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Swastika Eyes: Thatcher Revisited
For strictly masturbatory reasons, I recently googled for a picture of Margaret Thatcher wearing a hat. It was only scrolling through the pages of almost-entirely chapeau-free results that I remembered the extremes of emotion that this one woman has wrought, both at home and abroad.
More than a decade after her fall from power, there are still ordinary, otherwise sane people who wouldn't hear a word spoken against her. On the other hand, there are many, many others who cannot wait for the old bitch to turn up her toes so they can pass water on her grave.
Confession: Aged a very immature twenty-one and armed with a vote for the first time, I strolled down to the polling centre and calmly voted for her. Actually, my cross went against the name "John Redwood", which makes me twice the fool.
Now, some of you weren't even born when Thatch came to power, some of you even have no memory of her as Prime Minister, so you'll have little idea how and why she is either reviled as the devil's daughter or celebrated as "the best PM since Churchill".
So think of Tony Blair in a dress. Thatcher had no need for spin-doctors - she did her own spin; so think of Tony Blair in a dress with Alistair Campbell's brain and David Blunkett's compassion for his fellow man with a snarling Tebbit-eque Rottweiler by her side, and you're halfway there. Now try to sleep tonight.
She famously said "This lady's not for turning", and there lay both her strength and her achilles heal. Strength came from her sheer determination to see a job through to the bitter end. No matter how unpopular her policies were - in a short-term world she thought long-term, certain she would eventually be proved right. Those who worked with her spoke of incredible drive, focus and a resolve to suceed in a man's world. Weak because she'd never admit to having made a mistake, and would press on with flawed policies such as the Poll Tax and privatisation of the utilities even when it was obvious that failure was imminent.
Thatcher first crossed into my life when, as Minister for Education, she cut free school milk for Primary Schools and her "Milk Snatcher" reputation for heartless budget-slashing was born.
Her first term as PM was marked by "The Cuts" - the ruthless hacking back at public services such as the National Health Service - which never recovered - turning my once rabidly Tory parents away from the party for ever. It wasn't even as if the cuts were fair - the south prospered, while the north was starved of investment. Loyal Tory councils were rewarded with huge grants, while those that opposed her and tried to keep services running were threatened with jail. She would have been turned out of power there and then if it wasn't for a nasty little war over a remote group of islands.
The Great Patriotic Falklands War of 1982 returned Thatcher to power in a landslide election victory the following year. But it's a little known fact that there was actually a peace deal on the table at the UN in May 1982, which guaranteed an unconditional Argentine withdrawl from the isalnds - the Galtieri regime in Buenos Aires had gambled that Thatcher would not resort to war to recover the islands, and were as surprised as anybody that Britain put up the resources to fight a conflict 8,000 miles from their shores. Argentina, then, was prepared to back dow. Thatcher wasn't. The same evening, she ordered the sinking of the Belgrano. Mother of a thousand dead, indeed.
Thatcher ruled with a rod of iron, or rather , a handbag with a brick inside, and was openly lampooned for her dominance over her rather lacklustre and subordinate cabinet. In a classic Spitting Image sketch, she and her Ministers are in a restaurant:
Waiter: "Welcome, Prime Minister. Would you care to order?"
Thatch: "Steak please, extra rare."
Waiter: "Very good. And the vegetables?"
Thatch: "Oh, they'll have the same."
Rather than write up an entire history of the Thatcher years, here are just a few reasons why this former Tory Boy opened his eyes to the world, with grateful thanks to an enlightened and immensely patient Rastafari office manager:
* The Miners' Strike - thousands of families destitute and communities destroyed in a desire to smash the unions and please the oil industry
* Shattered rail networks and health service
* Trident and Cruise - billions wasted on systems that were never used
* The Poll Tax - never fair, never equal, never right
* Bombing Libya - when it became clear soon enough that the disco bombing in Germany which provoked the attack was carried out by Syrian agents. Still, that learned him
* Shoot-to-kill in Ireland and Gibraltar and the comedy Sinn Fein gagging order
* 3.5 Million (and the rest) unemployed in the name of the "free market", squandering Britain's oil riches on social welfare, while hoardes of braying yuppies lived it up in the City. Now, there's a policy that worked.
* Pandering to a US Reagan administration that made Shrub look sane, coupled with a hatred for all things Europe. They didn't call her "Madame Non" for nothing, you know
* Support for the South African Apartheid regime
* Shitloads of other mad stuff
Need I go on? I remember the cheers when she was evicted from Number Ten, a tear in her eye. Six years of John Major followed, with Thatcherism still clearly pulling the strings, and just when we thought we'd got rid of her, Tony Blair removes the comedy rubber face mask he's been wearing for the last seven years, and there she is again. Every country gets the government it deserves - do we deserve this agony?
I wrote this piece a couple of weeks ago, not realising the Twenty-five Glorious Years celebrations were about to be set loose on an unsuspecting public. The front page of today's Torygraph is particularly horrific.