Thatcher, decency and criticism

Street parties were held across the UK this week. Spontaneous affairs, they were also long in the planning. Those who gathered in various cities felt that the appropriate way to mark the death of Margaret Thatcher was to dance in the streets.

Thatcher was a polarising figure. It is said that no one is indifferent in their view of the woman or of what she represented. People either loved or loathed her. Supporters say she put the “Great” back into Great Britain. Some critics long claimed that they would dance on her grave.

But being an opponent of the politician, or a critic of her political views, does not mean that decency should be forgotten. Some commentators compared Margaret Thatcher with the Nazis. Think about that for a moment.

Much is made of her ignorance of the plight of ordinary people. Unions speak of the devastation wrought on families when pits closed or when jobs were lost through privatisation. Thatcher, they say, was heartless.

Such criticism confuses the abstract with the personal. Owen Jones writes of Thatcherism as a “national catastrophe.” The current economic crisis results from Thatcherism having “wiped out the country’s industrial base in favour of a deregulated financial sector.” She didn’t fix the economy because it didn’t need fixed: “Britain’s most sustained period of growth and increasing living standards were the three decades after the war, with their high taxes on the rich, strong trade unions and state interventionism.”

That all sounds wonderful, but ignores basic truths. The country’s industrial base was on its knees. Three decades of growth after the war were premised on an explosion of consumer growth, changing lifestyles and a growing population. Growth, already stalling, screeched to a halt with the 1973 oil crisis. By 1978, much like today, the economy needed structural change. Thatcher recognised this, and she delivered.

John Rentoul stole my thunder by writing that Thatcher was “a necessary Prime Minister.” The economic reforms of the 1980s would have happened. Many Southern European countries are paying now for having delayed them for 30 years. The vitriol towards her stems from the social impact of these reforms; by carrying them out with such speed and verve, huge swathes of the country were devastated. Individualism is king today. If there was such a thing as society in 1983, it is a lesser thing in 2013.

Ken Livingstone, on the night of her death, blamed Thatcher personally for the nefarious effects of neo-liberal economics across all of the West. She may have dominated her party and country, but she was not the only champion of such policies. Has Livingstone never heard of Ronald Reagan?

The Left likely does not intend the compliment of attributing the West’s embrace of free market economics and individualism to Margaret Thatcher alone. It was Neil Kinnock, Labour leader during much of the 1980s, who pointed out that the humiliation of the Left was ably aided by the stupidity and arrogance of the Left. No fingers pointing at Arthur Scargill.

It is entirely fair to say, as several more moderate voices have said (including, surprisingly to me, Russell Brand), that many of her policies were either distasteful or downright immoral. Perhaps most appalling of all was her objection to sanctions against apartheid South Africa, paralleled by her support for Chile’s Augusto Pinochet. And Tories wonder where the nasty label came from.

Which brings us back to those street parties. Writing in the Guardian on Monday, Glenn Greenwald made the argument that because she was a public figure, criticism of Lady Thatcher should not be silenced: “[A] demand for respectful silence…is wildly inappropriate for the death of a controversial public figure, particularly one who wielded significant influence and political power.”

No one suggested that criticism of such a controversial figure should be silenced. People simply expect it to be respectful. Greenwald writes, much like a 16-year old with no argument would assert on a GCSE History paper, that Americans’ views of Ronald Reagan continue to be shaped by the “week-long tidal wave of unbroken reverence.” Pity those people whose entire world view is shaped by a week of historic reflection.

Pity those people who, railing against the mean-ness that Thatcherism engendered, express glee in her death. Pity those people who cannot channel their anger into advocating for a more beneficial capitalism. Pity those people, like Owen Jones, who miss the point completely in calling for a workers’ revolt.

The world has moved on from 1945, and from 1974 and 1984. The ease with which we communicate and travel means we are all better off today; both possible because of Thatcher’s reforms. Those who abhor Thatcher need to argue for a more social Britain, with more social equity and more community. Dancing on anyone’s grave does not advance that task.

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8 Comments

Filed under Politics, UK Politics

8 responses to “Thatcher, decency and criticism

  1. If you lived through the Thatcher era (and you might have done). Then, I am sorry but what Glenda Jackson said today was felt by millions. As for the parties in the streets. Realistically the woman is dead, so no harm done. Additionally it is at a time when there are severe welfare benefit reforms. An MP is right now on twitter saying

    ‘Stewart Jackson MP ‏@SJacksonMP 9 Apr
    @ssr1246 @nadinedorriesmp Ok, I meant social misfit bottom feeding dregs, so apologies for that

    6:47 AM – 9 Apr 13 · Details
    Stewart Jackson MP ‏@SJacksonMP 9 Apr
    @NadineDorriesMP In fairness, the unemployable dross “celebrating” MT’s death do not represent the values of most decent Labour people

    This is an MP paid for by the Tax payer. If I spoke about my clients like that at work, i would be fired. I am disgusted.

    • I was born in 1982, so I am a child of the Thatcher years. Obviously, the immediate impact of the Thatcher years was rather lost on me; I was almost eight when she left Downing Street. The point I make in my article is that I can recognise the hurt her policies caused from a social perspective, but still see that she was a necessary Prime Minister. She happened to be the person who instigated the economic policies at the time, but if it wasn’t her then someone, at some time, would have done it. That she did it in the 1980s ensured that Britain’s national economy rose at a rate faster than those European countries that had begun to overtake the UK.

