While my grandmother and Barbara Castle were the dominant political figures of my childhood, Margaret Thatcher and the politics she ushered in have been the backdrop to my adult life.
She came to power in 1979, the first general election in which I could vote. At the time I was a student in Sheffield, living and voting in the constituency now held by Nick Clegg, and spending time campaigning to ensure that Gwyneth Dunwoody held onto her seat in Crewe, the only chance of labour holding a seat in the Cheshire countryside where I lived outside term-time.
At the time, when power had swung regularly between Wilson, Heath and Callaghan I was disappointed by her election but how bad could it be? At least she was a woman who in the general-election campaign had famously stated that “any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running the country.”
And anyway, she’d be voted out next time.
How wrong I was. Following her election she did immeasurable damage to three things I hold dear; Liverpool, Equality and Scotland.
- Thanks to her involvement, the M62 stops at The Rocket roundabout rather than carrying on to the Mersey to serve the city centre, dockyards and airport, stifling the city’s economic development.
- In the wake of Hillsborough she refused to fully accept the criticisms of the police, writing in the margin of the report prepared in the aftermath, “What do we mean by ‘welcoming the broad thrust of the report’? The broad thrust is devastating criticism of the police. Is that for us to welcome? Surely we welcome the thoroughness of the report and its recommendations – M.T.” Thankfully, as a banner on the Kop once urged, we were able to “expose the lies before Thatcher dies.”
- On her election she said: “The women of this country have never had a prime minister who knew the things they know. And the things that we know are very different from what men know”, yet with the exception of Baroness Young, she promoted no women to her cabinet. In fact she promoted no women above the post of junior minister.
- She famously asserted, “The battle for women’s rights has largely been won. The days when they were demanded and discussed in strident tones should be gone forever. I hate those strident tones we hear from some Women’s Libbers.”
- She destroyed the manufacturing base of this country in her bid to break the strength of organised labour. The Proclaimers wrote their “Letter from America”, listing the industrial sites that had closed: “Bathgate no more.. Linwood no more.. Methil no more . . .” The song was for Scots who had left to seek a better life in America but the truth is that most of those laid off of in the 1980s remained in Scotland, trapped on welfare.
I marched against her war in the Falklands and her Poll Tax. I cheered as her car left Downing Street for the last time and my heart didn’t melt even the smallest amount to see her tears as she was driven away. I was “Up for Portillo”, watching the 1997 election all through the night to watch the end of her 18 year direct rule and rule by proxy.
So, was I out partying on Monday? No.
Two reasons. The first is one of compassion. Not for her, but for myself and everyone else. It serves no purpose to hate and to continue to hate even when the object of that venom has been removed.
The second is that the job isn’t done. It isn’t over. Her legacy persists.
Her biggest failing was to encourage the growth of the “loadsamoney” mentality that first took hold in the 1980’s, perfectly portrayed by Harry Enfield’s eponymous creation. We were all encouraged to work hard, not to become better people or to create better societies, but to earn more money. The underlying ethos was that there was “no such thing as society”. People were encouraged to believe that social mobility was possible through the accumulation of wealth, by selling off council houses and privatising public services. But social mobility hasn’t improved. The system of privilege that has held sway in the United Kingdom for hundreds of years is more entrenched as ever, mainly due to the policies of Margaret Thatcher who begat Blair who paved way for Cameron and his Cabinet of millionaires. The bankers were allowed to run roughshod across the financial markets because they were making money for themselves and those wealthy enough to hold shares in their corporations. The gap between rich and poor has reached levels not seen since Charles Dickens chronicled tales of the poor houses.
So, I will not be dancing on her grave come Wednesday as her legacy persists. I will happily dance upon the death of all of the divisive policies she ushered in – but that day is far beyond the burial of one woman.