All day I have been reading and reacting to the news of the death of Margaret Thatcher. I feel no urge to dance on her grave – I had my fun the day she fell from power, when, much against my better judgement, I was actually back in the UK.
I hauled two big loudspeakers onto my bedroom window sill, and played “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” to the passing world. Not an especially popular move in a small English army town, but I was too happy to care. In the end, as many passers-by cheered as yelled “Shame!”
But it was all too late. For good or ill – mostly ill, in my opinion – Thatcher changed Britain forever, tearing the roof off the somewhat shabby, exasperatingly snobby but basically fair society that was the country of my birth and leaving it to rot, erecting in it’s place something cold, hard, inimical, and foreign. A country with no place for me.
So today, I find myself grieving, not for the woman herself, but for the sad, twisted wreck of a country she left behind. She eradicated a culture of building and invention, and replaced it with a culture of speculation, handing our fates over to the casinos we call stock exchanges, and the rapaciousness of the conscience-free and profit-driven.
She began the process that turned our universities from seats of learning for their own sake, open to anyone with talent and intelligence, into high end vocational colleges and management schools. It wasn’t until 1999 that the grants that had paid for my education ended, but she set that change in train.
Her motive was simple, and overt. Students on grants were spending too much time worrying about politics and worse, agitating against her. Worse, they were the major talent pool for future Labor Party leaders. Therefore they must be made poor and laden with debt, to remind them that education was not a right, but a privilege. And if they wanted to play socialist politics, they would not be paid taxpayer money to do so, and nor would the student unions.
She once dismissively remarked that the nation was producing too many graduates, with excessive job and salary expectations, with words to the effect that you don’t need a university education to empty dustbins (if anyone can track down the quote I’d be grateful).
Her attacks on unions were similarly politically driven. Certainly she felt they were an obstruction to economic prosperity, but her desire to diminish and if possible destroy them was equally motivated by the desire to destroy the Labor Party’s principal source of funding.
Public housing was another target, again because it provided Labour with a large base of supporters. She insisted social housing be sold off, but refused to provide any funding to replace it, leaving Britain with a massive housing problem that persists to this day. Tenants are now paid benefits to cover their rent, which goes into private landlords pockets, instead of into the coffers of local authorities.
Publicly owned industries were in her sights not just because they were overmanned and inefficient, but because they were union dominated, which again helped support Labour. And while privatisation worked for some industries, notably telecomms, it has not produced the promised savings and efficiencies in most other areas.
Gas and electricity, in particular, have become incredibly expensive, at least in part because of wasteful overlap and duplication, whilst at the same time becoming less inefficient because privatised businesses are reluctant to replace ageing plant until they absolutely have to.
Privatised public transport – aside from being a ridiculous notion in itself – suffers from the same problems. Public transport is not meant to make a cash profit, but a social profit, reducing the demand for extensive roadbuilding because there is a much lesser need for private vehicles, reducing pollution, and providing easy and cheap ways for people to get to work, for example.
Her method was always the same. Nominate a target industry. Starve it of funds. Wait for it to become run-down, with no capital for improvement. Announce the government couldn’t afford to waste money propping up a failing enterprise (which her policies caused to fail in the first place), and all hail the private sector, who would be efficient and cut out waste etc etc. And of course, line the pockets of the City spivs.
Now, most of the private transport companies are coalescing back into large conglomerates. Competition is once again disappearing – but instead of a public monopoly, we have an unaccountable private one. Trains are exorbitantly expensive. Bus services poor and infrequent. And so it goes.
She famously said that there was no such thing as society. Families, local communities, yes, but no overall society. We don’t need these big organisations, the theory goes, if we’re all nice to our neighbours.
And of course with no big organisations, there’s no-one to effectively stand up to the government when it decides that some people on welfare have too many bedrooms, so now the Cameron government won’t pay for all of them, forcing thousands if not millions to look for smaller dwellings that, in fact, don’t exist in anything like sufficient numbers.
That is Thatchers legacy, a cold, bleak, glittering landscape which enforces poverty and desperation and then blames the victims for their situation.
Thatcher was Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, eleven of the worst years of my life. I watched in horror as this arrogant, snobbish, ruthless social climber who married for money and political ambition trod everything I loved and believed in into the mud. I spent many of those years abroad, just be be free of that ghastly, patronising voice.
I watched as she turned herself into the Anti-Queen of England, rocking up at natural disasters for a photo opportunity with the injured and bereaved. I took to carrying a card in my wallet which read “In the event of a visit from Margaret Thatcher – DO NOT REVIVE”
She even went to war in order to preserve her image and win an election, and along the way, ‘saved’ a flyspeck in the South Atlantic from those awful Argentinians. It can’t have been because they were nasty South American fascists: she gave aid and comfort to Augusto Pinochet for years.
So no, I do not mourn her passing. I mourn for the country I loved, and she sacrificed. That I have left forever. And I do not forgive.