      Within all of that, I agree with much of what Glenda Jackson said. I not only accept but advocate the argument that much of what Thatcher did had horrendous consequences: the elevation of greed and selfishness, the decline of community to name but two. Her support for reactionary regimes around the world still causes me huge offence.

      All of that does not make it okay to dance in the streets because a woman is dead. You say, “realistically, the woman is dead, so no harm done.” Such a statement rather shocks me, as I highlight in the last paragraph of my article. Dancing in the streets because someone has died says a lot about the kind of society we are. Those very people dancing in streets are angry at the kind of society that Thatcher’s legacy has left us and yet they show no humanity themselves. Harm is done. Harm is done because it shows total disrespect for the deceased and for her family. It shows that some in Britain are selfish and greedy.

      • I think that this is being taken out of context. I have heard conservatives say ‘an 87 year old woman with dementia died. No, a woman died who brought in things which were awful for people to endure. It is important, because those same policies are being implemented once again by Tories. Attacking the poor the sick and the disabled.

        I left school in 1984. This woman came into power in 1979, I had just gone to secondary school. What Glenda Jackson said was TRUE. That was exactly how it was.

        Do people have respect for Hitler? Or Saddam Hussein? No, of course not. Should we feel for their family? No.

        I left school in 1984, and this woman and her government really affected my life, and my family. I was not a lazy person. I was a young person. A bright and intelligent person. The list of what that woman brought in, is huge. If you weren’t there. If your youth wasn’t spent with this sense of despair, if your school years were not marred by this, wouldn’t expect you to understand. If your young marriage didn’t go to divorce, because your husband couldn’t afford to pay poll tax for the two of you, and you had two small children, so couldn’t work, and there were no jobs anyway….

        Then your own children go to school, and no longer is there milk. What Glenda Jackson said said about the attack on mental health, the homeless, schools, hospitals, how she sold off most of the things that we owned as a state and a nation.

        Yes the rich got richer, the poor also became poorer.

        The same thing is happening today. Yes you are right some in Britain are selfish and greedy – usually they are fat greedy Tory politicians.

        Her funeral should NOT be paid for by the British Tax payer – after all it was M Thatcher who said ‘there is no public money, only tax payers money’.

        I talk to disabled people who are terrified at what is happening to them right now. It is like Thatcherism mark 2…..

        People feel this way because they lived through it, their lives were ruined because of it. How much does your gas bill cost? Rail fare? We used to own those companies (the British tax payer) – British airways, British telecom, it hasn’t pushed prices down, prices have gone up!

        I wouldnt mourn the loss of Hitler, Saddam Hussain, or Osama Bin Laden….. I won’t mourn the loss of Thatcher either.

      • I didn’t ask you to mourn for her. I am simply appalled at the lack of humanity from people, among whom one of the major charges they set against Margaret Thatcher was her lack of humanity. Two wrongs…

        There is a way to oppose what Thatcher did and the legacy that her policies have left. It does not involve street parties, dancing in the street or expressing glee in the death of someone who has had no power over the direction of the country for 23 years.

      • We saw Thatcher dancing in glee many times.

        Battle of the beanfield, police brutality, what about Hillsborough so many people died, and the lack of respect for those people, with falsified records from police – sanctioned by Thatcher. What about the respect for those people?

        She was 87, she died. Many people have had their lives ruined, families broken up, communities destroyed, had their own families disrespected when they died (Hillsborough).

        We have experienced different things. Therefore our views are different.

        Lets face it there is a Tory MP on twitter right now, calling people ‘dregs of society’ it is absolutely disgusting what is being said.

        There is a reason that ‘ding dong the witch is dead’ has shot to the top 10 in the charts…..

        Personally, I don’t party about things like that, as I think that it attracts negative energy. Half the people there cannot remember.

        When there are people being attacked for being sick by the same Tory policies as Thatcher, when people are wondering if they will starve, and yet they are paying more than 10 million for her funeral when her own family has 60 million in inheritance?

        Look up battle of the beanfield. You see, Thatcher took away the right to dance, the right to freedom.,… so when Thatcher died…. people got up and they danced!

      • As I’ve said already, the social legacy of Thatcher’s policies leave a lot to be desired. But the economic reforms were necssary as part of a structural change to the economy – it is the same as what is happening in Greece today. Huge civil unrest has been evident there because of the massive social upheaval that economic reforms are having. But the reality remains that the Greek economy was broke.

        Social upheaval is an unfortunate and sometimes devastating consequence of structural change to economies. The task now for anyone who opposes Thatcherism is to work to mediate and temper the legacy; it is about creating a society that benefits from economic reforms and creating an economy that benefits society.

      • Yes, I agree with you about that. But is that realistically achievable?

        I think that Glenda Jackson was right, because that is the first time I have seen ‘spirituality’ in the house of commons. She spoke from her heart, and not with spin.

        I don’t agree at all, that people should not dance. As there are reasons why they would. It is not distasteful, at least no more distasteful than some of the things that were done under her rule. For no reason, apart from to massage the woman’s egomania.

        You might think ‘oh but she is dead’ …. she is… but i am spiritual. So for me, she has just gone to another place. Where everyone’s thoughts will be sent to her. It is important that people react to her death in the way that they see fit and what feels right for them to do.

        I just want you to understand that she stopped to parties on the streets, the free parties, for no real reason at all. It ended the new age travelling communities (many of which came from rich affluent parents). You are just talking of economic policies.

        It is about a lot more than that. If people want to dance to celebrate her death. Well, that is the way that it is.

        I also think it is important for Thatcher who is up there to be fully aware of how her actions affected others.

        There is little point to life, unless we are here to learn!! 🙂

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