Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Margaret Thatcher 1925-2013

"Where there is discord may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope." - Margaret Thatcher, on first entering 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister (paraphrasing the prayer of St Francis)
“To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.” - Margaret Thatcher
“Yes I do believe in consensus, there should be a consensus behind my convictions.” - Margaret Thatcher
Today her nation buries Margaret Thatcher, and I hope no one gets hurt or does anything stupid. Britain has in the past been adept at buying its departed politicians quietly, decently and without partisan rancour. Ceremonial is strictly for the Royals and national heroes like Winston, Horatio and Wellington. Not this time, unfortunately.

Margaret Thatcher is undoubtedly one of the greats - the first woman Prime Minister of Great Britain, and an ideological warrior and a game-changer. She’s been out of office for almost a quarter of a century, and retired from public view for almost a decade, but still the -ism that bears her name rules this country, with all three main political parties signed up to its basic tenets (and the insurgent party, UKIP, loudly proclaiming itself to be her true heir).

She revelled in partisanship while in office and lived for arguing her point of view. Ultimately her own cabinet, exhausted and terrified of where she was leading them, threw her out. Her opponents never got the chance to vote her out, and the treacherous Tories subsequently tore themselves apart in guilt and revenge.

Hence the ugly atmosphere and our heavy collective mood. Our Tory Prime Minister, who ironically was bequeathed these bombastic funeral plans by his New Labour predecessors, has equally ironically achieved no poll bounce off the back of a full week’s media Thatcher fest. Both right and left wing editorialists have decried the grandeur of the funeral, and it seems all those Thatcher TV shows actually achieved poor ratings. Some left wingers have shocked the world with their “Thatcher Death parties” and campaigns to get “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” into the pop charts; equally, elements on the right wing have invited scorn by whinging Obama isn’t showing enough respect and drooling over the decidedly dicey D-list ragtag assortment of celebs, ex-cons and has-beens invited. The Tory chairman Grant Schapps wrote a letter out to all the constituency faithful to come and line the route this morning: are they frightened that no-one in London apart from the protesters will actually be brave enough to face the hyped-up police and security?

I’ve been immersed in it all, trying to make some kind of sense of what Maggie means to me. I don’t think we are quite there yet. She was a massive force, and did some things very right and some things very wrong. Her legacy is still unwinding and we are in its wake - it may take another thirty years before we can start to sum up. I think she is a transformative figure, up there with William the Conqueror, Henry VIII, and Oliver Cromwell. Massive winners and massive losers, always destined to be radically reinterpreted for every generation.

But I do think that her political analysis of the 70s wasn’t that remarkable - in fact, it was pretty close to being the consensus view. It is clear successive moderate Conservative and Labour governments could see exactly what they needed to do (and some of Thatcher’s most eye-catching policy innovations were in fact first thought of by Labour). They all failed, lost their nerve. And government failure is important, in that it doesn’t return things to where they were before - it moves them on: in this case driving extremism on both left and right. And Thatcher herself was the insurgent candidate from the far right of her party, and the era’s political genius to boot. So she won, and got to apply the ‘cure’ (a readjustment of the economy both parties knew had to be made) her way, through extreme radical ideological methods, tearing apart the country in the process and leaving us where we are today.