When I heard the news today that Margaret Thatcher has died, I went for a pint and took some time to think about what she meant in my life and the consequences of the ideology that she heralded.
I left school in 1983 at a time when Liverpool was being torn apart and thrown to the dogs. The destruction of whole swathes of industrial might was shrugged-off by many right-wingers as a natural consequence of the failure of the industrial working class to get with the ideology of democratic consumerism and the cult of the individual.
I remember watching news footage of the Miners Strike in 1984 as I served customers in Dixons electrical retailers. With the irony that Sir Stanley Kahms who ran Dixons, was giving Thatcher cash for her election campaigns, as I was earning £25 a week as a YTS on a government training scheme.
Let’s call the Miners Strike what it was – a British Civil War. A war that pitched communities and people against each other, and ensured that atomised individuals withdrew from one another in more aggressive and self-assertive ways. The right-to-buy was the right to say ‘stuff you’. If you wanted to collectively provide for your security and your well-being, then you were deluded fools, reds under the bed, the enemy within.
In 1987 I remember marching in Manchester against Clause 28, Thatcher’s legislation that banned the teaching of homosexuality in schools. The age of consent was twenty-one, and the bigot James Anderton was leading Manchester Police with Thatcher’s support.
To have lived through such a destructive and divisive period brings me nothing but sadness and pain when I recall it. The humiliation of people and communities is not a good thing to enforce. Yet that is what Thatcher and her cronies did. They took an idea that there is ‘such a thing as society’, and they tossed it aside for personal gain and private benefit.
Britain has never been more unequal, more distrustful, or more ready to blame the less fortunate than it is today. Cameron and Osborne can’t be described as Thatcher’s children, because they are much nastier than that. They are doing things to the country that she would never have done.
I’m not ashamed if people want to dance on Thatcher’s grave – either metaphorically or literally. I am more ashamed that the empathy and the companionship that many people needed thirty years ago was never given.
Thatcher’s legacy isn’t to be found in Westminster, or the acres of analysis that is now going to be spewed in the newspapers and on television. No, Thatcher’s legacy is the death of British common consent and community, and the waste of industry and inventiveness on the rocks of the lie that we can get through life entirely on our own, bolstered only by private fortitude and personal discipline.
I don’t mourn Thatcher’s passing, I mourn the sadness and humiliations so many have experienced in her wake.