Posted by: martinworster | May 7, 2013

149. MAGGIE RIP

I met Margaret Thatcher a couple of times. Some people will see that as a cause for celebration. Others might suggest that I keep it quiet. It’s just something that happened. It’s a nice tale to tell, it’s not every day you get to meet a figure of such historical importance, like meeting say, Churchill, Reagan or perhaps Hitler.

 

Growing up in North London in the 80s and 90s our local constituency (electoral division) was Finchley which happened to be Margaret Thatchers. Maggie was our local member of parliament. My parents were quite active as part of the local Conservative Party and as such helped organize a number of functions and fundraising events. As a young (early teens) and dutiful son I went to some of these and it’s here that I met Maggie. I say met – I shook her hand and exchanged a few pleasantries as she navigated the room after her speech to meet the crowd. I even have a photo of this, although it’s definitely not going on the internet. Does that qualify as meeting her? I think so. I didn’t exactly have a cup of tea with her – or even a G & T with Dennis.

 

I remember she gave a speech but I can’t exactly remember the contents. She spoke without notes and with an amazing presence and control of the room, something we already know. Say what you will about the lady she was quite a force of nature. No one towered over post-war British – some might say global – politics with such a presence and drive. For many in Britain she had such a presence that made her seem like part of the family – whether loving mother or abusive, hateful, unwelcome auntie take your pick.

 

Of course your opinion of Maggie in Britain would be mainly dictated by where you lived. If you were a miner in the north – communities that were decimated as a direct result of Thatcher’s actions – your hatred for her would perhaps be understandably justified. If you were an entrepreneur in the south who bought his own council house in the 80s and then constantly improved his lot – ‘loadsamoney’ – due to her policies she’d be your hero. 

 

Some of the hatred after her death I found distasteful and misdirected. I don’t think dancing on graves really helps matters. At the end of the day to trace back all of today’s problems to a single person is very simplistic. She won the General Election three times so there was a chunk of the population who supported what she was doing.

 

Did she create a better Britain? I vaguely remember parts of the 70s (although sometimes this memory can be blurred with footage you see on TV) and Britain at this time was dubbed the sick man of Europe. I was seven when she came to power. Industry was allegedly held ransom by the unions – backed up by evidence of all the rubbish piling up in London as the bin men went on strike (unless this is propagandist right wing footage, you don’t know who to trust). High unemployment, poverty, riots, falling exports, power cuts – this time is always portrayed as a low point in postwar history (although as ever a great time for music and fashion). Most people I talk to of older generations will generally refer to the 70s as a hard time in Britain.

 

Coming to power in 1979 Thatcher’s changes to Britain were radical. She altered the course of capitalism to it’s current state, starting off with the massive deregulation of the banks and financial institutions that arguably culminated in the crash of 2008, evidence that completely unchecked capitalism will spiral out of control benefitting only the small percent at the top. She privatized industries, championed entrepreneurialism by rolling back the state and made home ownership the norm. All things now we take for granted. Without her the rampant materialism of the 80s just wouldn’t have happened, running through to the 90s a continued time of materialism and pre-millennial hedonism. 

 

My personal philosophy is this selfish, rabid greedy individualism she instigated isn’t a good thing. Thatcher famously said ‘there is no such thing as society’. I find this quite a sad, depressing and compassionless view. There are always going to be people in life – through circumstance, bad luck, opportunity (or lack of) – who are less fortunate in life and I think people who are more successful have a moral obligation to help them out. As humans we are – like it or not – all in this together and we should proffer more compassion to others.  This wasn’t Thatcher’s way and overall we are less better off for it – even if we do now own our homes.

 

Thatcher was a fascinating and divisive character, the like of which we will probably never see again soon. She was an amazing woman in many ways. But you wonder what her motives were and what drove her to be so single minded in making her convictions reality. There are many amusing anecdotes how she rode roughshod over any dissenting voices in her all male cabinets. That she was such a powerful energy is shown in the extreme polarity of responses to her as a person – it’s either outright hatred or  love verging on the idolatry. She towered over my youth almost like a God, always there, a voice guiding the country. I’m kind of privileged in a tell-the-grandkids-way that I shook her hand although happy that photographic evidence of this will remain forever buried on my hardrive. 

 

‘U turn if you want to, this lady is not for turning’. Perhaps Thatcher’s most famous soundbite. And probably true in her life after death, as despite all the furor surrounding her death, Maggie would still be absolute in her convictions and certainly not turning in her grave.

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