The Patriot Prime Minister

Thatcher-1820107

Margaret Thatcher: symbol of liberty and strength. Changed Britain and the world
for the better. May she rest in peace.
– Rupert Murdoch ‏@rupertmurdoch

As we enter a phase of ‘national’ reflection it’s worth looking at how Thatcher and Thatcherism is being framed and revised. I want to look at how the former leader is thought of through the changes of the media and society of the time. My most vivid memory is just how normalised state violence became. Her use of paramilitary police violence during the miner’s strike and her response to the hunger strikes were expressions of a brutal demagoguery. We need to challenge the resurrection and deification of her as a ‘saviour’ figure  and attempt to move away from her as individual and look at the continuity of her brutal and failed ideas.

Bizarrely attempting to align Thatcher with Princess Di, Chief Hagiographer David Cameron came out with the wonderfully stupid epithet, she was the ‘Patriot Prime Minister’. If she represents the apogee of British patriotism then this great white-wash of remembrance may hasten the break up of Britain. If it does, it’s worth remembering that she did more in her tenure to create division than anyone seeking self-determination ever did. If in the immediate aftermath of Diana’s death we voted for devolution, we might take the next step in the aftermath of Thatcher’s.

sunsplashMedia Maggie 

The long long 1980s we’ve experienced included the transformation of news and popular culture, the tabloidisation of much of social information. As we reflect on the media transformations – accelerated under the Wapping Dispute which are usually heralded as a boost for popular democracy – it’s worth also remembering her attacks on free speech from Zircon to D Notices and more. As gushing praise masquerades as news coverage from every media orifice today we lean that  Thatcher’s government considered arresting journalists covering riots in Britain in 1981 as it blamed the media for fomenting violence in inner-city areas, according to previously secret Cabinet papers (see report here).

The sheer violence of the era is incredible to remember and mustn’t be forgotten in the mist of apologia and propaganda. The nightly reports of police violence as a newly emboldened state authority repressed dissent and protest was seen again and again from Orgreave to Wapping from the inner cities to the Poll tax protests, from Greenham Common to the Battle of the Beanfield.

But the physical violence that the confrontations created were being matched by the psychological violence of a new tabloid media in which shameless greed was dressed up as ‘liberty’, and selfishness dressed up as individualism.

What are we to make of the tributes that include Nancy Reagan claiming “The world has lost a true champion of freedom and democracy” or Virginia Bottomley arguing: “She believed in the power of liberty, individual freedom and the rule of law”, Radoslaw Sikorski, calling Thatcher a “fearless champion of liberty” or the Economist magazine which hailed the late Tory leader’s “willingness to stand up to tyranny” and “bet on freedom”?

How do we square this with the police raid on the BBC in Glasgow over Zircon?  The British Govts shoot to kill policy or framing of John Stalker?

The reality is that much of the authoritarian attacks on civil liberties and rise in power and influence of crucial allies in the press can be charted to the Thatcher era.

How can we possibly link this women’s era with liberty when she supported the apartheid regime from popular protest (worth reminding Michael Forysth and others who refer to her as being on the ‘right side of history) as well as General Zia ul Haq’s military dictatorship in Pakistan and General Suharto of Indonesia, whose 32-year dictatorship was rightly described by the New York Times as “one of the most brutal and corrupt of the 20th century.

All of this is conveniently forgotten by those focusing on how she – incredibly – ‘ended the Cold War’. That’s some fantastic revisionism going on.

poll-tax-demo_w_new

Patriotism and Quietism

It’s worth reflecting on what that patriotism felt like but it’s worth also looking at the attempts to shut-down dissent and proper analysis by media consensus in the aftermath of her death . As Spinwatch have it:

This demand for respectful silence in the wake of a public figure’s death is not just misguided but dangerous. That one should not speak ill of the dead is arguably appropriate when a private person dies, but it is wildly inappropriate for the death of a controversial public figure, particularly one who wielded significant influence and political power. “Respecting the grief” of Thatcher’s family members is appropriate if one is friends with them or attends a wake they organize, but the protocols are fundamentally different when it comes to public discourse about the person’s life and political acts.

But the key point is this: those who admire the deceased public figure (and their politics) aren’t silent at all. They are aggressively exploiting the emotions generated by the person’s death to create hagiography.

