Monday, 8 April 2013

Mocking the Weak

By now, you'll all have heard that Margaret Thatcher is dead. Within minutes, the self-appointed 'serious' liberals and leftwingers were reproving others for their gut, jubilant reactions. 'You should never rejoice' in an individual's death', they say. In a more sophisticated argument, some of them are saying 'Thatcher's dead, not Thatcherism'. And I have to say, I have some sympathy with this viewpoint: there's a direct line between her 'there is no society' to George Osborne and David Cameron explicitly linking poverty with infanticide.

And yet, and yet: we lived through her regime and those of her children: Blair, Brown, Osborne, Major, Cameron, Pickles, Pinochet, Gove et al. We saw them elected on a platform of division, fear and lies, of explicit contempt for capitalism's losers. The patriarchal sheen of paternalist Toryism (bad enough on its own) wore through and underneath we glimpsed the naked, raw contempt Thatcher had for anyone who wanted to rise with, rather than in spite of, their communities. While the 'wets' paid lip-service to their hierarchical vision of social unity (old maids cycling to Evensong, in John Major's phrase), the brutal reality was that our sick, our poor, our young, our land, our air, our water and everything else were up for sale as mere commodities for the enrichment of an elite few.

Who were the winners? The political elite, regardless of party lines. The jet-setters of the global plutocracy: Tesco, News International, Capita, ATOS, the outsourcers and asset strippers.

Who were the losers? The poor. The foreign. The global South. The victims of apartheid, kept in chains while she called Nelson Mandela 'a terrorist'. The victims of the countless small wars prosecuted to various put down Johnny Foreigner, keep foreign dictators with oil sweet, to maintain the flow of oil or simply to pretend that the UK still means something. The dead and maimed of Northern Ireland. The manual labourers and skilled industrial workers who gave their jobs in the cause of low inflation (Lamont's 'acceptable level of unemployment' which keeps the poor disciplined). Without mining, steel, large-scale manufacturing, publicly-owned utitilities and transport, the political, cultural and moral strength of an entire class has been wiped off the face of the earth, and with it the cultural capital required to resist the relentless cheapening and exploitation of our physical and intellectual resources. In dirt-poor countries across the globe, slaves stitch brand labels onto shoddy goods to be sold to us at inflated prices: we queue up to hand over our cash while those at the other end starve. If we complain about our own working conditions, our employers send our jobs (the current word is 'right-shoring') off to a more obedient, more desperate place until they in turn become too expensive. Yesterday I heard a Tory explain that companies shouldn't be made to pay a 'living wage' because they 'couldn't afford it'. It didn't strike him that an economic model which explicitly depends on the starvation of its workforce and a subsidy from the taxpayer is a broken economic model. With this has gone, of course, any respect and care for those at the other end: the customer. Service have become worse and more expensive. Our banks took us for fools, stole from us then turned to the government to rob us again in the form of bail-outs. As our libraries close, their bonuses increase.

What of my colleagues and I in what used to be called the 'public services': teachers, doctors, nurses? Thatcher and her successors have turned us into public enemies, or 'Enemies of Promise' as Mr Gove called me. What we do is no longer 'public' or a 'service': we purvey private goods to customers, with all the cheapening and corruption that implies. As such we become hirelings and you become customers, subject to sales and marketing, 'efficiencies' (i.e. corner-cutting) and those of us who still speak of the 'public good', of the vocation to serve, are relentlessly portrayed in the Thatcherite press as Trotskyists, wreckers, reactionaries, vested interests. Our motives – incomprehensible to the Monetarists – are reviled and distorted.

Who are the new heroes of Thatcherism? Salesmen. Financial engineers. Bank executives. G4S. Sugar and Branson and The Apprentice and Homes Under the Hammer and Flog It and all those whose fortunes depend on scaring us into accepting the crumbs we're given or into believing that we too could afford a Rolls-Royce if only we had the silver tongue, the shamelessness and the selfishness.

