Wednesday, April 17, 2013

good mourning Britain

Well. What to say about Thatch? Or, at least, what to say that hasn't already been said, and since I haven't read absolutely everything that's been written on the subject, as there's rather a lot of it, the answer to that may well turn out to be: nothing whatsoever. But, just to be clear, it's not going to stop me saying it anyway, as I have a number of crackpot theories on the subject.
  • Here's the first one: governments and politicians have rather less ability to influence the mysterious ebb and flow of economics than is popularly believed. And where they do influence it, rather more is down to blind luck than they would like to have you believe. This is a corollary of a wider theory that says: the success or failure of governments and politicians in general, and therefore who gets remembered by history as a success or a failure, is more down to blind luck than you might think. It certainly could be argued that Thatcher was a lucky Prime Minister, for instance, with the huge economic windfall of North Sea oil revenue in the 1980s (in addition to the more calculated cash grab of privatisations and selling off of council houses), and the (in hindsight) opportune timing of the Falklands War enabling her to surf a tide of patriotic fervour to victory in the 1983 general election. She was also fortunate in the self-destruction of the Labour Party in the 1980s which rendered them essentially unelectable until their recovery at the tail-end of the decade under Neil Kinnock.
  • I think it's significant that I am of the generation which grew up and became politically aware during the Thatcher years: I was nine when she became Prime Minister, and twenty when she was ousted. So I have to view my overall view of her (not especially favourable in general, in case you hadn't got that already) through the distorting lens of having been a teenager for most of her tenure and therefore inherently likely to view all authority figures as deserving of my visceral hatred. That is soooo unfair; I hate you.
  • One of the defining characteristics of the conservative authoritarian mindset, of which Thatcher was a prime example, is a general lack of empathy, i.e. the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes and try to see things from their point of view. Almost more important is the lack of any desire to try to do so, and even the viewing of such a desire as some sort of sign of moral weakness. One of the effects of this is to make Conservative governments inherently hostile to the recipients of state benefits, since they cannot help but view the need to receive such things as a sign of laziness and moral degeneracy. I say "governments", plural, because of course the current administration has been peddling the same sort of rhetoric, with all the talk about "workers" and "shirkers" and the shameful attempt by George Osborne to co-opt the Philpott case as some sort of argument against state hand-outs. 
  • Crackpot theory number two: I suspect that one of the main reasons that Thatcher was uniquely ill-disposed towards benefit claimants and the underprivileged in general was as a side-effect of her personal circumstances - as a woman in the toxically sexist environments of first science and then subsequently politics (mind you, pretty much everywhere was a toxically sexist environment in the 1950s) it must have taken some pretty remarkable drive and single-mindedness to wade through all the bullshit to get to where she wanted to be. All of which probably meant that she simply couldn't understand people who were unable to get through or over the barriers their life and circumstances had put in front of them. It also made her, despite her iconic status as the first woman Prime Minister of the UK, not much of a friend of feminism. After all, what are all these silly women complaining about? What glass ceiling? I made it, why can't they? Just pull yourself together.
  • As Mark Steel in the Independent points out, all the banging on about her being a "conviction politician" is picking a slightly strange thing to celebrate. Having strongly held convictions is only a good thing if they are right, and even if they are a general refusal to consider counter-arguments or other points of view isn't really very healthy. You know who else had strong convictions? That's right, Hitler.
  • Crackpot theory number three is a corollary of number two: most self-made types, entrepreneurs and the like, are not only instinctively unpalatable conservative authoritarian types who can't understand why everyone can't just do what they did (and - see theory one - fail to realise how much dumb luck was involved), but more generally just really tedious and awful people outside of a business context. This theory was partly confirmed and partly undermined by listening to Hilary Devey (her off Dragon's Den) on Desert Island Discs a few months back - she came across as a nicer person than her pantomime persona on DD would have had you expect, but she scoffed at any notion of there being any barriers to women succeeding in the business world, and her choice of tunes was heroically dreadful.
  • Back to Thatch: the other side of the sexism thing is that I'm quite sure one of the reasons she inspired such visceral dislike during her lifetime and premiership is simply the fact of her being a woman. Clearly the trade union movement would have hated a conservative Prime Minister implacably opposed to their very existence anyway, but the fact that they, almost exclusively men, were being told what to do by A BLOODY WOMAN must have added a bit of extra sting. Some of the post-mortem glee has been a bit too focused on her gender for my taste as well, notably the bid to get Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead to number one. Note, however, that while I think it's a bit of a crass stunt I absolutely oppose the craven antics of the BBC regarding its appearance (or not) on the Radio 1 chart show at the weekend. It's in the charts, it's based on sales, don't editorialise, just play it. Rather magnificently the Daily Mail still managed to spin this spineless cave-in to conservative pressure as a victory for the Trot faction at the BBC; that is some impressive cognitive dissonance right there.
  • While a lot of people did take the opportunity to make a point of celebrating the event of her death, there was a sense in which she'd already got away from us, since she'd had dementia for the last decade or so of her life. There's an interesting parallel with her great ideological soul-mate Ronald Reagan, who had a long downward slide into dementia at the end of his life too. So crackpot theory number four is that the long battle between right-wing ideology and reality eventually destroys the brain
  • The ding-dong over Ding Dong is one aspect of another area of stupidity: the whole ridiculous notion of not speaking ill of the dead. Personally I favour the sort of robust post-mortem assessment provided by the late Christopher Hitchens on the demise of Jerry Falwell: "if you'd given him an enema you could have buried him in a matchbox". 

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