Thursday, April 11, 2013


There was a time when news of great import was broken with gravitas. TV programmes simply shut down. There was a breathless message from a faceless announcer of special news whereupon the BBC's spinning globe, or its successors appeared before Huw Edwards, John Humphrys or Angela Rippon appeared on screen looking as nervous as you suddenly felt.

What had happened?

Monday's news of Margaret Thatcher's death broke like a damp squib. To me anyway. In the modern manner I was alerted by a Facebook status update:

"Thatchers snuffed it." (No apostrophe! At a time like this).

Three words. 18 letters. No possibility of any misunderstanding.

In some ways it's like she's been dead for more than 20 years anyway. After she was shuffled out of Downing Street she didn't hang around in the public eye much. Not in this country anyway. Although for successive Tory leaders she remained overly visible. A reminder of what they wanted to move on from.

Even Cameron, in his eulogy to her outside Number 10 admitted she was a divisive figure. It was practically the first thing he said. Admittedly he became more gushing after that, but I bet her legions of fans among the Tory faithful were marking him down as a traitor for even hinting at less than complete devotion to the legacy of the leaderene. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown would have been more unequivocally positive.

There has been acres of newsprint about Thatch in the past few days, lots of it very thought provoking. One of the best pieces I've read was Russell Brand's article in the Guardian which had quite a personal perspective. Good and also a bit annoying as I was planning to write something from a similar angle examining what I remember about her and what I thought of her.

I don't think I have the energy for that now and since Russell has beaten me to it, there's no need. Just read what he said. My piece would have been almost as good I'm sure, but I was churning out turgid copy for cash while he was conjuring metaphors on his chaise longue, sipping mint tee through a silver straw.

So, well done Russell - you win.

The 1979 election that brought Thatcher to power is the first I remember very well. The Tories actually did pretty well in Scotland - 22 out of 72 seats. However I can remember Thatcher already being extremely disliked North of the Border. Part of this was traditional anti-English sentiment, and part was misogyny, but there was another element in play.

Mrs T wasn't very likable, and to a Scots mindset, she was even less so. The hectoring school teacher tone, the lack of any discernible sense of humility, the lack of a sense of humour, and the patent arrogance all cast her as a villain from day one.

It's been interesting hearing recordings of the best of Thatch in the past week, to be reminded how unlike politicians of today she was. She really didn't care what people thought of her - or at least that's what it sounded like. It's no wonder that she periodically creeps up as an icon in punk. They may not have liked her, but they liked that she didn't give a fuck. No wonder John Lydon is sticking up for her today.

But it was quickly apparent that Thatcher wasn't a Prime Minister for Scotland, or for the North of England for that matter. Or for the working classes. Or for the poor. Or for young people. Or gay people. Or ethnic minorities. The list goes on.

She was PM from when I was 12 until I was 23. That's a long time to feel you don't matter. My family didn't even benefit from the much vaunted sale of council houses. We moved from our 'coonsell hoose' in Scotland to England in 1979 and couldn't get another council house. Instead we were renting from a housing association, which were still fairly novel at the time I think. It was a fairly nice house on a pleasant estate with lots of other young families, but my dad wanted to buy his own place, like we were all being encouraged to do. Renting was dead money. But prices kept rising and we never managed it while he was around.

Bedfordshire, where we lived, was a Tory heartland and I grew up thinking the Tories were unassailable. Even when the economy was down in the Eighties and people in their droves were handing back keys to houses they could no longer afford, I couldn't see anybody else breaking through. I never really understood the SDP. They were just the party that was made fun of in Not the Nine O'Clock News. I understood the Labour Party, but I understood that they were unlikely to break through the Iron Lady's carapace. Not then.

Even when they ditched her in 1990 and Kinnock's Labour seemed on the verge of power in 1991, I couldn't believe that the Tories would ever be removed. It took five grey years of John Major hanging on by his finger nails, the death of John Smith and the rise of Tony Blair before I started to think that change could come.

And I wasn't alone. I can never be as harsh on Blair as some people will always be, because he really was the future once - as Cameron will be too when his cheap line is forgotten. He did seem like a new dawn. Some of it was spin and presentation but I have never doubted that the aspirations of New Labour aligned more closely with me and mine than Thatcher's ever did.

Thatcher's biggest legacy for me was the way she snuffed out the hopes of large swathes of the population of the country she purported to love. In doing so she sowed the seeds of political apathy that we see today. Politicians of all stripe find it very hard to turn back the economic clock in areas that she consigned to the economic dustbin. It's much harder to create jobs than to destroy them. Britain did have to move on from the Seventies, but it could have been managed so much better.

I'm not dancing on her grave, but I won't miss her.