They say a week is a long time in politics. It feels like an eternity when the politician is dead.
Since the moment the Margaret-Thatcher-news-spectacle began, my Facebook feed has blazed with jubilation, Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead videos, and links to articles demonizing her and her achievements.
Par for the course among my intelligent middle class friends, for whom there isn’t an economic or social issue that can’t be addressed with a viral graphic, a hyperbolic Polly Toynbee article, or by ‘Liking’ a photocopied letter from a pissed-off pensioner.
I have no quarrel with somebody expressing disapproval of Mrs Thatcher or her policies, though on balance I admired the woman myself.
But the venom and ignorance of these 30- to 40-somethings goes beyond that.
My friends believe they are being engaged, but with their tribal mantras and kneejerk reactions they reduce themselves to bloc voters for career politicians and traffic conduits for linkbait articles.
They see the world not just through the prism of a media hyper-vigilant to any expression of truth or uncertainty, but also – thanks to the polarisation of the Internet – they see just one side of its manufactured debates.
Thatcher versus Kinnock has become Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and my friends all rage over rounding errors.
Wake Me Up Before You Go Go
I was on holiday when Margaret Thatcher died, which was why I was getting my news from Facebook.
I was also abroad when Diana died. Back then I learned the news from a discarded front page blowing across New York’s Central Park. Flying into London a couple of days later was slightly surreal – the city seemed quieter, and changed. Conversations were edgier, and unexpected people took offence. The mood passed and may have been an illusion but it was scary while it lasted.
This time I was prepared to find the UK in uproar. Going by my Facebook feed, the country was at war.
But no, it was just my friends – or my generation.
As I watched Question Time that night, I was relieved to hear a sane and balanced account of the Thatcher era. Even Polly Toynbee made an effort to be reasonable.
Phew! From my arguments on Facebook, I had begun to wonder if I’d invented the 1970s that sowed the seeds for Thatcherism.
My friends seemingly had no idea about the union brigands who’d helped run the country into the ground or the corporatist fat cats sitting on top of dying manufacturers like so many little King Canutes squatting on sandcastles as the water rose.
What about the economic transformations that swept the globe in the 1980s?
Question Time confirmed I didn’t invent globalisation and technological progress, either – though my friends seemed to think Mrs Thatcher did, given everything they blamed her for, including that life isn’t a Hovis bread advert of cobble streets and sunshine.
That would certainly come as news to the rest of the world that saw exactly the same economic forces at play. Even China was presumably a Thatcher side-project.
Thatcher’s critics imbue her with supernatural powers. It’s always easier to hate the player as opposed to the game. There’s a very good argument that she moved too far, too fast, but perhaps we only really know that through hindsight. I’d like to think it could have been less bitter, but I certainly don’t believe the bitterness was all her fault. Again, see the 1970s.
(Oh, and by the way, UK factories make more cars than we did in the late 1970s – and last year we exported a record number.)
After availing my friends of such facts, my Facebook comrades inform me that even if the 1970s were that bad – which they doubt – why couldn’t we have modernised like Germany, which they regard as some kind of have-it-all Nirvana?
Because Labour tried to negotiate with the unions and James Callaghan was destroyed for his troubles.
Who? You can almost hear them tapping away on Wikipedia.
As it happens, my hosts this week were German, so I was on hand to see what some of them thought about the Iron Lady.
One septuagenarian aunt demanded to know why I wasn’t wearing a black armband.
She gripped my shoulder. “What Maggie did in the 1980s, Schröder could not do until 2004. You were the lucky ones!”
Still, Mrs Thatcher didn’t have to destroy the welfare state, did she?
Indeed she didn’t – the first thing she did was raise taxes, and state spending never fell much. Welfare spending actually rose sharply, although for all the wrong reasons.
And heaven forbid anyone should aspire to buy their own milk.
Pass The Dutchie
My generation – the Children of Thatcher who were born in the 1970s and came of age as she was booted out of office – appear certain of everything, but unwilling to learn much about anything.
