”The books are filled with the names of Kings...
Each page a victory
At whose expense the victory ball?
Every ten years a great man
Who paid the piper?”
- Brecht, 'A Worker Reads History'
“Never hate your enemies. It clouds your judgement.”
- Al Pacino in 'Godfather III'
It is of course ridiculous to say that we should focus on Margaret Thatcher’s “strong leadership,” as if that was automatically a good thing. Mike Taylor has already said all that, so I don’t have to.
It is of course ridiculous to organise what David Cameron called “all but” a State funeral, then complain that her critics are cruelly attempting to drag politics into a private event. Andrew Rilstone has already said all that, so I don’t have to.
And it is of course completely telling that they would spend what may turn out to be eight million quid on such an event, at precisely the point where they’re cutting the pay and benefits of the poorest people because they say they can’t afford it. And that the Daily Mail would then complain that it wasn’t ostentatious enough.
I suppose I could say that, but it seems pretty obvious and anyway I sort of have.
Let’s take another tack. What would Thatcher herself say if she could see all this happening? From up in her cloud/down in that pit (delete according to personal prejudices)?
I think she would be delighted. I think she fed on the wrath of her foes, like a car that’s fuelled by pollution. After all, she coined the term “the enemy within.” Our gloating over her going would have been music to her ears. Wrinkles in her blue-rinse would have been expressions like “Margaret who?”, “wasn’t she the one before John Major?” or “was there ever an easy way to tell her from Virginia Bottomley?”
Except of course that wouldn’t look great on a banner. And I wouldn’t deny that her dark shadow had an influence on the British political landscape. But, for example, someone suggested on the Trade Union board at my work that our history might have been different had Thatcher been converted to socialism instead of free market capitalism. And I wonder if our side aren't starting to inflate her image too...
When 'The Wicked Witch is Dead' was chosen as the theme song of the opposition, it wasn't intended as a serious political statement like the Communist Manifesto. It's clearly a cross between a gag and a provocation, and in that way is more like 'The Road To Serfdom'. But it's notable what happens in 'Wizard of Oz'; as soon as the wicked witch pops it, her former followers escape from her spell and all is immediately right again.
It's comforting to think had Thatcher stayed a chemist none of the sewage we wade through now would have been unleashed. But it's wrong. Neoliberal economics did not begin in Britain or even America, but in mid-Seventies Chile when a leftist government was overthrown in a US-backed coup and the free market doctrines of Milton Friedman imposed.
Since then it's spread around the world, with organisations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund existing precisely to propagate it. The “private competition” that now riddles worm-like through our Post Office and NHS services is enabled not by the Tory right, but by the EU which they ostensibly loathe. Many of these changes have structural causes, the move from Fordist to post-Fordist production or changes in communication which enabled globalisation.
India underwent a massive transformation from a protectionist to a free-market, ‘globalised’ economy without them having a Thatcher figure to speak of. In America they talk of 'Reaganism' despite Reagan being more figurehead than politician. When we talk about the post-war consensus we don't talk about 'Atleeism' because Atlee wasn't iconic in that way. That didn't stop the post-war consensus happening or us continuing to talk about it.
Many years ago, Brecht cautioned us that history was “not made by great men” (qouted above). The Gang of Four went and wrote a song about it (embedded below). The surfer, standing high, may look like he’s in command of that wave. But really he’s just riding it.
There will of course always be “great” men and women trying to tell us it’s all down to them, and we should orient our lives around them.
It’s only true if we hold them up.