Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Divisive in death as in life

I have now had a little time to reflect on the passing of Margaret Thatcher. I haven't ignored the opinions of those who think she was a great prime minister, or think she saved the country. But this is my take. 

Thatcher divides the nation now as she did in politics: polarising opinion like few have ever done. This will be her legacy. A divided nation: thousands - possibly hundreds of thousands - for whom employment became unattainable. The forgotten people who have not known regular employment in their families since the 1980s who are now derided and crushed by today's Thatcherites.

A stubborn politician; not for turning even when her targets retreated she attacked them for her own gain. She supported Pinochet who killed somewhere between 1,200 and 3,200 of his own people and tortured tens of thousands more. She denounced Nelson Mandela's liberation movement as a "typical terrorist organization".

Thatcher's politics focused on encouraging people to go out and help themselves; this is positive. But some took this too literally; taking all that they could at any cost. The culture in the city changed dramatically during this period and we are all too aware now of the result: a massive financial meltdown that the poorest, who are not responsible, are paying for. The decisions made by her government to let entire industries crumble with no thought about the consequences are responsible for condemning whole sections of society to a life without work. She encouraged people to buy their council houses but neglected to build more; leaving councils to pick up extortionate bills from private landlords. Now the current government are trying to combat this by moving people away from expensive areas (which is tantamount to social cleansing) and cutting their benefits if they have an extra room. A period of prosperity between 1998 and 2008 hid the issues that the current government are now dealing with in callous and cruel ways. Just as Thatcher would have wanted it. 

Much will be said about the first, and so far only, female British prime minister. I'd be interested to hear how feminists feel about her legacy. Our main parties are still dominated by men; it would appear that she changed very little in that respect. Thatcher did change politics. She defined an era and cast a very long, potentially infinite shadow over the country. Change was needed in UK politics but her party's policies have had a long, negative effect. She is still such an evocative figure across the globe but that is not always a good thing: we can all think of political figures who will endure in our memories and most who do do so for negative reasons. 

Tributes will in the main be positive. Those from the left who are asked will be respectful; those from the right will be gushing. Many will call for respect but she did not always show respect and I would stand up for anyone who has reason to respectfully decline that call. 

If you think she was good for this or for that, you're entitled to your opinion. But so are those who were permanently affected by her time in power. They deserve to treat her passing as they see fit.