Not coincidentally, these are the people who've plunged us all back into poverty and again, not coincidentally, these are the people who protected themselves by raiding our hospitals, social security funds, pensions, schools and other public services to refloat their sterile, masturbatory finance capitalism.

So when people tell me that I shouldn't rejoice, or gloat, or smile or simply feel relief at Thatcher's death, I say: go tell that to the people of Rotherham, or Stoke on Trent, or Grenada, or Ethiopia, or India,  or those Londoners being put on cattle trucks to be resettled in the North. Tell that to those whose islands are sinking, whose air is stinking, whose schools are crumbling, whose occupations have been abolished, those who've been reclassified from 'human' to 'scum' for the crime of being left high and dry by an ideology which cares only for its own and not a jot for its citizens. Tell that to those whose phones were hacked by her favourite newspapers and to those bereft of intelligent newspapers, TV and radio because she relentless promoted the financial interests of the cultural vandals.

Tell those losers they shouldn't have a moment's relief from Thatcher and from Thatcherism. She didn't start it – she didn't have the brain – but she promoted it, she established the hegemony of TINA, she became its pin-up. Margaret Thatcher died a tired, confused old lady, presumably insensible at the end of the evils she unleashed (much like when she was in her prime). I can't rejoice in the death of a wizened husk. I wish she'd been compos mentis enough to live through the collapse of her belief system, though I strongly suspect that she wouldn't have seen anything wrong with the way we live now. But I'm not going to pretend that deeper, more atavistic emotions are bubbling under. After all the harm she did to me, my loved ones and everything I care about, I'm not going to take an pietistic high ground.

The next couple of weeks are going to be awful. The hypocrites, the revisionists. the careerists and the strategists are going to dominate the airwaves: sombre music, reassessments and the so-called 'left' uttering mealy-mouthed statements in case the Daily Mail monsters them: it'll be like the Diana death all over again, but worse. But I'm free. I don't have a political career ahead of me. I don't care what Grant Shapps or the Mail thinks about me. I can say what a lot of us are thinking: I'm glad she's dead.

Ask yourself this. Did Thatcher leave a kinder, gentler, cleaner, more sustainable, fairer, more peaceful, more prosperous and wiser world behind her? If not, then a modicum of relief is in order.


JoVE said...

Thank you for articulating what I've been feeling.

Gideon Nisbet said...

Yes, this, all of this.

Jake said...

And yet, for all that, I can't bring myself to hate the woman anymore. Not after her Alzheimer's got to the point where if you asked her who she was, where she was and what she was doing she'd be lucky to get one out of three right.

oldgirlatuni said...

Thank you for expressing so well how I, and many others, are feeling at this moment.

I have to admit, I am struggling a little. "Ding Dong, the witch is dead" is going around in my head, but I do feel sympathy for the loss that her family must be feeling.

On balance, however, the loss of the Thatcher family, while personal and devastating, is nowhere near the loss of the (ex) miners I heard interviewed on the radio this morning, whose community has never recovered from the strike.

The damage that Thatcherism did is unquantifiable, but long lasting, far reaching, and devastating.

Adam said...

There were two Thatchers, maybe more. The private Thatcher, the human being (she was you know), who died yesterday and is mourned by her family, the one none of us could ever know. I can't find any sadness or joy for this event. I didn't know her. I think it's bonkers to celebrate her death.

Then there's the public Thatcher, the extraordinary colossus that dominated the eighties, that no-one on the left or right could match. That's the one that died, in 1990. That was the time for brief celebration, but sadly the ghost of that Thatcher lives on, in the premiership of Major, Blair, Brown. How can you celebrate when even Labour politicians channel the ghost of Mrs. T? It's a mark of the intellectual vacuum in party politics for the last twenty years. No ideas of your own? got a country to run? Just do a Thatcher. The really sad thing is, Labour PMs do Thatch better than Tory ones.