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Friday, 12 April 2013

My mum on M. Thatcher

I hadn't thought of much to add to the slew of M. Thatcher pieces until this morning, when a tweet caught my eye.

It was comments from Daily Mail Online:


This is the Mail, that astonishing number of green up arrows tempered slightly by being the online version but still. 'Sacrilegious' comments on her memory in that bastion of the Middle England that Londonist opinion would assume universally loved Maggie.

This break with assumed reality reminded me of one of the oddest bits of memory I have from the eighties. MT survived the Brighton bombing by dint of having completed her ablutions and exited her bathroom, which was wrecked, a short while before the bomb brought the ceiling down.

My mum was and is the very definition of Middle England. Aspiring working class, Daily Mail reader (if unavailable then the Express) and probable, though I never asked, Tory voter. When this happened she expressed annoyance that the IRA missed her.

I'm not remembering that wrong. That's why it sticks out.

The disconnect

The Tories this week have refused any right to speech on why MT was hated across so much of the UK and abroad. I look at onepolitics for UK politics blog headlines and there was one moment when every single Telegraph blogger was fulminating against Thatcher critics.

Now this has developed to the ultimate ironic point that they want a capitalist campaign of record buying -- 'Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead' -- unmentioned on the BBC. Of course they're not just denying core beliefs (free speech, free enterprise) but being hypocrites. Look what was written when Thatcher contemporary the Labour leader Michael Foot died.

When the Miners' Strike was happening I was in a gay and lesbian support group and we worked solely with one village in South Wales. We travelled there a couple of times. The poverty was tremendous. It was only through the efforts of people like us that people there had food.

Of course the memories there would have been not just of the strikes the previous decade, which brought down the previous Tory government and which Thatcher was avenging, but of how Churchill had sent the troops to put down a miners' strike 70 odd years before. Two years ago locals complained when it was proposed to name a military base after Churchill in Glamorgan.

Those people, the Miners and their families, repaid that support in spades, by the way. The next year they travelled to the London Pride march with their banners and kids in strollers. And it was the Miners who led the union vote to push the first gay rights resolution through the Labour Party conference the next year, against Neil Kinnock's wishes, I might add.

Those mining villages, like so much of Britain, were decimated by the intentional destruction of British industry through her ideological insistence on monetarism, much like how communist ideology would upheave whole peoples in slavery to another blind ideological belief.

Mark Steel writes about what this meant for one Northamptonshire town built around a steel works:
The effect on Corby was like someone taking control of the Lake District and concreting in the lakes.

I was there to record a radio show about the town, and met Don and Irene, both in their seventies, at the Grampian Club. Don’s father had walked to Corby from Larkhall, near Glasgow, in 1932. I mentioned the steel strike and plant closure to Don, but he gestured as if it had somehow passed him by. It would have to be mentioned in the show, so I tried to find someone in the town with a story, an anecdote, something. But no one wanted to say a thing about it. During the recording, I asked if anyone had a story to tell from those days, but no one did, until it felt as if the whole audience collectively passed a motion that went: “I think you’d best move on to another subject, Mark.”

Afterwards in the bar, Irene told me: “We weren’t being rude, love, when we didn’t have a lot to say about the closure. But it wasn’t an easy time. Don marched from Corby to London with a banner. It made him angry about everything, we split up for a year because it was too much to live with. But we were lucky, two of our closest friends committed suicide in the months after the closure. So people would rather forget about those times really. But apart from that we really enjoyed the show.”
Perhaps the right's disconnect on negative talk of Thatcher is simply because they have no connection to these people? Either that or they patronisingly think 'those people don't know what's good for them'?

Why would people be celebrating her death in Brixton? Perhaps because they remember what the police were like in her day. I remember as I was there when people rioted. They used to strip search black men in the street.

