that we have up to 400 years supply under our feet, clean carbon emissions from coal power would have been forthcoming. Short term gains with long term costs are her legacy and we should not forget that. She will be long remembered sadly in my opinion for the worse. Her ego was too big and unfortunately our Labour politicians seem to have lost their concept of this fact.

  3. Well, I was no fan but I can think of some who were more despicable There was a guy called Peter Griffiths who won an election in Smethwick on a blatantly racist platform in the general election of 1964. I don’t hold in high regard some politicians in Northern Ireland on both sides of the sectarian divide who have been responsible for maiming and killing people. At a lower level of despicality – what’s the word I am looking for? – I am not over keen on those politicians who change political party, particularly those in the 1980s who left the Labour Party to found the Social Democrats. if they stayed it is possible we might have had fewer years of Mrs Thatcher’s government.

    Being a contrarian by nature I have been thinking this week of what there is to be said in her favour:

    – She had considerable personal courage and became leader of her party against all the odds -until it happened you wouldn’t have thought the first female party leader would have been a Tory

    – She facilitated, to some degree, the changes in the former communist bloc particularly through her relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev

    – She understood about climate change

    – She made Britain governable again.

    I think it’s this last point that people who who are on the political left are very reluctant to concede. In the 1970s Britain had become ungovernable and industrial relations were at all time low. Edward Heath had taken on Arthur Scargill and lost and by the end of the decade the Labour government could not continue partly because it no longer had a workable majority in the House of Commons but also because it was totally in hock to the trade unions. The winter of discontent (1978/9) during which there were widespread strikes by public sector trade unions demanding larger pay rises was for many the last straw.

    Margaret Thatcher came to power on the back of a country facing severe financial problems with a number of militant trade union leaders who wanted to call the shots. It seems to me that if you believe in democracy then it is preferable to have the elected government in charge. Thatcher was fortunate in that Scargill and the National Union of Mineworkers played right into her hands with a fight that the the government had to win.

    The way a lot of this was done and the consequent destruction of a number of communities and laying waste to many more was very destructive but I have no doubt that the unions had become over powerful. The disaster is that rather than getting to a point of greater balance between (in shorthand) social solidarity/ collective approaches to a more individually focused society we have moved to an extreme individualistic and market driven approach.

    Harold Wilson had a nice line when, with his tongue firmly in his cheek, he said that the purpose of socialism was to bring Marks and Spencer up to the standard of the Co-op. Just as a society totally driven by market economics is going to be undesirable so is one when people hide in public sector inefficiencies and unwillingness to take personal responsibility and that was the position we were dangerously close to in 1979.

    Finally, I do think the ‘state’ funeral approach is way over the top but a society fixated on individual fame and media driven lends itself to this. I think Clement Attlee’s funeral was a private affair with 150 people present and that in my view is how things should be…

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