Why Maggie Won’t Have a Respectful Send-Off

Perhaps the United States once really was “the land of the free” – but I see no historical evidence that it deserves this label (unless it refers simply to the freedom of white people to grab land, in the early, pioneer days). An illustration of the power of US corporate propaganda is the way in which Ronald Reagan, a global terrorist and domestic criminal, who redistributed large chunks of the US economy to the super-rich, is today seen by many Americans as a hero; or at least, a nice old man. He even has a provincial airport named after him. This Stalinist-style rewrite of history is an American speciality. The truth is dead – long live the propaganda.

Reagan’s loyal sidekick, Margaret Thatcher, died last week, and the right immediately tried to begin another rewrite of history; the media has pushed a largely establishment view, and the old lady has been given a state-funded funeral, with military escort, to take place this Wednesday. The British establishment is trying to airbrush one unfortunate fact out of history: Thatcher is widely loathed by much of the British public – probably by more people than ever supported her. Unfortunately for the Conservative party, right-wing media and wider establishment, the British people have less of a tendency towards amnesia than our American cousins, and, it appears, less of a tendency to lie down and let the state roll over us.

Thatcher, I commented on Twitter, was the most hated Briton of the 20th Century. I only received one dissenting reply, which suggested Ian Huntley (the murderer of two young girls) as an alternative. Perhaps he was right – but reaching for a child killer underlines my point rather than destroying it.

The point of most of the protests, blogging and anger is deadly serious: to prevent Thatcher from getting the Reagan treatment. It’s important that the long series of tragedies that marked the Thatcher era is kept in the public memory. Even the combined might of the right-wing media has failed to hide that Thatcher is hated by millions of people.

Some clever person thought up a way to reveal the extent of Thatcher-hate: by suggesting that people buy the Wizard of Oz song, Ding Dong the Witch is Dead. The single rocketed up the iTunes chart to number one (before mysteriously settling back to second place in the hour before the count closed on Saturday night); the right, still failing to comprehend the truly mass nature of the anti-Thatcher feeling, tried to replace it with a pro-Thatcher song, “I Love Margaret Thatcher” (which was actually satirical – there are no known pro-Thatcher songs). This effort was promoted by the right-wing media – and still flopped dismally, reaching a pathetic 35th position. Despite what the media was telling us, there was no groundswell of pro-Thatcher feeling to rival the anti-Thatcher feeling.

The BBC and Capital Radio both decided to censor the charts. You see, it’s fine for the mass media to tell people what tunes to buy, but when the public choose the top single for themselves, to make a statement? That’s dangerous sedition. We now have an established precedent: when a fact (in this case, the extent of hatred for Margaret Thatcher) is inconvenient to the British establishment, the media can and will impose censorship.

Anti-Thatcher banners were displayed at football matches. Plans for a minute’s silence at stadiums were shelved, because football fans would have refused to stay silent. Every attempt to paint a picture of a nation in mourning failed.

The right resorted to snivelling: “An old lady has died… Think of her family.” But then why is such a hated woman awarded a state-funded funeral that is bound to generate anger and protest? Why is there a military presence, and why are the chimes of Big Ben to be silenced? Because then future generations can be taught that she was a national heroine; that her vindictive and deliberate destruction of Britain’s social fabric was actually done in the national interest. The fact of the funeral itself can be used to write history – how different is this from the state-sanctioned worship of North Korean leaders? These tyrants can prove how “loved” they are by showing videos of cheering, flag-waving crowds. Tomorrow’s event is made-for-TV. The pictures will show the burial of a loved woman, not a hated one. Millions can express their hatred for Thatcher on the streets, online, at football matches, by buying singles; but the final story that the establishment wants to tell is a different one altogether.

