Mrs Thatcher died today. Many people are glad. This seems to me a ridiculous reaction, as everyone – ‘good’ and ‘bad’ – is going to die – it’s not like it’s some ‘punishment’ for all her ‘evil’ deeds.
I remember the fear she created, the despondency of socialists who supported the miners’ actions, the hatred towards the police as they ‘over’- did their job, some will say. But as I recall, Britain wasn’t a particularly great place to be before she came to power. There was fear and despondency during the 3-day week and the winter of discontent.
My outstanding memory of the Thatcher years is the Cold War and her relationship with Ronald Reagan – and eventually the Berlin Wall coming down in November 1989. I watched the news that evening, and after years of teaching ‘Brother in the Land’ – a novel by Robert Swindells, set in a post-nuclear landscape – I cried as if some huge weight was being lifted off the shoulders of the world. Kennedy will forever be revered for averting war in 1963. He faced the Soviets down – recorded for prosperity in the Kevin Cosner film, ‘Thirteen Days’. And yet the Cold War continued for over another twenty years. I am still waiting for the film of Thatcher and Reagan ‘ganging up’ on Gorbachev – with Reagan’s “Mr Gorbachev, take down this wall.” And for the exploration of the role Margaret Thatcher’s “I can do business with this man” played.
Most literature courses and historians have designated 1945 as some kind of point to mark the beginning of the ‘modern’ era. But as a child brought up in a rural area I confess I can’t remember anything very modern about either our house or the society I was brought up in in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Everything was brown: wallpaper, carpets, furniture. Yes, there was supposed to be the Swinging SIxties – plastic, psychedelia and eventually colour tv. But it was the 80’s that mark the beginning of the real modern age for me: the mobile phone, O level Computers and female, happily unmarried lecturers at the local FE driving sports cars. And a female prime minister not being a ‘feminist’ but playing – and beating – the men at their own, and most exclusive, game. The year Margaret Thatcher became a barrister, she also gave birth to twins. Not bad going for a shop-keeper’s daughter. That was ‘modern’.
I remember the men at my school criticising her – and her government. Satire thrived and Ben Elton, and serious playwrights made a living out of her. ‘Spitting Image’ was brilliant. Where is this kind of reaction today? Blair, never mind Cameron, and his gang did things even Thatcher would never have dared – and although she privatised water, she didn’t make working class kids pay to go to university: we had a free education from start to finish, with support grants to drink away in the student union bar. And I don’t remember many of the grand socialists leaving their cosy jobs to take up politics and stand against her and her policies. There was a lot of talk – as there has been today. But in the end most people ended up better off than they were in 1971. Whether they are prepared to admit it is another thing.
So I am not joining the celebratory tonight. I bought my first house on my own in 1987 and have a good deal beside to be grateful for. Much of it comes down to the modernisation of Britain which took place in the 1980s. RIP Maggie – whatever you were, and whatever history writes about you, you were no worse that the warmongering men who took us into WWI, the male leaders who caused the Great Depression and the war which inevitably followed. And certainly no worse than what we have today.