08 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher

Daily Mirror, December 1980: Maggie was accused of being Scrooge by Labour MP Ian Wrigglesworth who had sent her a "dossier of despair", containing letters from families in the North East of England affected by unemployment. She replied that she wouldn't give "false hope" but was convinced that continuing to reduce inflation would restore health to the economy. She also promised a brighter 1981.

Margaret Hilda Thatcher is dead.

I was stunned and startled when my wife told me the news a couple of hours ago.

What did I think of Thatcher? What DO I think of Thatcher?

Well, my view of her has changed over the years.

For a start, when she first came to power in 1979, there was no major sea change in the air. Governments were in and out of power like fiddlers' elbows back then, and some people were wondering if a woman might be different. She was, after all, the UK's first female Prime Minister.

We didn't expect her to stay long.

But she formed two further governments, in 1983 and 1987.

By late 1980, many of us in my neck of the woods couldn't stick her. "The lady's not for turning," she said - "Bloody old bag!" we ranted.

The election of Ronald Reagan as US President in 1980 and inauguration in 1981 caused many changes and really set the 1980s on-track as being the decade we remember. Thatcher immediately declared "We Stand with you!"

Blueerrggh! I thought.

Maggie and husband Denis had been impressed by Ronald Reagan's political stance way back in the late 1960s. In 1981, she backed him fully at his inauguration as President of the USA.

Maggie had stated that she would concentrate on inflation rather than jobs creation, she was determined. She seemed hard and uncaring as far as I could see. She would be 'out' at the next General Election, I confidently predicted.

But 1982 had other ideas.

Maggie's stance over the Falklands War did, I'm sure, win her many more fans then detractors, and so she called an early General Election in 1983 - and got in with a landslide majority.

Maggie had her teeth straightened in 1982, but the American TIME magazine used a pre-straightened photo as the basis for their cover painting covering her second General Election victory in 1983.

1983: It was in the bag... Number 10 was going to be Maggie's den for a second term...

 Her second term in office was the most dramatic - Maggie was nearly blown up by the IRA at Brighton, the confrontation with Arthur Scargill and the miners is something none of us who were around back then will ever forget, and there was also the "yuppie" thing filtering over from America, Big Bang on the Stock Exchange, and so on. Things were changing rapidly. Maggie was at her height. 

Did you love Maggie? Or chuck an egg at her? 1984 saw the PM with egg on her face - literally.

Was she trying to take over from the Queen, some wondered? Rumours abounded that her Maj was not too keen on her Mag, but I wasn't impressed by either of them so was not terribly interested. 

In those days, you could go into a pub and spend the entire evening talking or arguing over politics. I miss that.

 The Appallingly Disrespectful Spitting Image Book - puppet Maggie gets to grips with the jobless.

And so on to 1987 - and Mrs T won a third term. A THIRD term! How had that happened? I remember wondering. Just about everybody I knew denied voting for her. But then just about everybody I knew denied watching Crossroads. However, I suspected some of them did anyway.

The thing is, I saw - or at least thought I saw - how she'd made it in 1979 and 1983. 

'79's success was down to the Winter of Discontent and perhaps the thought of giving a woman a chance. Maggie had stated on TV that she was a woman - a housewife. Had that swayed people? She was rather more windswept and everyday looking in those days as well. 

Maggie's '83 success was down to the "Falklands Factor". For me, that was it - pure and simple. 

But by 1987, things had changed. Since Ronald Reagan had come to power in the USA, and the arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev in the USSR, the whole world seemed to be transforming. And things did feel far more comfortable for me as far as my living standards were concerned than they had in the 1970s and early years of the 1980s. I voted against the Tories in 1987, but I wasn't really that surprised when she got in again.  And I didn't seek reasons for her success.

By 1987, years like 1980 and 1982 seemed almost like a different planet to me. There were enough people around in 1987 who were either so much better off than they had been, or who thought that the medicine was worth enduring, to ensure that Thatcher got her third  Downing Street tenancy.

Maggie used the Royal "We" in 1989 - "We are a grandmother." Barking, I thought.

And so, Maggie's third and final term began in 1987, and 1987 sent a stock market crash and also a huge gale across southern England. 1988 saw the PM speaking up about Green issues, controversy over Clause 28 and the rise of acid house - and also, it seems, increasing disquiet amongst Maggie's ministers that she was doing it all herself. It seemed that she did what she wanted - regardless of them. If they didn't agree, there could always be a reshuffle.

Maggie also learned that Ronald Reagan, her close and highly powerful ally since 1981, was on the way out in '88. 

By January 1989 protest groups were already mobilising, united against the coming community charge - or "Poll Tax".

Like Ronnie in '88 (he left the White House in 1989), Maggie was on the way out too. In November 1990 we saw her depart from No 10.

So, how does all this leave me feeling now?

Well, I was vehemently opposed to everything Thatcher did as the 1980s took hold and continued.

But I feel I've seen so much worse since and I can't believe everybody still blames her!

For a start, she was part of something much bigger, the arrival of Ronald Reagan in America and the general feeling of being sick of being dirt poor was what prompted much of the so-called "Greed Is Good" ethos of the mid-to-late 1980s,  but it was a tremendously polarised decade, when Left fought Right fiercely. That has all gone. I have been sickened by the actions of New Labour - and I speak from first-hand experience as a former care worker in England (devolution? Don't get me started on that subject!). The care and support services I worked for were decimated by New Labour, and it all happened under the public radar. We all had comforting "whistle blowing" clauses sewn into our contracts to stop us speaking out.