This is why the protests this week have been important. This is a battle for memes: a struggle to control which version of history goes into the history books. Because for all the praise over Thatcher’s legacy, the British people have not forgotten:

  • Thatcher’s “economic miracle” never happened: British GDP has grown in line with Germany and France – and this happened at the time of a North Sea oil boom in the UK.
  • Thatcher therefore didn’t create wealth with her policies – she merely redistributed it, from poor to rich, as shown by the Gini coefficient.
  • And the long-term economic legacy? According to Thatcher fans, we now have a country of opportunity for hard workers. Yet Thatcher actually made it harder to succeed – social mobility fell, and is among the worst in Europe, with only Portugal lagging behind us. This fact, more than any other, destroys the central myth of Thatcherism.
  • Thatcher’s one true economic achievement was to turn London into a global financial centre; but this happened at the cost of losing Britain’s position as a manufacturer, leaving Germany to soar ahead; and the 2008 crash showed that the City boom was far less valuable to the nation than had been previously assumed. It had been built on sand.
  • Some “libertarians” have declared Thatcher a fighter for individual liberty – these people clearly don’t remember the most authoritarian regime of the post-war era, probably even beating New Labour’s control-freakery after 9/11. The police were given a blank cheque by the Thatcherites: as a result, police corruption and violence soared. Deaths in custody were ignored. When young people turned away from politics and embraced rave culture, the police were even there to stop them dancing in fields. Thatcherism did not approve of dancing. “Free” people must consume, not dance.
  • Despite the rise in brutal policing (or more likely, because of it) violent crime rose throughout the 1980s, peaking in the mid-90s before starting to fall again (see “Trends in Crime” graph in this BBC article).
  • Thatcherites spread the myth that privilege is now about hard work, not birthright; yet when Thatcher’s moron son Mark attempted to engineer a coup in Equatorial Guinea and was arrested, strings were pulled on his behalf, and he was fined and released.

So Thatcher’s death is being used by conservatives to reinvent her life. Don’t these people have any respect for a frail old lady who has died, or for her family? Despite a torrent of media lies and censorship; despite the police acting to prevent peaceful protest; despite the tabloid wailing about “leftie extremists”, the British people have acted to stop history from being rewritten. The British love of free speech wasn’t given to us from above; it’s deep in our culture, and it’s the people who claim to defend it who most want to take it away.

12 thoughts on “Why Maggie Won’t Have a Respectful Send-Off”

  1. Bang on the money! I hope all the protests tomorrow are peaceful. Maybe ring a bell or two. Surely that’s not illegal? Yet.

    1. Well, the police kindly said it’s OK for people to turn their backs on the procession. Wasn’t that kind of them?

  2. It’s not just the right that tries to rewrite history, no ones perfect especially when you’re put in a position of power.

  3. Just to add, this blog is just one version of history. History has many layers and Its all too easy for people to be fed misinformation in these days of Social Media.

  4. My you sound so jealous and angry. Calm down deary, and lets take a look at your drivel.

    Lets start with your conjecture that more people hate Thatcher than supported her. Well she is the only post war PM to get a retrospective positive vote in surveys. She is the only PM to be elected 3 times and her policies were adopted by the left.

    That’s what you really hate, that last bit. The bit that says despite all the pain she put this country through, it was the right thing to do and as even the left wing media have conceded, she did it with the best intentions of the country as a whole at heart.

    You hate that as well. A PM with conviction. A PM prepared to do whatever, no matter how unpopular or hated it made her personally. Lets compare that to the foppish, focus group obsessed powermungering incompetents that the left has managed to drag up into leadership.

    You suggest that Germany pulled ahead of the UK in manufacturing because of Thatchers polices. I suggest you go find some stats for that. In the 1970s the UK only had indigenous industries and no external investment and those indigenous industries were shit. Massively burdened by oppressive, self obsessed union tycoons, churning out crap that no-one wanted. Seriously, you think Germany became an industrial powerhouse because of Thatcher, try considering that its because they made BMW’s and Mercs when we made Allegros. Try looking back to the pre and post war Germany and the quality of engineering that ultimately saw German engineers put men on the moon. To ‘blame’ Thatcher is risable.

