In death as in life Margaret Thatcher has divided a nation. The country has been split firmly down the middle with the furthest extremes at one end distastefully popping champagne corks in the street, at the other calling for multi-million pound state funerals during a time of austerity and (oddly) penning mawkish poetry. At the same time the death of the Iron Lady has boldly underlined the raging debate on the welfare state, diminishing benefits and the shortage of social housing.
Coming just days after the imprisonment of Mick Philpott, the right-wing press’ new benefits poster-boy, Thatcher’s death has served to compound the fury of the employed and particularly the retired who have been reminded of what they consider glory days while fighting tooth and nail to keep their own benefits, something which, given a chance, Maggie would have ripped away without blinking an eye. What many of those pensioners taking bus passes while running cars and winter fuel allowance despite living in mortgage free family houses fail to take in to account is that total pensions expenditure is £30m more than social security, £15m more than the NHS and a vast amount more than disability allowance. Yes, these people have ‘saved’ through their taxes but likewise their hardworking children have done the same, paying more taxes but destined to receive just a tiny fraction of what their parents, retired at 60 and 65 now take. It’s a perfect example of the ‘I’m alright Jack’ mentality promoted by Maggie, the thoughtless attitude fostered by a woman who didn’t believe in society, a society now ironically pushed by the current Conservative government. Yet those worst affected by Conservative governments are afforded little consideration by those pension protectors who shout the loudest.
The older generation of Thatcher followers angrily dismiss the hatred of today’s young people for the woman, the ‘ding dong’ comments and the impromptu street parties. Yes, it’s an inappropriate way to behave following the death of a frail old lady, no matter how she may have hurt you, but to claim (as many do) that these people, who were small children during the 80s, have no right to comment on the past because they weren’t there, they didn’t know what it was like is unforgivably ignorant. I wasn’t alive in 1939 but can I not say that Hitler was a murdering bastard? May I not comment on the foreign policies of Alexander the Great or William I?
I was a baby during Mrs Thatcher’s time as PM but I remember my parents struggling financial throughout the 80s and in to the 90s, crippled by mortgage rates eight or nine times higher than current rates. As my Mum likes to remind us (strangely she remains a great admirer of MT) there was a time when she wasn’t able to buy new tights for work. I also know that my dad, a Met officer, was sent ‘up north’ when I was a toddler to police the miners strike. He might have been part of the enemy but how can being sent away from one’s family to brutally put down a protest, like it or not, for a paltry PC’s wage be something anybody relishes? My grandparents worked in factories – Grandad at the Dagenham Ford plant – they must surely have feared for their jobs despite being given the right to buy their council house. We, the children of Thatcher, are still affected by the greed of the banks she deregulated, the lack of a British manufacturing industry, the high cost of privatised travel and fuel.
I’m not sure one needed to ‘be there’ to identify the myth that surrounds Maggie. Vaunted as ‘the First Lady of Girl Power’ and held up as an example to women the world over, the ex-PM was hardly a feminist icon, her cold, unsympathetic approach to her people harsher than any male leader. She took on the landmark role of our first woman Prime Minister yet surrounded herself with men, many of whom she bullied and belittled, with only one female working in her government during her premiership. She forced working class women in to work whether they liked it or not while cuckolding working class men who were forced out of jobs and onto the dole. She demonised single mothers but split families with her devastating policies.
Thatcher is likewise celebrated as proof that, with work, anyone can achieve. The daughter of a grocer from Grantham, the girl certainly ‘did good’. Yet en route to power Thatcher changed to fit the Tory mould, changed her regional accent to the clipped tones more often heard from the mouths of Mitford girls than from you and I. She died in her suite in the Ritz, a suite paid for by her friends in high banking places, beneficiaries of her own yuppie culture.
If that’s progress for any of us you can keep it, thanks all the same Mrs Thatcher.