There is something extraordinary about the efforts to contain peoples shared anger about the Thatcher era. Where to begin to account for the human misery she caused, and reveled in?

Should we start with the mass unemployment, ‘a price worth paying’ or naming striking workers defending their communities as the ‘enemy within’? The strongest memory I have – and it’s probably why decades on people still feel such anger – is the remorseless nature of the change she inflicted. This ‘amoral’ policy context is worth remembering, it’s a dehumanising process. Craig Murray writes: “As you drown in a sea of praise for Thatcher, remember this. She was prepared to promote lung cancer, for cash” (see article here).

So where’s the continuity?

Wikispooks reminds us that: “Three months after the Lockerbie bombing, Margaret Thatcher and the rising star in Conservative Research Department, David Cameron, visited apartheid South Africa.

The past and future British Prime Ministers made a point of visiting the Rössing Uranium Mine in Namibia (illegally occupied by apartheid South Africa in defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 435). In 1989, the Rössing mine was jointly owned by Rio Tinto Group and the Iranian Government, and was supplying uranium to develop Iran’s nuclear programme. Mrs Thatcher was so impressed with the Rössing Uranium Mine that she declared it made her “proud to be British”, a sentiment echoed by David Cameron.”

It has recently been reported that Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron concluded a secret nuclear deal with the apartheid regime during their visit in 1989.

Let us avoid the re-writing of history and disassociate Thatcher from liberty which she repressed at every turn.

If Cameron was the ‘Heir to Blair’ and the unwitting beneficiary of Thatcher’s media changes, we at least saw this year the depravity of that culture lay bare. But in some ways she was preferable to Cameron. She believed in what she did. Those that came after her seem like functionaries by comparison.

It’s extraordinary that Owen Jones put’s it best saying: “Thatcherism was a national catastrophe, and we remain trapped by its consequences. As her former Chancellor Geoffrey Howe put it: “Her real triumph was to have transformed not just one party but two, so that when Labour did eventually return, the great bulk of Thatcherism was accepted as irreversible.”

What’s extraordinary is that Jones is still a member of that party.
Hers was cold power, pure interest, naked avarice. At the time all of this was shocking. What’s depressing is that has now been internalised and normalised. This is a great opportunity to re-examine the values she fostered and to reject them and the failed economic ideology she created.

The apologists for the society she created can keep lining up to explain and revise her legacy, but few of us who lived through it will be convinced.

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  1. Derrick says:

    Fabulous article, Mike, and an effective antidote to the fawning,nauseating effusiveness of the bulk of the coverage since yesterday lunchtime.
    One episode you’ve overlooked was perhaps the most risible of all – Spycatcher. Long before the interweb was able to spirit data across the globe in the blink of an eye, she almost succeeded in preventing us on these islands from reading a book that the rest of the world could openly enjoy.
    We can almost excuse her friends and followers when they deify her as some kind of ‘Champion of freedom and liberty’, but what’s journalism’s excuse ?
    The mainstream media in the UK is an utter disgrace.

  2. muttley79 says:

    Interesting article Mike. I watched the BBC lunchtime news yesterday, and could only stomach it for a while. I have not watched any more coverage as it is now just blatant triumphalism and propaganda from the right-wing establishment in Britain (including the MSM, and all the various Tory parties). They are acting like she was a saint. Thatcher and her buddy Reagan were the political figureheads for the implementation of the Von Hayek, Milton Friedman (and the rest of the Chicago Boys’) Neo-Liberal project.

    This was all about privatisation, enriching a tiny minority at the expense of the vast majority, smashing the trade unions, attacking the public sector, and the welfare state. We saw the selling off of the public utilities, the smashing of the miners; using the full force of the state (the whole truth has yet to come out about Orgreave), the introduction of the most draconian trade union legislation in Europe. There was all the inner cities riots in the 1980s, and 1990s. There was the denigration of the 96 Liverpool supporters at Hillsborough, and their relatives, by the SYP. Again, the state gave them protection for around 25 years (aided and abetted by Thatcher’s self confessed greatest achievement, New Labour). There was the Big Bang in 1986 which saw financial deregulation in the banking system. We are now seeing the full consequences of this. The gap between rich and poor soared dramatically in Thatcher’s time in office. There was the old pals act with murderous dictators, such as Pinochet, Suharto, the support for the Apartheid regime, and the labeling of Mandela as a ‘terrorist’. In Scotland she rejected Home Rule, and never had a proper mandate. The Lockerbie Disaster and its aftermath, including the conviction of Megrahi, is potentially another huge miscarriage of justice. In Thatcher’s Britain there was no place for empathy and compassion. She was a truly catastrophic and appalling political leader.