    Maybe the BBC considers it poor taste to play a song relishing someone’s death. That’s the truth. That its mean and not very British to be so spiteful. But I guess that spite is what the left gave us. A decade of socialism and we are screwed as a nation. No wonder you are so upset.

    1. We built the concorde, but thatcher would not support investment and full partnership in Airbus, there was very little wrong with the areospace industry, the yanks had to nick ideas from us to break the sound barrier, we would have done it first but politicians decided breaking the sound barrier was too dangerous! I think the quality or lack of quality of british cars should be blamed on the management not the workforce. BL lost money on every mini they sold, they never costed it properly.

      1. I agree with you re aerospace, I could go on about that one all day. Without doubt the problems with the car industry were deeper than just union issues, frankly every level of BL harboured problems. But in other industrial areas, unions held an iron grip that needed to be broken. Dock workers being a classic example.

        And I don’t blame the workforce, union leaders like to play a “them and us game” where it is worker against management. The truth is that the union leaders started to run out of major reforms to fight for and became interested in power for the sake of power. People like Scargill and the TUC leadership used working men and women as their own private army to fight their own power battles and to defend their dogma, no matter whether it was the right or wrong thing for the workers in the long run.

        No one could say that what happened to places like the mining communities was anything other than deeply disturbing and frankly horrific. But to blame the surgeon for removing the cancer when it was union leaders and weak governance that failed to allow any kind of reform for a decade before is a little bit short sighted. Yes Thatcher did the deed, but the opportunity to act in a less aggressive way was lost it the previous administrations inability to resolve the over zealous unions.

  5. Pretty much spot on (although you’re wrong about chart censorship “setting a precedent”: that was done in 1977 when the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen was mysteriously demoted to no 2 in Silver Jubilee week).

    Dealing with some of the points made by Simon Francis Lay above:

    Retrospective votes don’t count: Thatcher was voted in 3 times largely due to splits among her opponents (the Tory share of the vote fell during her tenure, which is why the Tory party ousted her). Thatcher was generally pretty lucky with her opponents: Callaghan fatally delayed calling an election, Galtieri was a vainglorious fool, Scargill didn’t have a clue how to run a strike, and Foot was never PM in waiting.

    She isn’t the only post war PM to be voted in 3 times. Blair was too (although I accept that Blair was a Thatcherite).

    I’d suggest that the “foppish, focus group obsessed powermongering incompetents” (Simon’s term, spelling corrected) to have succeeded Thatcher belong to both Labour and Tory (the terms left and right make little sense when discussing current British politics, because the parties’ policies are so similar). It constantly amazes me how current policies, particularly in the Tory party are often a sort of cartooon caricature of Thatcherite policies, particularly on Europe.

    Some of the reforms Thatcher put in place (eg some of the earlier Union legislation) were probably needed in a modern industrial economy. However, it was done in a very confrontational way, and with no plan put in place to deal with the fall out. Two examples:
    Sale of council houses was a popular policy, and probably a good one in principle. However, no plans were put in to replace the housing stock, with the result that house prices rose sharply, and you now have much of the former council housing stock in the hands of private landlords charging “market” rents.
    The miners’ strike accelerated a process of pit closures that had been happening anyway under the previous government, as many of the coal mines became uneconomic. However, when the pits closed suddenly, nothing was done to help the people in the pit villages get alternative work. As a result, a number of those villages have become economic and social wastelands, and this is still the case (my wife’s late father was a miner from one of these villages).

    Simon also conveniently glosses over Thatcher’s two biggest mistakes. The minor issue of the Poll Tax (which is why the Tories got rid of her) and the far more serious problem of Big Bang, which laid the conditions for the 2008 crash.

    1. I agree that retrospective polling isn’t necessarily a great tool, but when assessing a current public view on previous leaders, I am not sure what else would work?

