Monday, 8 April 2013

That Mrs Thatcher

As across the internet tubes we all burble about Margaret Thatcher's death, I tried coming up with the good things she did and there were three or four that immediately sprung to mind(1). Then you go on to the other column and eight or nine things rather than three or four. Mostly bad, but like everyone, and like every government, a bit of a blend.
A lot of what is being attributed to Mrs T today came in under Labour in the 70s - monetarist economics and a selfish short-termist "I'm alright jack" view of wider society. And when she left office we had a nationalised railway network and no such thing as university tuition fees: can you imagine!

But that's the trouble with what's largely social history tied up in the stories we tell ourselves: we all have some idea what Thatcherism was, whereas Callaghan...ism..? No one knows what that might have been. Eleven years of change for better and worse glows bright in the memory in the way that the previous decade of greyness, decline and stagnation - and indeed the next seven years of much the same again - cannot fire the imagination.
And so beware false tales in the mix this week: lots of people will recall that Margaret Thatcher believed that there is "no such thing as society"' - ironically this based on a deliberate malquote of her, where the full context of the phrase was a warning about extremes of selfishness and individualism. A warning that had it been borne in mind by Brown and Blair we might not be quite as deep in the financial doo-doo as we are.
(1) - good things like legalising sex between men in Scotland and in Northern Ireland. Bad things like legislating to make homosexuality a thought crime.  Good things like the trades union reforms in 1980, 82 and 84. Bad things like selling off the social housing stock at a knock-down price and preventing replacements being built. Good things like privatising the phone networks; bad things like privatising the water board.

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