Am I right to be so scared of what they represent?
I suggested to one that he considered the choices the country faced three decades ago before condemning Thatcher as evil incarnate.
Michael Foot’s Labour, for instance, wanted to withdraw from NATO and the EU, to hand over our nuclear weapons unilaterally, and to nationalise anything that hadn’t already been run into the ground. It wasn’t until New Labour that there was a credible alternative – and I voted accordingly in 1997.
Within seconds he was condemning Tony Blair as Thatcher in disguise.
The Land of Make Believe
Let’s not split hairs. My friends are idiots.
I love them, but they’re idiots.
They express or admire what would have been seen in the 1970s as hard leftwing views, but are now defined in the language of “fairness” and defined through opposition.
- All profits are bad, all welfare is good.
- All cuts are bad, but taxes are good (so long as they’re not paying).
- Capitalists are bad, engineers and doctors are good.
- Politics is bad, Twitter hashtags are good.
All fair enough if you’re a member of the 1970s loony left who has read Marx (as I have) and you believe in a socialist utopia.
But my friends haven’t read Marx, and I don’t believe their heart is really in the logical consequence of what they’re demanding.
My friends buy cheap trainers made in China, take cut-price flights around the world, switch energy providers with a moan when their bills rise, and job hop with abandon. They enjoy rising house prices, and they complain about council tax bills. As I say, they are Thatcher’s children.
Three of the biggest spouters of hard-left claptrap run their own businesses. They make extensive use of low-cost freelancers. They sell their wares across the world. Naturally and sensibly they structure their affairs tax efficiently. One was apoplectic in the hiatus before Entrepreneur’s Relief was introduced.
You cannot make it up.
Do they think they’d be doing this with 1970′s Labour in power, a Union shop steward squaring up against every staff decision, capital controls and more red tape than you’d see at an International Worker’s Day parade?
I’m certainly not saying they should vote Tory. But they could at least be realistic about where their business success and lifestyle springs from – and I honestly can’t see why they’re not all for Blair’s New Labour.
But no, they’d rather believe in some Ealing Comedy-accented economic Disneyland that never was.
The disconnect – between why we live the way we do today and their fantasy politics – is by turns pathetic and terrifying.
But I shouldn’t be surprised by it – it’s been building for years.
The ink was not dry on the Coalition document before my friends started accusing the Conservatives of “taking a sledgehammer” to the welfare state. They sounded like a bunch of teenagers singing the UB40 favourites of their parents at a reunion concert.
One of them – one of the business owners – linked to a hysterical Toynbee article, calling it a: “Superb, dark, desperate article about the Conservatives’ barely-hidden agenda to tear down the state”.
He went on as usual to cite the devastation that had been caused by cuts, the millions unemployed, and so on.
I pointed out that state spending was still rising, and that Labour had (rightly) been committed to curbing spending, too, following the financial crisis – at least until it conveniently lost the election. (I suggested he read Alistair Darling’s excellent biography for more).
I even pointed him towards this graph showing state spending as a percentage of GDP was still rising. So much for destroying the State!
He looked at the graph and changed his tune to “most of the cuts are still to come”, which was at least accurate.
Presumably the mere sight of the sledgehammer in the box was what caused all the damage he claimed to have witnessed earlier on?
I am no apologist for the current government, who I consider timid and low-calibre. But tyrannical destroyers of the state they are not.
Stand And Deliver
I regularly go through the same rigmarole: some news events grab my friends’ attention, they deposit a fanatical take on it Facebook, and it is debunked by me or a handful of others until one of us loses interest.
But most are not debunked because there are only so many hours in the day. Instead there’s an orgy of agreement and the world gets a little dumber.
I find the Daily Mail unreadable and its coverage of Mick Philpott was no different, but I do think there is a point to be made about the extremes of benefit abuse. People need to trust the system to ensure its support.
My friends replied with graphs about tax avoidance.
