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Thatcher

Go on then. I have said all I want about this on Facebook, but here’s the longest comment I wrote shared for your bloggy pleasure. Apologies for the lack of refinement in the style.

EDIT: Dominic Sandbrook’s take, over at the BBC is basically a much better version of what I’ve written here.

I, of course, have no real personal experience of the Thatcherite years, only the aftermath. But she did not hoodwink anyone. She went to the country in 1979 with A Way past the deadlock and inflation of the 70s and won big. That she kept on winning is partially the fault of the Labour/SDP split and partly because Labour just could not get its act together into a cohesive platform that was seen as electable.

The real legacy of Thatcher and marketisation of the economy is that it reveals the true desires of people, and often they are uglier than we would like to believe. Her oft quoted “no such thing as society” line is, as I understand it, more saying there is no Bloc you can call The People or Society – just individuals, their connections and what they do for each other. In a way, this preceded the decline of the importance of the nation state that we see now and the rise of a better connected, more fluid world where you not only might have more in common with some dude from Seattle than you do your neighbour, but you have the ability to know that and act on it in a way that draws you closer to that individual and perhaps out of your “given’ communities and circumstances. We’re freer, but our attention is more scattered.

We are terrible at pushing a collectivist political agenda in this country because whilst we have – correctly, I believe, – thrown off imposed notions of duty, be they familial, geographic or religious, we have mostly failed to replace them with any sort of willing cohesive alternative with consistent, long-term political power to rival old trade unions. Can most of us just not be bothered to engage if life is kinda working out for us? We can just join a book club. I think that perhaps the belligerence and drive that defined those organisations, both in good and bad ways, did not translate to the style of most of the workers once they became white collar. The majority of “working class” jobs in this country are now white collar or self employed…professional…and a bit more meek. Speaking of – Trade unions, as great and important as they were in raising up those who needed support (the Big Society in action?), they are also prone to becoming rackets. My grandad was part of one, a shop steward, and in his experience they were just as open to corruption as any political party and they certainly did *not* love immigrants. Why would they? They usually undercut earning potential. But in the 1970s the globalised marketplace was coming and, as I understand it, that’s what did it for mining. The costs vs the labour didn’t add up when importing was cheaper, and the British mines were already creaking under state subsidy.

Hand on heart, I don’t know if most miners would want their sons (cause it was sons who mined – what job there for women?) to necessarily follow them down the pits if you could offer them an educated alternative anyway. Yet regardless of whether the mines were profitable or not, or whether or not they deserved subsidy, or whether the people in them enjoyed it, Thatcher slamming them down before laying up any sort of plan for a replacement or encouraging investment (private or public) in those areas is the true mark of her political negligence – at best a lack of compassion, at worst a grotesque abuse of power. 

But people kept on voting her back and the consequences of that continues to resonate. Can’t just blame Maggie – Britain did this to itself.

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