Tuesday, 9 April 2013

remembering Margaret Thatcher

I am going to be 40 this year, and for me, as for many in my generation, Margaret Thatcher has loomed large over our lives, as an evil presence, bringing misery to the masses.

Of course, this is a massive over-simplification, and we ought not speak ill of the dead, but when a friend changed his status on Facebook yesterday afternoon to simply say 'she's gone', the first thing that sprang to mind was that Margaret Thatcher must have died, and a little frisson of hope sprang to life inside me.  Then other friends started putting 'ding dong the witch is dead', and I knew it to be true.

I don't want to speak ill of the dead.  Margaret Thatcher worked very hard, in an incredibly difficult environment, doing what she thought was the right thing to do.  She was just wrong.  Wrong, and powerful, and never willing to admit she was wrong, and the ramifications of that have echoed through the years.

From before my birth, Margaret Thatcher had earned the title 'milk snatcher', when as Education Secretary in 1971 she removed the entitlement to free milk from children over 7 (although the Labour party in 1968 had removed it from secondary schools, and now it depends on your local authority).

My family, and my friends families worked hard to avoid the Tories coming to power in 1979, and tried to stop them keeping power in the subsequent elections, but it didn't work.

In 1982, during the Falklands war, Thatcher ordered that the Belgrano be sunk while it was outside the exclusion zone.  323 people were killed.  War is never fair, but we must follow the rules of war if we can have any chance of true victory.  Some say that doing that saved many other lives, and they may be right, but it was not, in my opinion, honourable.

1984 to 1985 saw the miners strike.  Margaret Thatcher's government orchestrated moves to render thousands of miners unemployed in an economic climate which would see them unlikely to get more employment.  Strikes took place, and Thatcher sent the police in to fight the miners.  Her Government also removed benefits from miners families, forcing them further into destitution.  I lived in Yorkshire and would see pitched battles between desperate men and police on horses on the news.  

After the miners strike came the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985, where New Age Travellers, and other peaceful people came together to celebrate the summer solstice and were herded together and set upon by police, again at the behest of Thatcher's government.

After this, which some called class warfare, and certainly felt that way at times, came de-nationalisation, and the freeing up of the financial industry (and we all know how that ended).  It was profoundly distasteful, money seemed to matter more than integrity, wheeling and dealing to matter more than hard graft.

Thatcher herself became the target of the hatred this engendered.  At my youth club we would sing songs about getting rid of Thatcher, and we all hoped that her going would improve things.

But this is not to say that there weren't good things about Margaret Thatcher.  Something did need to be done about the unions (although maybe not that), and she did amazing work in improving UK-US relations.  She may not have been a woman's woman, but she was a woman, whose very presence at the top of British politics showed that it could be done.  The introduction of the poll tax, illegally in Scotland first and then rolled out across the country sparked many protests, which I took part in, and indeed riots, and hastened Thatcher's departure.

I remember catching the train to college in 1990, and everyone on the train was reading papers announcing Thatcher's resignation.  Like normal commuters, we would usually ignore each other, but on that day no-one could hide their smiles, and it was a marvellous day.  We didn't go to college; we went to the pub.

And now perhaps times have changed.  At the last election, I didn't really believe the Tories would get in, I thought that no-one could have forgotten Thatcher's government in so short a time, but as you know, I was wrong.  I think they got in because people thought they weren't Margaret Thatcher, and that Margaret Thatcher was the cause of the problems before.  I think they also got in because they said whatever was thought necessary to get power (you had to sometimes remind yourself they were Tories, as they'd sound quite reasonable), and now they are using it to crush the poor, and giving the rich tax breaks.  The banks are allegedly getting a ticking off, but it's the working people at the banks who have lost their jobs while the management carry on taking home wads of cash.

Margaret Thatcher's death takes away the figure of the wicked witch, and we may proclaim 'ding dong, the witch is dead', but her flying monkeys are still in power, and they're at it again, dragging the country down to their money grubbing, individualist level.  Scotland is thinking of voting with its feet, but the alliance of the United Kingdom is a strong one, and although we may take the mickey out of each other, we are better together.  Scotland doesn't like being run by the Tories, and indeed didn't elect them, but the same can be said for much of England.  Scotland shouldn't leave England to its fate, and the United Kingdom as a whole shouldn't be so foolish as to allow the evil empire to continue.  

No political party is perfect, but the things that I love about our country, in particular, the way we lift others up so we may all have the chance to stand on the shoulders of giants, requires the things that the Tories are trying to destroy.  Don't let's let them.

Don't celebrate the death of the witch, because the flying monkeys are still in power.