I know next to nothing about my dad’s parents; it’s only in the last few years that I’ve learnt what my granddad did for a job – he made tools in a Sheffield steel factory. This sits at odds with what I know about my dad, and what I understand about politics, because in the late 80s and early 90s my dad was a Tory councillor. We’d moved south to Devon as a family a couple of years before I was born (just days after Thatcher came into power), and my dad worked in sales; initially he sold caravans, but in the early 90s during the recession he was made redundant. I remember, as an 11 or 12 year old, how odd it seemed when my dad started walking me to the school bus in the mornings rather than driving himself to work. I didn’t really understand what was going on, I don’t think.
A few months later he got a new job, managing sales accounts with a clay company. We’ve never properly discussed politics, but I’ve always felt, intrinsically, that the Tories were just wrong, that Thatcher was uncaring and dangerous, and I didn’t understand how my dad was one of them. I assume the fact that we moved south was an aspirational thing, wanting a better life for your family, and in the 70s, during high inflation and the winter of discontent and strikes, if you wanted better for your family, you were a Tory, perhaps.
In early May 1997 I remember James, Matt and I running to the newsagent one Friday morning and buying all the papers, and rejoicing that we had a new government, because we could remember nothing else. 16 years later we all own our own homes (or the mortgages on them, at any rate), we’re all married, we’ve all been to university, we’ve all done OK for ourselves, one way and another. We thought it was a new world order. We thought things would be brilliant. None of us can complain about the way our lives have gone, and yet…
I was the first person at work to hear about Thatcher dying, and I went down the corridor and told people. Most people seemed faintly pleased. One seemed very pleased. I work at a university, after all. I always used to vote Liberal Democrat, tactically, because Labour wasn’t an option where I lived and we desperately wanted the Tories out. I remember being jealous of people who were two weeks older than me and so could vote in 1997 and be a part of getting her legacy out.
I’m not celebrating Thatcher’s passing. As my wife said in an email earlier today, “It kind of doesn’t matter whether she’s alive or dead. She did the damage many years ago.” And, actually, Cameron and Osborne and Duncan-Smith and Boris and the rest of them are still doing damage, wreaking havoc on public services, dismantling the NHS without people realising, letting the markets run free whilst encouraging people to hate the poor. People who are better writers and thinkers than me have covered this in far more lucid detail and reason than I am here; as usual I’m just solipsistically splurging feelings. I feel that Thatcher helped to make this country a worse place in many, many ways. I’m sure she must have done some good, somewhere, for some people. Shakespeare wrote “the evil that men do lives after them; the good is often interred with their bones.” The media seldom lets the good be interred with the bones when public figures of Thatcher’s stature die; Jimmy Savile is a lone public figure to have been thoroughly excoriated in death, and deservedly so. Let’s not forget that Thatcher and Savile were allies. Ken Livingstone was thrown off Sky News today for daring to blame her for some of this country’s current ills.
The overriding emotion I have regarding Thatcher’s death is one of paranoia, that people will see her death as symbolic of something, a changing of times, a death of an ethos, and that the current government will continue with their work, which is in many ways, it seems to me, Thatcher’s legacy (as was Blair’s work, by and large, which is why the 17-years-and-355-days-year-old me from May 1997 feels cheated and lied to). There is no point wasting energy dancing abut Thatcher’s demise whilst Britain is dismantled for the sake of the rich and powerful.