      I think what I objected to in the original article was the supposition on Thatcher’s popularity and an assumption that twitter feedback forms the basis for stating someone’s popularity. Twitter is a particularly insular place and the fact remains that a huge proportion of Thatcher fans remain outside social media and generally stick to the traditional press. They won’t show up on Moron Watch’s radar, but they very clearly exist.

      I could not agree with you more re. “Left and Right” being defunct terms. In fact I think this is what really irritates those on the true left about Thatcher. She ended that definition. She stopped the game of left vs right and the true left never found a way to play the new version of politics.

      It’s not 100% true to say no plans were put in place following the sell off of council houses. Councils were not stopped from building new homes, but they were restricted from getting into debt to build homes. Whether that was a politically motivated restriction or a pragmatic one depends on your personal perspective.

      I think the admissions you make that council house sell off was a good idea in practice and the need for union reform highlights why on balance so many view Thatcher in a positive light. These were policies driven by a desire to “do the right thing” but yes executed in a painful way.

      I know it’s easy to assume that she meant the pain, but I don’t think it’s that simple to accuse her of that. With the unions, there had been a succession of failures by governments to make progress, she saw the rise of eastern economies, particularly changes in China and Russia, she saw a need to change course for Britain and felt it had to happen fast or not at all.

      I would argue that the Poll Tax -I didn’t mean to gloss over that, I just ran out of space and time – is another example of a well meant policy. Consider it in context, system was in tatters so rather than tinkering and making a fix, the per head system was put in place. Badly implemented and it never recovered from the “Poll Tax” label, but was it unfair? There are problems with both the Council Tax / Rates system and the Per Capita approach. Personally, I think the latter has more logic to it when applied to local taxation, but it struggles to recognise ability to pay. However rateable value similarly struggles to maintain a link to ability to pay, particularly in a rising housing market.

      I would agree that banking reform did set in place the changes that ultimately lead to the 2008 crash. But as Gordon Brown was so fond of saying, it was a global crash and UK would not have been immune as US and European banks were equally liberalised. Also, we had a decade of weakening banking controls under Blair and Brown as they sought to recreate growth, but which led to a bubble that burst. So yes the Thatcher changes were the start, but that is like blaming climate change on Abraham Darby – the opportunity to monitor, shape and use the banks was there and was lost, but not under Thatcher, under successive governments.

      PS: Thanks for the spelling correction

      1. I accept many of the points you make (I was anti Thatcher when she was PM, but I’ve tried to be as objective and fair as I can in my post). Clearly, you’re right in saying Thatcher had many supporters whose views do not show up on social media.

        I don’t think the changes in Russia and China had really started during Thatcher’s time in office (China might have, but Russia was still part of the USSR at the time). That would have required a top of the range crystal ball!

        As a correction, I said that selling council houses was a good idea in principle, not practice. For one thing it was very popular. If councils had been allowed to replace the stock, it would have worked better in practice. Having worked in a private housebuilder, I can tell you it is standard practice to finance housebuilding through debt.

        Local taxation is never easy, but you have to find a way of doing it (taxation is the “art of plucking the goose for the most possible feathers, with the least amount of hissing”, as someone said). The Poll Tax was never going to work by that measure, because it was widely perceived to be unfair (because the “dustman paid the same as the millionaire”).

        The essential point on Big Bang is that it fundamentally changed the risk profile in the City. Before Big Bang, stockbrokers and merchant banks were mainly partnerships, making money out of risking their own money (if the investment went bad enough, they would be broke). On the whole I have no problem with this model in principle (although it lead to a lot of corruption in the City, which needed cleaning up, and still does). Big Bang changed this to a “heads I win, tails you lose” model, where successful investments lead to huge bonuses, and the rest of us picked up the tab for any losses. Obviously this lead to bigger and bigger risks in pursuit of big profits. I do agree with your criticism of Blair and Brown on this, though.

        One aspect of Thatcher’s legacy that deserves more comment than it has had, though, is Section 28. (I think) even the current Tory party would never dare resurrect that.

Leave a Reply