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Home > Politics

Thatcher! A sceptic writes

7 May 2004

'I was not a supporter [of Margaret Thatcher], and turned her off each time she came on the radio or TV. Listening to her grated terribly. It was like being told off by my mum. But she was a creature of her time, and if it hadn't been her, someone else would have had to lead the inevitable economic shake-up I lived through as a personnel professional.' - Morley Williams of New Zealand speaks their brains on BBC Talking Points


What is it about BBC Talking Points contributors? Are you only allowed to email your comments if you've had a vital part of your brain removed?

Morley appears not to be a supporter of Thatcher, yet regards Thatcherism as inevitable. It's like saying 'Well, if I hadn't killed all those innocent people, someone else would have done it. Probably.' The idea that Thatcher was inevitable also sounds a bit like someone who's a Tory but doesn't want to admit it;

it's a kind of shorthand for saying: 'The unions were ruining the country and public services were overstaffed. And yes, I do believe everything I read in the Daily Mail.'

Thatcher has briefly returned to the public's attention because it's the 25th anniversary of her becoming Prime Minister. Cue earnest 'what did it all mean?' pseudo-sociological wankery, talk of 'Thatcher's Children' and clips from The Shooting Party documentary where the nobs try to shoot a seagull.

But we probably need to exercise a little caution when discussing the changes Thatcher brought about. Thatcher was probably never as radical as her own propagandists would have us believe and serious political thinkers agree that Thatcherism was never an ideology, more a piece-meal collection of political ideas. Above all, Thatcherism has been surrounded by myths from fans and haters alike. Myths like:

Myth: Thatcherism is responsible for today's yob culture

Lefties love this implausible argument, somehow making a connection between deregulation of the stock exchange and rat boys. The logic, such as it is, is that stockbrokers, businessmen and entrepreneurs taught everyone else that greed, conspicuous consumption and selfishness was good, and that's why yob culture exists. This is simplistic to the point of saying TVs work because they've got an 'on' switch.

Although Thatcherism may have worsened the living conditions of many people and damaged the 'social fabric' of the UK, Thatcher can't really be held responsible for shaven-headed thugs fighting in town centres or kiddies smashing up phone boxes. They do it because they're twats who probably had crap parents, not because a bunch of graduates in the City were on high salaries in 1984.

Myth: The Falklands War was a great triumph

Certainly the Our Lads in the South Atlantic did a pretty good job, but the Falklands was a tin pot war fought between a crumbling dictatorship and a faded colonial power over a place with a very small population. The real motivation for the war was political, and the most worrying thing about the Falklands was how easily it could have gone wrong. We Brits had scarily limited air cover, due in part to cost-cutting in the navy (specifically: aircraft carriers). If the Argies had had a few more Mirages and Exocets, or an armoured division on land, the outcome of the war might have been very different. But foolhardiness aside, the war did inspire the classic Macc Lads lyric, which kind of makes it all worthwhile:

'All they eat in the Argentine
Is Fray Bentos and cheap red wine
But after a scrap with the English navy
They'll be asking for the recipe for chips and gravy'

Myth: Thatcher was 'sexy'

Various oddbods have suggested that Margaret Thatcher was sexy. How utterly wrong can you get? By the same illogic, Kelly Brooke has the political gravitas of Winston Churchill. Thatch was not sexy, except in the twisted minds of a certain type of public-school educated Tory MP. The actual idea of having sex with Thatch is a genuinely horrible thought, and one you actively have to force yourself to visualise.

Sexy? No. Just no.

Myth: We should bring back Thatcher

Oh really? Obsessive privatisation, Norman Tebbit, extremely embarrassing use of the Royal 'we', being fixated with Churchill and 'mentors' like Airey Neave, every election reduced to two issues: tax cuts and Trident, rabid anti-NHS prejudice, pretending that if someone's life is fucked up, they just have to jolly well pull themselves together (or get on their bike)... We can probably live without many of these things.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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