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Thatcher: I don’t feel like dancin’

Lynne Segal says those eager to dance on Thatcher’s grave have much thinking to do.
9 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher street art

‘Margaret Thatcher is Dead: This lady is not returning!’ is one way of the calmer statements celebrating Thatcher’s demise on my Facebook page. I can’t join the clamour singing ‘Ding dong the witch is dead’, trailing as it does its horrific historical sexism. More sadly, I can’t see anything to celebrate.

Whilst this once formidable Tory trailblazer is dead, her ideas are more resurgent than ever. Neither Cameron nor Osborne will ever be damned as warlocks or necromancers – this rarely happens to men – yet it is thanks to them that Margaret Thatcher dies triumphant. Thatcher’s success, like that of her pal, Ronald Reagan, was that through a combination of shrewdness and luck she could ride the high tide of corporate capital’s determination to increase profits by rolling back all the popular gains of the post-war settlement. She was neoliberalism’s willing tool, rather than something unique, evil or otherwise.

'Markets know better than governments'

What is truly extraordinary about these times is that while Thatcher’s economic legacy has imploded, her ideological stance – which as she said was always her main agenda – is more viciously enforced than ever. 'Markets know better than governments', was her pivotal mantra, the rest flowed from this. Oh no they do not! You would think we must all have learned this from the catastrophic economic collapse in 2008, when so many banks had to be bailed out by governments, only to be returned as quickly as possible: old bonuses intact, new regulations non-existent.

All too quickly forgotten is the revelation of the cruel absurdity of the economic collapse set in motion by the buccaneers of the finance sector that Thatcher had ‘liberated’ in October 1986, with all the reckless gambling and belief that ‘toxic debt’ was itself a tradable commodity. Or at least, any such knowledge is drowned out by the continued combination of coalition rhetoric baiting Gordon Brown and the Labour Party, together with relentless media attacks on the ‘undeserving’ poor, or any other scapegoats conjured up to misdirect people’s sense of resentment, fear and insecurity: ‘Crisis: Blame the baby boomers, not the bankers’, was a typically absurd headline in The Times when Irish banks were on the point of collapse at the start of 2010, summarising the argument by their chief economic analyst, Anatole Kaletsky.

In these topsy-turvy times, any thoughtful, reforming responses to the crisis, no matter how carefully argued and widely supported by fellow economists – such as those put forward by the highly respected American economist, Paul Krugman – are tossed aside in the UK. No reference to Keynesianism or any policies for decreasing the obscene inequality that helped generate the crisis are considered. Instead, after so much mayhem, Thatcher’s worship of market values rules supreme, motivating vicious cuts in welfare and the surreptitious turning over of what remains of the public sector to the private, even as the crisis in market forces and the finance sector continues to deepen, especially in Europe.

Where is the alternative?

Of course there have been impressive flurries of resistance, and for a while in the wake of the Occupy movement, grass-roots dissent was back on the political agenda. Networks of resistance are active around the country, especially in defence of the NHS. Yet those eager to dance on Thatcher’s grave have much thinking to do, when there remains such a lack of connection between protesters and mainstream politics. Indeed, as Paul Mason admits in his book celebrating all the new protest movements around the globe, Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere, most of the people he interviewed ‘were hostile to the very idea of a unifying theory’. Yet it is surely some sort of compelling counter-ideology and alternative strategy to the ubiquitous rule of market forces that we are desperately in need of if we are ever to safely bury Thatcher.

Although the rich few get richer and the rest of us poorer, the left has yet to strike any real chord with the broader public. We know that it was Tony Blair, or ‘Blairism’, which – as Thatcher knew – did so much to entrench her legacy: with his seamless endorsement of market values and public veneration for wealth and celebrity, even as it furthered cynicism about politicians and politics generally. We have headed so far down that stream, it is hard now to turn things around.

It took the extraordinary conditions of the Second World War to create the Labour Party’s comprehensive commitment to welfare, albeit of a conservative and authoritarian kind. The reforms and nationalisations inaugurating the British welfare state, post-1945, were based on the deliberate spread of a consensus that it was economic insecurities and domestic unhappiness that created unhappy societies: ‘many of the maladjustments and neuroses of modern society’, as Bevan explained when minister of health, arose directly from poverty and insecurity. When will our politicians say these words again? Any direct action, movement politics or coalitions of resistance we build today has to find ways to influence national government to reaffirm that mind-set, hopefully with more creative agendas than hitherto, before we can bury Thatcher.

Thatcher and feminism

And since I began with a feminist note, let me also end there. Some women have argued that it was Thatcher who provided the best role model for helping women release their true potential. No she did not. She was the perfect role model for the ever deepening gulf between women, as the privileged few have been able to rise to the very heights of political or corporate power, even as the majority of women, affected at every turn by the rolling back of welfare and the politics of individual success she promoted, are ever more firmly left at the bottom of the heap.


