8:47 a.m. April 9, 2013

Maggie Was Not The Problem

DUBLIN, IE: The death of Margaret Thatcher has given the British left the opportunity to indulge in the thing it prefers to politics: historical reenactment.

Journalist and titan of Labor, Owen Jones warns darkly that her death is Not The End. Like a prematurely superannuated Eeyore, Jones argues that, although Thatcher is gone, "Thatcherism" lives on. We're all Thatcher's children, right?

Perhaps, but not quite in the way people mean. London's left-leaning "creative class" is delighted at the old woman’s keeling-over. This is an entire generation of people who rail against the evils of capitalism (at least in the form of unpaid internships and jobs in supermarkets) but who think that music, film, literature and journalism should be free. I may be going prematurely senile, but I don't recall trade unions arguing that everyone in the country should get paid a basic income so they could pursue pointless and unpopular "creative projects."

I can't even imagine what the result is going to be when Laurie Penny, the helium-filled voice of a generalization, makes good on her threat to write about Thatcher. Penny recently fantasized that otherwise revolutionary British citizens had been cowed into submission by police brutality in the form of… er, "kettling" and newspaper discussions about perhaps using water cannon? This from a woman who thinks the spawn of 4chan are the rightful heirs of the Chartists and Suffragettes.

This kind of arrant nonsense, more than anything else in recent years, has made me think of the era of Margaret Thatcher.

When I was a small child growing up in west Belfast, we used to bring plastic bullets, fired by the police, into the school playground to show off. We looked on as buses burned, buildings exploded and riots broke out. We saw her soldiers as death squads. Margaret Thatcher was, to us, the devil incarnate. How much did we hate Thatcher? A lot. My mother, a polite and otherwise largely apolitical woman, emailed me last night to denounce her as a "Rottweiler." My grandmother, an unfailingly polite snob from south Dublin, kept a roll of toilet tissue with Thatcher's face on it. Among the Irish, Thatcher was as popular as the potato famine.

British comedy writer and Labor party by-election candidate John O'Farrell recently got in trouble with the press for a line in his comic memoir, “Things Can Only Get Better,” that said he wished the IRA's attempt to assassinate Thatcher with the 1984 Brighton bomb had been successful. Liberals and lefties rushed to his defense saying it was just a joke. Maybe. In Belfast people meant it. In fact, when Thatcher's close friend, war hero Airey Neave, was assassinated by an Irish National Liberation Army car bomb, people celebrated with the joke: "He could escape from Colditz but couldn't get out of the House of Commons car park."

Last night in Brixton, London, arty types gathered to drink and dance to celebrate the death at 87 of a woman many of them were too young to remember. As a child, I knew adults who would happily have murdered the woman. This is not a metaphor.

Times change. Writing Thatcher's obituary yesterday, I spoke to a former IRA hunger striker. This morning I read something by another former IRA member. Neither is keen to dance on Thatcher's grave.

Let's look at some facts about the Iron Lady. Government spending rose in every year of Thatcher's reign, save for two. Even adjusted for inflation, she did not slash spending. The defeat of the miners in the Great Strike of 1984-5 is at least as much the fault of the miners' union's moronic leadership which failed to ballot its members and launched a strike about coal during the summer. The policies now referred to as 'neo-liberalism' and "Thatcherism" actually began under the Labour party (after a failed start under Ted Heath's previous Conservative administration).

The term "Thatcherism" was coined in the pages of Marxism Today magazine. It would be a mistake to read that magazine's title literally. Marxism Today, published by the Communist Party of Great Britain, was in fact an anti-communist publication. Don't believe me? Its roll-call of writers included all manner of trendy academics such as Stuart Hall, think-tanker Martin Jacques, Guardian journalists Beatrix Campbell and Suzanne Moore and… former British prime minister Tony Blair.

This arcane piece of knowledge is significant only because it goes some way toward explaining the degeneracy of the British left today. Its dirty secret is that it thought more of Thatcher than the right ever did. After all, for all their hagiographies and sobbing over the last 24 hours, it was the right that threw her overboard as soon as she became more of a liability than an asset.

Marxism Today, starting with its essay “The Forward March of Labour Halted?” by historian Eric Hobsbawm, sought not only to explain away the left's manifest failures, but also to develop the ridiculous identity politics that pass for leftist thinking today. The kind of politics that see leftists criticize the slightly silly topless activists of Femen while remaining silent about the insane misogyny of Islamist regimes. The very term "Thatcherism" was an essential component of this, an attempt to mask the left's inability to win an argument, never mind an election.

Margaret Thatcher supported Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, yes. What she did not do was use his tactics. Throughout Thatcher's reign Britain remained a democracy. Labor party leaders Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock were not dropped from helicopters into the Atlantic ocean. Guardian journalists were not rounded-up and shot. In fact, at least one of them, Polly Toynbee, left the Labor party to join the collaborationist Social Democratic Party, significantly damaging Labor's chances of unseating Thatcher in the 1983 election.

To hear it discussed now you'd think there was no opposition to Thatcher's governance of Britain, just as you might think the same about the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition today. But here is the truth: the right has not befuddled the public by way of tabloid newspapers and trash TV; members of the left have continued to make idiots out of themselves and lose the argument, just like they did under Thatcher.

During the 1984-5 strike that sealed Thatcher's defeat of the left, the miners, lest it be forgotten, were led by Arthur Scargill, a man so dense that his head could be used to smash diamonds. And remember: the Labor party, for all the bellicose rhetoric of its supporters today, did not support the miners.

Well, as that well-known Thatcherite Karl Marx wrote, history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. Whether the left's campaign to oppose cuts to sickness benefits represents the former or the latter is hard to say, but the public isn't falling for it. This policy was, after all, pioneered by Thatcher in order to disguise record levels of unemployment brought about by her disastrous stewardship of the economy. Only now it is a shibboleth of apparently left-wing thinking.

Margaret Thatcher was always a woman of myth. During her time as prime minister, feminists joked that she was a man — no woman could be as evil as she, for goodness's sake. Thatcher was a cipher. Otherwise stony-faced, politically correct lefties and student union equality officers were given carte blanche to let their misogyny run wild, while right-wing nut-jobs pretended she never backtracked despite the fact that she had to say "whoops, sorry vicar!" on monetarism and the poll tax, all the while increasing spending and strengthening those parts of the state she approved of.

Alas, in death her myth will grow, just as it grew once she was out of power and the left proved it couldn't even defeat her successor, John Major, the least charismatic former acrobat ever to have run away from the circus.

There is, however, one thing on which all of us – left and right – can agree. One legacy for which Margaret Thatcher should, and must, be judged. Her greatest crime, and the one for we should never forgive her.

Margaret Thatcher inspired the music of Billy Bragg.