    1. James Coleman says:

      Mike’s article was excellent and I fully agree your comment.

  3. “[…] Margaret Thatcher – béni soit qui mal y pense – is dead. She was not a woman who was remarkable for struggling against adversity, because what she struggled against was, to a large extent, society in the UK state, which, until she gained power, had benefited from a body of rights which made that state desirable, as the Declaration of the Rights of Man succeeded in making the French republic desirable in another period of history. […]”

    More here:

    http://rueclementmarot.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/the-wrong-tone.html

  4. Barontorc says:

    I always felt she was a bad-un! When I see the likes of those who now try to deify her – it confirms my initial gut feeling. Torags, all!

  5. Doug Daniel says:

    It’s no surprise that those on the right are critical of people celebrating her death, nor the hypocrisy of claiming to be above such things a mere matter of weeks after we saw Chavez’s death being met with jubilation by some on the right. What gets me is the number of folk towards the left (or who would like to think they are, anyway) who are calling for restraint. It’s close to being pious, to be honest, and it’s interesting that most of these people are mid-20s to mid-30s – i.e. people who didn’t really experience the full force of Thatcherism first-hand. Such folk – and I include myself in this since I’m (only?) 30 – will never truly appreciate the violence, hatred and division that Thatcher caused throughout the 80s. Yes, we can read about it in books and hear stories from those who were there, but you can never truly understand these things unless you live through them.

    It’s for that reason that I refrain from condemning people who want to hold a party to celebrate her death. Is it the most dignified thing in the world? Not really, no. But hey, Thatcher did a pretty good job of stripping millions of people of their dignity, so why should these people care about young middle class political types looking down their noses at them for celebrating the death of the person who was, as Tommy Sheridan so succinctly put it, “evil personified”?

  6. Cheers Mike, for some respite from all the pish. Only another, what, ten days or so to go before it even begins to slack off?

    Given what’s happened today (to NC, WoS etc, all the boog-booga legal shite) we should be prepared for all manner of nastiness from the people who put that woman into power and kept her there as long as she was required.

    As Kelman said in interview, many years ago, it was a great mistake of the Left to use the term ‘Thatcherism’ – she was only ever installed because she had the qualities required at the time. Those who selected her retained their power after she was shown the door, bolstered it via Blair and his Iraq adventure, and have become emboldened to visit these vicious cuts we’re now witnessing.

    Now that ‘her kind of people’ once again have their feet under the cabinet table, we can, at least anticipate the kind of fight which lies ahead, as captured in the shocking image at the top of this piece.

    Aye, a serr fecht is coming up folks, and it’s not that far away.

  7. James Coleman says:

    Thatcher is the founding mother of the current dreadful state of the UK economy. She broke the backbone of manufacturing industry and destroyed the mining industry in order to break the power of the Trades Unions. In doing so she destroyed large and small communities all over the North of England and Scotland and condemned the people living in them to a life on benefits or menial jobs. I’ll never forget visiting Sheffield in 1982 and finding it had become a ghost town with all the once bustling and noisy steel works and other factories closed down within a couple of years.
    Thatcher’s mantra that a services job was every bit as important as a manufacturing job might have been acceptable to those who worked in the City but it helped to kill off hundreds of thousands of good jobs via apprenticships in UK heavy industry. The alternative now? A job in a call centre or packing shelves in a supermarket? Who can blame unemployed youths baulking at that. And why is it acceptable to subsidise bust City banks with huge amounts of taxpayers’ money yet not heavy industry?

  8. Jacquie Johnstone says:

    say little about Maggie to her followers do not ask why she was loved by many, even though they state and you say why, enough to get you suspended from the bastion of free speech known as Twitter, ‘thought police’

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