It’s fair to say that the demise of Margaret Thatcher in early April drew a mixed reaction from her former subjects in the United Kingdom. The more adulatory responses included those of the Daily Mail, which emblazoned its front page the day after her death with the words, “The woman who saved Britain”; and of ex-Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, who boldly tweeted about her being “…our first lady of girl power… a grocer’s daughter who taught me anything is possible”. (Less boldly, Geri then deleted the tweet when she discovered that many of her followers on Twitter didn’t share her enthusiasm for the late leader.)
Uncomplimentary, however, were the comments of Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle, which included the jest, “Looking forward to hearing who found all the horcruxes”; and of Liverpool football supporters, who at a football match in Reading the following Saturday were heard singing, “Let’s all do the conga, Maggie is no longer.”
Being closer to the Frankie Boyle / Liverpool fans pole of opinion regarding the late Baroness Thatcher, I was relieved to be living in Tunisia and not in the United Kingdom when she expired. This meant I was largely able to avoid the rivers of sycophantic vomit that flowed from the right-wing British media. Such was Maggie’s wondrousness, according to the commentators in the Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Telegraph, etc, that it surprises me that she didn’t ascend to heaven amid a flotilla of angels whilst making a sign of benediction with her right hand.
Nonetheless, I did recently force myself to look through the Daily Telegraph’s coverage of the event. Here are a few – a tiny few – of the headlines that the Tory-graph treated its readers to during the past three weeks whilst paying tribute to the blessed Maggie. And here are a few of my thoughts regarding the assertions made in those headlines.
MARGARET THATCHER TOOK A RUINED, DISHONOURED AND BANKRUPT BRITAIN AND LEFT IT PROSPEROUS, CONFIDENT AND FREE (Daily Telegraph, April 8th)
It’s often said that history is written by the victors. This is proven by the acres of print in right-wing newspapers this past month telling us how horrible 1970s Britain was – until Margaret Thatcher won the 1979 election and single-handedly saved the place from damnation.
Well, economically, the 1970s weren’t great for the United Kingdom– were they great anywhere? – but it’s worth recalling that in 1978 Jim Callaghan’s Labour government was ahead of Thatcher’s Conservatives in the opinion polls: the country could hardly have been in ruins if the governing party was in with a shout of winning the next election. Callaghan, of course, made what was in hindsight the catastrophic mistake of not holding that election in 1978. He opted to wait until 1979. The 1978-79 winter then went down in the history books as the ‘Winter of Discontent’ – a few months when there were strikes galore, uncollected rubbish piling up in the streets, dead people not being buried and so on – and subsequently a pissed-off British electorate voted Thatcher into power when the election was held. But as Kieran Moodley has pointed out in the New Statesman, it’s wrong to equate a whole decade with a few months of industrial strife near the end of it, as propagandists of the right have been doing tirelessly:
The quality that made all the difference for Margaret Thatcher was luck. She got to power through Callaghan’s dire timing and through trade-union stupidity. She stayed in power by being fortunate in the enemies who rose against her, notably Argentina’s General Galtieri and hapless miners’ leader Arthur Scargill. The formation of the Social Democratic Party in 1981 effectively split the political opposition to her for most of a decade. And she had the windfall provided by North Sea Oil to keep Britain afloat, just about, while she brutally restructured the country’s economy.
(c) The Guardian
What I find fascinating is that not so long ago the think-tank the New Economics Foundation, using indicators such as crime levels, pollution levels and public investment to measure Britain’s quality of life, named 1976 as the year when British people were at their happiest. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/3519662.stm) So much for the ideas that 1970s Britain was a hellhole to live in. Of course, 1976 was before the Thatcher years brought about the fragmentation of society and our transformation into selfish, money-obsessed little piggies.
LADY THATCHER SET THE LOWER CLASSES FREE (Daily Telegraph, April 21st)
As evidence of the lower classes being set free during the lady’s reign, her apologists point to how she gave council-house tenants the right to buy their properties, gave the general public the chance to buy shares in the great 1980s sell-off of formerly-nationalised industries and services, and gave employees the freedom to work without interference, disruption and intimidation from militant trade unionists.
That’s one way of looking at it. Alternatively, you could interpret it as allowing dodgy mortgage lenders and property speculators to run riot and allowing rapacious privatised utilities companies to charge an arm and a leg for basic services. As for Thatcher’s emasculation of the unions, it was one step in her pogrom against Britain’s heavy industry and manufacturing, much of which was replaced by a bloated financial-services sector that was centred on the City of London (and let off the leash by the ‘big bang’ deregulation of 1986).
Of course, the folly of allowing the deregulated banks and financial houses to grow like a cuckoo in the economic nest, in the process crushing everything else, was highlighted in 2008’s meltdown – when the nest came crashing out of its tree.
LADY THATCHER’S DIGNIFIED FUNERAL SHOWED WHY BRITAIN IS STILL A GREAT NATION (Daily Telegraph, April 23rd)
Yes, Margaret’s funeral was given special dignity by its mourners. These included Thatcherite Britain’s notion of the great (Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jeremy Clarkson, Joan Collins and former Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson) and the good (Jeffrey Archer, Neil Hamilton, Dick Cheney and Henry Kissinger). If she’d passed away two years earlier, I’m sure her friend the disc jockey, TV presenter and posthumously-revealed serial paedophile Sir Jimmy Saville, who died in late 2011, would’ve dignified the occasion with his presence too.
The funeral – which was officially not a state funeral, though with soldiers, bands and gun carriages, with the Queen in attendance and St Paul’s Cathedral as the venue, it certainly felt like one – was of a scale not seen for a Prime Minister since Winston’s Churchill’s funeral in 1965. Significantly, when the body of Churchill – who’d been head of a coalition government and had led a united country against Hitler in World War II – was ferried up the Thames, the dockyard workers lowered the jibs of their cranes as a sign of respect. If Maggie had been boated past, I’m sure those dockers would’ve made a different sign, one that involved a vertical middle finger.
MARGARET THATCHER THOROUGHLY DESERVES TO BE HONOURED WITH A STATUE IN TRAFALGAR SQUARE (Daily Telegraph, April 9th)
Yes – if London wants to enter the Guinness Book of Records for possessing the most vandalised, graffiti-plastered and urinated-upon statue in history.
THE GREATEST EVER PEACETIME PRIME MINISTER… (Daily Telegraph, April 8th)
No – that was Clement Attlee, whose lasting memorial, the National Health Service, is still a source of British pride (no matter how much David Cameron and his minions would like to dismantle it). Maggie’s memorial was the financial crash of 2008, fuelled by the bankers’ greed and recklessness that she’d done so much to encourage, the effects of which we’ll have to live with for a long time indeed. Attlee, incidentally, received a short and private funeral ceremony in 1967, which was attended by about 150 mourners.
Watching those folk in Britain who did well under Baroness Thatcher’s reign, the wealthy, powerful and privileged, reactionary in their politics and largely located in southeast England, heap accolades upon her in the media lately, I’ve felt I’ve been looking through a powerful telescope at the weird and alien inhabitants of another planet. I’m sure that millions of other British people, who mostly live north of Birmingham and for whom Thatcher brought only disadvantage, misery and joblessness, have felt the same way.
This demonstrates how Margaret Thatcher managed to split her country apart, right down to its core. A great leader would not have done that.