I believe in the welfare state as a comprehensive safety net. If even half what my friends claim was true I’d be on the streets. But I also think the State has the clear capacity to enfeeble its citizens – and I don’t want to pay when it does.
If you want a welfare state, then you need to defend it against its abusers, as well as its opponents. My friends should be the first to demand action against those who exploit the taxpayer – and deprive the deserving – just as how as a believer in capitalism I have railed on Monevator for years about egregious bankers.
And incidentally, I didn’t have a spare bedroom until I was 33, and I pay about £200 a month for it. Is then the invidiously re-branded “spare bedroom tax” of £14 a week such a terrible deal? Resources will always be limited – wouldn’t it be better if extra rooms are directed at those who need them most?
Don’t bother asking my friends. Details. Don’t I know someone in the City lives in an expensive house somewhere or other?
It’s A Sin
Have you ever been down a coal mine? I have – in a highly sanitised form – and it was ghastly.
Mining coal was a dangerous, unhealthy, and basically dreadful occupation and I’m glad I’ll never have to do it.
But the left (and many on the right) love their sweatshops – and the very best worker is a sweating worker with a top unbuttoned and glinting.
I’m not going to presume to tell anyone who was mining coal in 1981 that Thatcher was good for them. Clearly the sense of community and camaraderie that made the mining life even half bearable was torn apart when the mines closed. They lost their jobs and many never got new ones. It must have been devastating. I am not surprised they hate her.
But my air-conditioned friends? If coal mining still existed, they’d be campaigning against it.
All Lost In The Supermarket
My friends remind me of shoppers in the meat aisle of Tesco.
They pick their way through the packaged bacon and the various cuts of chicken, and the thought of the screaming death of a pig or a chicken hanging from its feet to be electrocuted never enters their heads. Perhaps they occasionally march against fox hunting.
It’s the same with politics and economics. They don’t want to think about reality. They just want to enjoy the good stuff, and forget or dismiss what delivered it. Think of the last shake-guzzling human being going around in circles in Pixar’s Wall-E.
Like KFC has had the word chicken stripped from its name and the bones removed from many of its finger licking good products, so my friends aren’t capitalists or communists or socialists or anything else with a name, a face, or a spine.
They just want things to be “fair”. Anything can hide behind that innocuous word.
It’s the same with every hard problem they run into. Even the age-old question of religion was reduced to a one-liner by my generation, as this recent Spectator article points out:
“When such questions arise, a big bright ‘Complicated’ sign ought to flash in one’s brain. Instead, in the wake of 9/11, many otherwise thoughtful people opted for simplicity over complexity.”
If the meaning of life can be reduced to a joke poster stuck on a bus, what chance does politics stand?
Don’t Stand So Close To Me
To understand my generation, you have to see them as modern consumers who want to feel good at all times.
They want to eat everything they can, shout slogans about the dignity of the hooded-classes they cross the road to avoid, fly 5,000 miles to eco-resorts, and thrive in a system they claim to despise.
By and large they do nothing different to anyone who votes any other way. Perhaps they drink Fairtrade coffee, and like all of us they sponsor someone in the office when she does a charity run.
Sacrifice is conspicuous by its absence. They are not going without, nor are they out there campaigning. They’re pressing a button on a web page, and turning off a switch in their brains.
This is the generation, remember, who greeted the fall of communism by going on a ten-year bender in Thailand.
When they marched against the invasion of Iraq, I imagined they were marching against the indignity of the party ending.
‘I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand “I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!” or “I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!” “I am homeless, the Government must house me!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing!
There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first…
There is no such thing as society. There is a living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.’
– Margaret Thatcher, 1925 to 2013
Note: I’ve said my bit here and I’m bored of arguing, so while I’d love to read your views below I won’t be responding. I appreciate some of you will entirely disagree with me and disliked Margaret Thatcher. I’ve got no problem with that – she was a divisive figure. But know your reasons. I’m more interested here in the demonization – and the social media ‘debate’ around modern politics. Be aware that anything abusive or flippant will be deleted.