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Lewis White 9 April 2013, 17.06

Sort of just reads like your determined to disagree with everyone, and have managed to find an argument, with a little bit of the sexist criticism and a little bit of the Thatcherism lives on criticism, that allows you to do put yourself against both lefties who’re celebrating, right winger who’re crying, and liberals who think “she did some things of worth”.

If i was being more helpful and less dismissive, I’d probably say that I basically struggle to understand what your overall point is here?

Is it simply that the world is still a shit place so why bother enjoying Thatcher’s death? In which case you sort of answer the question yourself in the last paragraph don’t you?

“She was the perfect role model for the ever deepening gulf between women, as the privileged few have been able to rise to the very heights of political or corporate power, even as the majority of women, affected at every turn by the rolling back of welfare and the politics of individual success she promoted, are ever more firmly left at the bottom of the heap.”

Given that it sounds like she set feminism back decades there, why wouldn’t one at the very least feel relief that her physical embodiment is gone. That’s step in the right direction surely?

Andy White 9 April 2013, 18.09

Well said Lewis. You can keep your worthy gloom Lynne. Billy Bragg is way off the mark on this as well. When an evil tyrant dies, isn’t it natural to feel happy?

Her programme was nothing less than economic and political vandalism, and she carried it through with total enthusiasm and committment. It WAS personal. She hated socialists, feminists, trade unionists, peace campaigners, Irish republicans, gay people – in fact anyone who dared to make the case for any kind of social alternative. Even people who went to music festivals.

When you were up against the full force of her hatred, it felt like an evil force all right. What more do you want – do you need her to have been a practising satanist or a secret Nazi before you feel that the world is a better place without her in it?

Kevin Blowe 9 April 2013, 20.05

Agree with above: po-faced and unhelpful

Bugsy 11 April 2013, 14.57

Maggie Thatcher began to suffer at a comparatively early stage from the “disease” that befalls almost all leaders. It’s because they’re the top-cheeses that they, sooner or later, gain the impression that they’re always right – and I mean always.

We tend to slice up our recent history and often fail to make the necessary connections and linkups that are required to make a coherent narrative of the times we live in. For instance, when Thatcher “handbagged” that there Sergeant (or however it’s spelled) fella, simply because he said something she didn’t approve of, the right-wing press fell over themselves to praise her ostensible “resoluteness”. Just imagine what would happen if a normal person employed such tactics.

When steel-workers in Sheffield went out on strike because management refused to pay an already agreed wage increase, Thatcher was a little bemused and asked: “Why do they want more money? They’ll only spend it!”

That sort of sums up her general attitude to working class folks and also shows where her loyalties always lay. She never had the remotest arse-end of an idea about realistic economics, but she knew that complying with the instructions given to her by the corporate and bank bosses would lead to HER persona goal; which was to remove herself as far away from her roots as possible and finally to be recognised as part of the “elite”. I, for one, am glad the divisive, vindictive old bastard is brown-bread. I just wish she’d died screaming in unbearable pain.


Owen 12 April 2013, 12.06

The point is, there is nothing to celebrate.

The exploitative system that she was no more of a bag carrier for, is more firmly entrenched in todays society by more mendacious actors of both right and so called centre left actors, than she could have dreamed

She was the epitome of masochistic middle Britain. I do not rejoice in her death, I pity her life.

Bugsy 12 April 2013, 18.17

I agree with you, Owen, that, in reality, there’s nothing to celebrate (used in its widest sense). However, if our jubilation puts a damper on the efforts of all those desperately attempting to outdo each other with their mendacious piousness about an evil, ruthless, vindictive arsehole who they never liked anyway, then it’s served it’s purpose. Yes, it’s a bit childish and all that, but if it pisses off the right people, then it can only be positive.


Mannie De Saxe 26 April 2013, 15.41

With Thatcher’s hatred of gay people and her introduction of Clause 28 in 1988, many gay and lesbian groups around the globe held protest demonstrations.
One of these took place outside the British Consulate Building at Circular Quay in Sydney, Australia.
I was 61 at the time and coming out as a gay man and went to my first demonstration as a gay man.
At that demonstration, organised by a gay left group called Gay Solidarity, I was invited to go to one of their regular group meetings held in the homes of members – the group didn’t ever have enough money for their own premises, and at this first meeting I met a man of similar age to me and 5 years later we became partnered and have now been together for 20 years.
He is now 90 and I am 86 and it with a deep sense of irony that I remember Thatcher and her nasty anti-homosexual legislation which brought us together.
We do not mourn her death, but as many have said above, her legacy lives on, and will do until we manage to get rid of the system which allows such people to run our governments.
Mannie De Saxe

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