From being an ardent supporter of Old Labour, I now no longer vote.

And to pretend that everything that has happened since Thatcher left Office is a direct consequence of her actions is simply a cop-out in my opinion.

People can still get steamed up over the 1980s political scene. But now? Are they raising petrol prices? No? Oh, well. Don't bother. That's how it seems to me.

People seem lazy and hypocritical and all the punch and verve of the 1980s has long since died.

But weren't the 1980s dreadful?

Oh, yes, darling. Let's have a rant about them, because they're history and require no action on our part. Now, where's my ipod? 

And then there's the "I was a political activist in the '80s" types - "vote Labour, vote Labour, vote Labour!" Oh PURLEASE! Stuff that. Stop bigging yourselves up and living in a time warp. It's time for something new.

In retrospect, I can say that I respect Margaret Thatcher's honesty. And bravery. And certain things have come out that suggest she was not as unfeeling as I thought "back in the day".

I 'm so much LESS steamed up about her than I was. But then I strongly believe that modern day politicians, of whatever hue, are often a million times worse. So much more self serving and duplicitous. 

I think  Maggie genuinely believed she was doing her best for the UK.

I disagreed and still do.

But at least I knew where I stood with her.

RIP, Mrs T - I'll never forget you.

Click on our "Thatcher" label below for lots more on the only UK Prime Minister the 1980s ever had...


Peter Gray said...

Strong leaders always divide...
Satires must of really enjoyed it deep down..;0)


Dave Mullen said...

The truth for me is that because of her lack of any thought or consideration for the working class and poorer parts of the country she was the one who started the process continued by the Tories today - essentially the Greed is good ethos and winning is all. The effect of this culture I've noticed ever since the 80s, people have gotten so much more self centred, and frankly desperate. Ruthless even. It's hard to completely trust anyone anymore and rare to find anyone who is truly generous is time and spirit - I've met a couple of these in the last few years though and they really are one in a million. Everyday generosity is a very scarce commodity thanks to Thatcherism.

It says a lot to me that she died not in some hospice or at her home but in a suite at the Ritz. Fitting, as she was never a part of any normal and understandable society we recognise, not even by the end of her life. More than most politicians she remained utterly detached from the real world we have to live in and had no contact with genuine everyday people.
Cameron, Clegg and Milliband are all children of the 80s and all come from the same tory elitist stock in my view, but Thatcher was definitely the template to Cameron's style of government and the rich/poor divide is as wide as it ever was, indeed it seems to be wider than ever.

Drew said...

Sorry, Dave, I disagree that it is only the Tories who pursue a "greed is good" course this days - the thing is, they are honest about it. New Labour utterly decimated care services in England as far as I could see - and that's why I left my job in 2008. But it was all very hush-hush - musn't blow that whistle. I wouldn't have got a reference. I also don't believe that generosity of spirit went down under Thatcher - indeed, it mobilised many people into doing good deeds. Take a look at charitable efforts taking place in the 1980s, as compared to before. It was a very polarised time. I do think that blaming Thatcher now though is a waste of effort which could be channeled in more constructive ways, and that the belief that Labour cares for the workers and the Tories are all public school hooray Henrys is vastly outdated. Also, if you think people in the UK were wonderfully trustworthy before Thatcher, try reading some newspapers of the 1970s. We've been on a slippery slope there for a very long time. Having said all that, I couldn't bear Margaret Thatcher's political stance. I just don't believe she's the root of all evil!

Anonymous said...

LOL! Good that you're trying to be objective about Margaret Thatcher, although you don't seem to have liked her. Don't bother preaching to others - I reckon something is being put in the nation's drinking water that makes people thick if they can't see what an odious party New Labour is. As for the '80s being to blame for everything. Of course. And there are pixies at the bottom of my garden. Same old scene.

Maria said...

Wow - misogynists of the world unite! So, everything bad's down to one woman - the only female PM the UK has ever had? The fact that many women buy into this myth just shows how women are undermined and made to feel bad about their gender. Margaret Thatcher had guts and integrity and helped to save this country. To all the whingers, I wish you could catch a Tardis back to the 1970s and see the reality! Rest in Peace, Margaret - we owe you a lot.

Anonymous said...

"Tory elitist", Dave? Thatcher seemed to believe that anybody could achieve if the opportunities were there. Seemed to be the backbone of her policies. Also, she was a grocer's daughter from Grantham - not aristocratic.

Sam Pearce said...

There's no doubt that the 1980s and Thatcher ARE to blame for everything now. Before she got into her stride in the 1980s and that nasty President Reagan came along, we were all lovely. There was no crime. There was peace. Love. Respect. And then, wallop, up came Thatcher, up came the 1980s, up came Reagan, and we've all been gits ever since. And EVERYTHING bad in the world of politics was started by HER. Has to be true. Doesn't it? ;)

Drew said...

Cor, the comments ain't 'arf flowing! Sadly, when I initiated a conversation about politics at work the other day - mentioning New Labour's Supporting People quango, the West Lothian Question, New Labour's introduction of Top Up Fees and Foundation Hospitals (the West Lothian Question is relevant to that issue, too), the expenses scandal, and Gordon Brown and David Cameron's general grossness (in my opinion), I was meant with blank glances and a change of subject. Now, what was the change of subject? Britain's Got Talent? Strictly Come Dancing? Something as important, I'm sure! But post something about Thatcher - and we're off and running. I'm going to close this thread for now - I've received some pretty bizarre stuff and I need my sleep - but it all underlines my point - people get in a state about the distant past, blame it relentlessly, but they don't delve too much into the present. Too much effort. It's sad.