Neil Harding has the best, I think, round up of twenty reasons why people might hate MT. It includes some counter-historical on the Falklands I'd forgotten about (because it's so totally whitewashed out):
The Falklands! In a gross piece of incompetence (or was it deliberate?) fails to avert the Falklands crisis by ignoring intelligence on the Argentine preparation for invasion in early 1982. Indeed she seems to positively encourage it by proposing scrapping the only warship we have there and having her defence secretary Nicholas Ridley openly say we didn't want the Falklands, thereby giving the impression we are not bothered about the islands! In 1978 when faced with the same intelligence, the Labour government quietly averts a war through diplomatic channels by threatening to send a taskforce. It's the classic tale, to divert attention from disastrous economic policies at home a crooked leader engages in a foreign war (except I'm not talking about Galtieri!). Perhaps Thatcher was getting advise from some of the brutal dictatorships she helped prop up in South America, "Would you like some more tea Mr Pinochet?". Number of British soldiers killed, 278, Argentines, 3000+. Blood on her hands anyone?
The one gay positive

Reading the gay conservative Andrew Sullivan, who I usually like, represented this disconnect particularly well (and he was very and literally disconnected, mostly, by 4,000 miles). I won't link to his spiel but after, bizarrely, arguing that the end of the mining industry was a good thing because it meant the end of 'black lung', he then credits her 'liberation of the market' with, I think, our progress towards ... gay marriage?

Richard Smith chronicled some of the weird gay reaction, including one description of MT as a 'gay icon' (dear g*d). And he did find this, which I recirculated on Twitter, lest we forget (and much as my memory of my mum's comment stuck with me their memory of this 1987 election poster has been erased):

The nasty Section 28 ("pretend family relationships" verboten in schools) has been mentioned in obituaries but not this homophobic electioneering. On the plus side they've noted her 1960s vote to decriminalise homosexuality but, less widely, Sullivan of all people forgets it, a positive linked, I think, to her scientific background, which has been recalled on climate change and the ozone layer. MT did allow her Heath Minister, Norman Fowler, to do the right thing on HIV/AIDS despite, allegedly and anecdotally, her being repelled by safe sex literature aimed at gay men.

Don’t Hate, Donate

Another thing cozy middle-class people like me learned during the Miners Strike from those subjected to it was the lengths MT would go to break the strike, echoing Churchill again. Illegal lengths. Violent lengths. This culminated in the infamous 'Battle of Orgreave' in South Yorkshire where, in scenes reminiscent of a 19th Century war, waves of police on horses descended on picketing miners. (I saw this elsewhere. On an anti-apartheid rally in Trafalgar square police formed into squares, just as infantry would have done at Waterloo).

Police had to pay out hundreds of thousands in compensation but, spurred on by the two-decade long campaign to get the truth about what happened at the Hillborough disaster, there is also a campaign to get the truth about what really happened at Orgreave.

And MT's death has led to this pitch to give to charities ( now offline), including Orgreave:
Margaret Thatcher has died. We want to take the moment when our country is remembering her legacy, to remember the people her government hurt - people who don’t get pull-out supplements in national newspapers. People who don’t get ceremonial funerals in St Paul's Cathedral. The people her apologists forget, or want to forget.

Margaret Thatcher's last years were spent coping with dementia, a terrible illness. If, like us, you were disgusted by how she treated the least well off in Britain and around the world, the old line about not wishing something on your worst enemies still applies. We can’t help but think it’s pretty lousy to celebrate or gloat over anyone’s suffering and death and we don’t want anyone else to do it either.

We just want to place front and centre people who had no place in the Thatcherite worldview. And we want to do that in a way that can actually do some good. You can help us by donating to the excellent charities we have chosen to represent a fraction of them – the homeless, miners’ families, gay teenagers, Hillsborough survivors and South African victims of the Apartheid regime.

Nothing is stopping you doing more or taking the spirit of the Don’t Hate, Donate campaign in your own direction. Thank you so much for your support!
Much better than sending 79p to Sony for a Judy Garland song methinks?
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1 comment:

  1. Paul, this is dad-
    Did you know your mother was a great admirer of Enoch Powell, because they shared a birthday !