Let's not spend too much time debating the Thatcher legacy
What is there to say about Margaret Thatcher’s legacy? So much has already been said. It’s not just tasteless to celebrate a person’s death: it also seems terribly futile and diminishes our own humanity.
I was at Liverpool University in the 1980’s, and the overwhelming feeling was that our own government had contempt for working class people and culture, particularly in the North. In 1984 an unholy alliance between the media, the government, and the police conspired to portray striking miners, ‘the enemy within’ as violent thugs, when they were in fact victims of police brutality.
In 1989 the same conspiracy served to vilify the 96 Hillsborough victims. Boris Johnson said Liverpool people had an unjustified sense of victimhood, but when the truth finally emerged, their grieving relatives were vindicated.
Despite all its deprivation, Liverpool has always been able to express itself eloquently, and playwrights like Alan Bleasedale with his ‘Boys From the Blackstuff’ brilliantly portrayed the soul-destroying, mind-destroying desperation and humiliation of men driven to the brink by mass unemployment. When Government Ministers like Norman Tebbitt told such men to get on their bikes and look for work, as if that would make three million jobs magically appear, it was like a knife to the heart.
This was a time before the legal minimum wage, and with a vast pool of people desperate for a job, employers took full advantage of this fact. Norman Lamont admitted after Thatcher's departure from Number 10, that mass unemployment was ‘a price worth paying’ and an integral part of government policy, to keep wages and inflation down.
Whole areas of the country were virtually abandoned to decay, whilst yuppies in the deregulated City of London were hailed as geniuses and role models.
That feeling, that the government has little but contempt for sections of its own population and areas of its own country is back. The manipulation of statistics, the plain lies, and the hostile rhetoric which issues in a constant stream from the government has succeeded in making the poor, the weak and the vulnerable, working or not working, feel like an unwanted and resented burden which the government wanted to punish.
In some ways this government is worse than Thatcher’s, because it seems to delight in choosing the weakest, least powerful as targets for hostility.
So I won’t be spending too much time or energy debating the Thatcher legacy: there is too much to do now. It is sadly too late to defend the miners, the steelworkers and the shipbuilders. There are millions of disabled, sick, old, and poor people who are suffering now, who need our help now. If we want to mark Mrs Thatcher’s passing in any way, let us do it by redoubling our efforts to help them.
To resist the current War On Welfare, and to defend all who need our social safety net, sign www.wowpetition.com
© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor.
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