So Thatcher is dead. There’s no point getting into a whole litany of abuse about her, richly deserved though it would be, partly because there will be a ton of that in the coming days, partly because Martin Rowson and Steve Bell will do it so much better, and partly because I already vented my spleen on Twitter as soon as I heard the news. However, as this disgusting person dominated the early part of my intellectual and political life, I cannot let her passing go without comment.
The most important thing, for me anyway, is to understand why she was hated as much as she was. I try not to hate people, as a rule, but in her case I make a grim exception. She was vile, and so were those around her. There are lots of loathsome and loathed politicians around, of course, but in my lifetime probably only Richard Nixon was despised more than Thatcher (and if you want to know why that was, read the ‘real’ Nixon, in his own words (sort of) in Robert Coover’s ‘The Public Burning’.)
But Thatcher was/is easily the most hated British politician – more so even than Tony Blair – because of what she, knowingly, cynically and maliciously did to the British people, and to many more beyond them. Her government’s destruction of British industry and the trades unions – the ‘enemy within’ – was systematic and brutal. The unions were not perfect – they still aren’t – but the caricature painted of them to legitimise the outpouring of state violence against ordinary working people was despicable. I lived in a flat right above one of the main picket lines for the print-workers’ dispute with News International at Wapping in 1986 and witnessed the systematic violence used by the police against peaceful pickets. The supposed defenders of the public peace beating protestors so that they couldn’t disrupt the drip-feed of poison from the Murdoch presses.
Thatcher is also credited with the main wave of privatization – in conjunction with that bumbling oaf Reagan (of ‘reaganomics’ fame). Although privatization was in fact started by the previous Labour government, after 1979 the wholesale sell-off of state assets and industries became a torrent that lined the pockets of the few at the expense of the many. And privatization coincided with the freeing up of capital controls and the easing of banking regulation that saw vast sums flow into the City of London and then straight out into the burgeoning (largely British) tax-havens, again into the pockets of the wealthy. Ultimately the economic catastrophe of 2008 – the idiotic banking, the tax-evasion and the corruption that fuelled it – is a consequence of the cynical policies pursued by the Thatcher governments.
Then there was the Poll Tax, which deliberately, knowingly and obviously sought to replace the principle of progressive taxation with a regressive tax that would disproprtionately affect the poor and the marginal. That, ultimately, cost her the Prime Ministership, but not before she’d brought much of the country to its knees.
And then there was the blood-soaked crime of the Falklands/Malvinas war – a crime she shares with the corrupt Argentine Generals she so strongly resembled……
I could go on…..for hours. These are just my personal highlights and they’ll be much revisited by others. So why do we all hate her so much? Well if the above were not enough, it was the knowing and entirely cynical way that she and her hangers-on distorted the basic currency of political and social life.
They distorted the meaning of ‘society’. She was famous, of course, for saying there was no such thing, but of course she knew there was – it’s just that the only society she was interested in was one made up exclusively of wealthy white men. She distorted gender. She made a great play of her being the first woman Prime Minister and I remember at the time this being hailed as a great breakthrough in gender equality. How naive we were! But what she actualy did was to use a regressive, bastardised version of her gender – the handbag-wielding, pearl-necklace clad, preachy ‘housewife’ metaphor she promoted ad nauseam – to usher in policies that set the cause of gender equality back by decades. She even managed to distort the meaning of ‘conservative’. Her governments were the most reckless and thoughtless we had ever seen (though the current mob might yet out-do her on this), and rode roughshod over anything – tradition, citizenship, gender, security, peace: all those things they claimed to stand for, in other words – to enrich themselves and their supporters (most of the latter being foreign bankers, arms-dealers and racists).
Thatcher herself was not entirely responsible for all this, of course, though nor was she the kind of moronic tool that Reagan was for the ‘interests’ on the other side of the pond at the same time. Worse than that, she clearly knew what she was doing and was instrumental in many of the worst atrocities committed by her governments. To cap it all, it was all done without a shred of humanity. The eighties in particular were a decade of fear, violence, corruption, and sheer bloody nastiness – all of it orchestrated from Number Ten. I remember after she’d been deposed as Prime Minister (by her own ‘men’, scared by then of just how insane she’d become), the Labour MP Denis Skinner reminiscing about having to face her in Parliament. The recollection that struck me most was her inability to handle humour. Skinner remembered that he best way to unsettle her during Prime Minister’s Questions was to laugh at her – openly and honestly to laugh out loud at the craven stupidity of her and her government of millionnaires. Apparently it used to drive her to distraction.
Anyway, speaking of laughter, I was told the news this morning by a colleague, Jo Grady, whose father, a Yorkshire miner, was out on strike when Jo was born. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone so happy at the news of someone’s death. And although I did not personally suffer as much as Jo and her community did at the hands of these fools, I can fully understand the way she felt. Jo and her partner Chris were skipping off to get a train back to Wakefield tonight to get rascally drunk celebrating the demise of their nemesis. I shall raise a glass myself later.
People are already trotting out the cant that Thatcher was a ‘great statesman’ (sic), a ‘champion of liberty’ and a ‘great Briton’, etc. There will be much more to come. But she was none of these things. She was humourless, a hypocrite, a thief, a cynical warmonger, morally corrupt, a homophobe and a racist. And that’s not a litany of abuse – that’s just the facts.
That’s why we hated her. And we still do.