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.
I’m not about to go all John Lennon on you. Fan that I am, now isn’t the time to channel some self-indulgent, long-haired hippy in a white bed. But, to coin a phrase, Imagine… Imagine living in a country at near economic collapse. Imagine a chronic housing shortage. Sounds familiar, right? Now imagine, and please stick with me here readers, I know this is a leap of faith, but imagine a response which says something like: let’s build houses. No, not houses, homes. That way people will have somewhere to live. Somewhere to live well. Somewhere reasonable. Somewhere decent. Somewhere they can afford. And people can be employed to design and build these houses. Then more people will have jobs. And that will be good for the economy. And you know what, while we’re at it, let’s imagine a universal healthcare service, from the cradle to the grave. Free at the point of delivery. Because we’re all in this together. And because we’re all in this together, and we’re essentially social creatures, let’s imagine that we build libraries and cinemas and swimming pools… Just imagine.
And so Ken Loach gives us The Spirit of ’45. And it tells the story of a time when people imagined all this and more, and made it happen. Not perfectly, but with vision. Because we were all in this together. Go and see the film. It’s moving. And inspiring. And enraging. It ain’t subtle, but with the Bullingdon Club and their acolytes, aided and abetted by political technocrats of every hue, selling off the family silver, ours not theirs, now isn’t the time for subtlety.
Now is the time to say GET YOUR HANDS OFF OUR NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE. And give back those bits you’ve flogged off already. And while you’re at it, we’d like our railways back. And our energy, so some smart people can actually plan an energy policy that might have the slightest chance of success. And our postal service. And every other essential service that you and your predecessors have given away without so much as a by your leave. But you know what, we’re reasonable people here, we wouldn’t want you to leave empty handed. Tell you what, why don’t you take THAT INSANE BANKING SYSTEM and those HIGHER RATE TAX EVADERS, that you’re so bloody fond of, with you when you go?