The former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, died this morning. I’ve just heard the news. Strangely, I feel like crying. I was 7 years old when she was elected. I have a terrible memory, but I remember that quite clearly. I was 19 when she was finally ousted from office, stabbed in the back by her own government. I remember that quite clearly too. It’s impossible to convey the poetic justice of that moment, I can only say that if you were around at the time you felt it. In your bones. We went out into the streets and partied. By the time we finally voted the Tories from office I was 25. At last a vote I had cast had counted. In the elation of that election night, nothing could have prepared me for the betrayal that would be the New Labour government. The country I grew up in was shaped by Margaret Thatcher; my life has been shaped by a profound abhorence of everything she stood for.
Prior to becoming PM, she was renowned for ending the provision of free milk for primary school children: “Thatcher, Thatcher, milk snatcher” we called her. Her contempt for the welfare state and her messianic embracing of the free market were never in question. She deregulated and sold off whatever she could. She took the unions on, one by one, and when she wasn’t able to use new legislation as an effective truncheon with which to clobber the organised working class, she used the police. And tore apart communities in the process. Unemployment soared and the unemployed were demonised. Section 28 was brought in on her watch – make no mistake, the effect of this was not simply to shove gay women, men and children into the darkest corners of the closet, it was a state sanctioning of homophobia. And then, of course, there was the poll tax.
I can’t say much more right now. I can’t think straight. I have news streaming on websites as I type, the radio blaring in the background, and facebook bleeping its updates as word of her demise makes its way across the social network. Maybe I’ll come back to this topic when I’ve had time to reflect and gather my thoughts. Maybe I’ll write something coherent, and detailed about those Thatcher years and the bleak legacy they’ve left us. But for now, all I can think about is our current government. Helmed by Tories and, so the rhetoric goes, held in check by the Lib-Dems, this Coalition, through its cynical and systematic attacks on our health service and welfare system, is doing what Thatcher could only have dreamt of. Perhaps that’s why I feel like crying. But then I remember the poll tax. And I remember a population stopping dead in its tracks and taking democracy to the streets, and saying loudly, unequivocally, No. In the end it was the poll tax that did for Thatcher. Or, to be more precise, our refusal to pay it. Our collective refusal to pay it. Our refusal to quietly refuse to pay. And then I think of the bedroom tax, which came into force a week ago, and wonder if it isn’t just about time to take to the streets again.