For many on the left – myself included – Margaret Thatcher was the lodestar of all of our anger and opprobrium with the way that our society works (or for so many millions – doesn’t work). Thatcher left office when I was 5 years old, and yet growing up in the North East it was still impossible to escape what felt like her continues presence. Closed mines and shipyards, shattered communities, unemployment, recession, the shift from manufacturing jobs to insecure “service economy” work. Our mines, factories and steelworks have largely gone – now we have call centres, supermarkets and out of town shopping centres.
Low waged, low skilled work that traps many in – or close to – grinding poverty.
Comparing the life chances of those growing up in Barnet (where I now live) a few miles from Thatcher’s old Finchley constituency, and Gateshead (where I grew up) a few miles from the Durham coalfields, it’s impossible not see the polarising impact Thatcher had on our country. Her reign was boom time for Hadley Wood, and the toughest of times for Heaton.
As I wrote yesterday, I won’t – can’t – pay tribute to Thatcher. I’ll weep no tears for her either, preserving such thoughts and feelings over the days ahead for the shattered lives in the communities in the North East, Scotland, Liverpool, Wales and elsewhere. And it is certainly no cause for celebration.
But I’ll also try not to dwell too much longer on Thatcher’s legacy, when her ideological brethren are continuing her work today. Will future generations acknowledge the divisive and destructive nature of the Cameron government in the same terms as the Thatcher government? Because they should.
Let’s take George Osborne as an admittedly obvious example of this ilk. Today he writes in the Times that Thatcher “restored Britain’s optimism”. When George Osborne saw the destruction wreaked on the community of Orgreave as their pit, their community and their lives were torn asunder, he considered it “a hard won transformation in our country”. Proof positive, if it were needed, that some appear to care nothing for the individuals affected if there is “transformation” at stake.
Suddenly the attacks on the disabled, the “Bedroom Tax”, cutting benefits for expectant mums, slashing police numbers, attempting to privatise the NHS and much, much more can be put into perspective. A transformational perspective. One life shattered is a tragedy. But millions? That’s a mere statistic on the way to “transformation in our country”.
Worse still, there are no “wets” in the cabinet. No-one there is urging Cameron and Osborne to consider the damage to society of their cuts. Those Tories who might take a less aggressive stance – like Robert Halfron and Tim Montgomerie – are on the backbenchers or in newsrooms. If anything Cameron and Osborne ARE the wets. Any other prospective Tory leader would likely take their agenda and run with it. To the right. And hard.
And yet at times we on the left have all become so blinded by our deep, passionate, borderline irrational loathing of the policies and legacy of the Thatcher government, that we seem to have neglected that there could be something as bad – or worse – facing is at this very moment. It’s almost as if so much energy was expended on loathing the Thatcher government, there’s not the same energy for taking on the current government. Sure, there are protests. But is there real anger – uproar even? And as I asked yesterday – do we have the big vision for a better Britain that we can build?
Whilst Thatcher will continue to dominate the news bulletins over the next few days as MPs pay tribute to her in parliament, and the preparations begin for her funeral, we should never take our eyes away from what really matters. Which is that it’s happening again.
Open your eyes Britain.
It’s happening again.