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The death of Thatcherism not Thatcher

April 9, 2013
For all those throwing parties to celebrate the death of Thatcher, I recognise your anger and your need to vent at this time.

Billy Bragg powerfully summed up a legacy that illicits such responses from people in the UK (and in fact around the world where many of her ideas have taken some hold):

Of why ordinary working people are no longer able to earn enough from one job to support a family; of why there is a shortage of decent affordable housing; of why domestic growth is driven by credit, not by real incomes; of why tax-payers are forced to top up wages; of why a spiteful government seeks to penalise the poor for having an extra bedroom; of why Rupert Murdoch became so powerful; of why cynicism and greed became the hallmarks of our society.

Margaret Thatcher may have been the individual implementing this mean and punitive agenda. In dying she offers us little cause for celebration and changes not a spec of our reality. Though the revisionism is well and truly under way as politicians and other commentators coalesce around a version that paints her as Great Britain’s greatest post-war Prime Minister and a leader of conviction and courage. Such predictable whitewash had begun decades ago (my thoughts on one recent example of this, the film The Iron Lady to be posted soon) but in the last day it has reached a sickening crescendo. Particularly offensive was this statement from Obama.

Yet people with living memories of her rule, or at least some sense of history, were quick to correct this, listing her horrors so they could echo through the social media stratosphere. Here’s my observation on much of what has been said: pointing to her as the earthly embodiment of something indeed very sinister is not the same as tracing the stench to its source.

The ideas encapsulated under the banner of Thatcherism have outlived her, and stem from a network of institutions and people formulating and promoting those ideas. From the Heritage Foundation (and the Margaret Thatcher Centre for Freedom she inspired in 2005), our own Australian node in the form of the Institute for Public Affairs to the populist shock jocks these think tanks spew upon the media landscape. These are the institutions from which these ideas stem – where policy is formulated, massaged and turned into memes before being injected into debates and taken up by politicians. The fact that such neoliberal projects converge with the interests of capital have simply made them easier to implement. If not her, then someone else would have stepped in to carry out their radical agenda – breaking the unions, privatisation, the sell off of social housing, tax cuts for the rich and other radical economic policies that resulted in an unprecedented concentration of wealth with the few and the suffering of many.

Like Reagan, Thatcher had these policies handed to her. Neoliberalism lives on and is among us, though in a form that is often harder to identify and to know how to fight. It permeates everything! Neoliberlism as an ideology that has been in the ascendency for decades now functions to straightjacket our political imaginations.

Perhaps the spontaneous street parties have been fermenting for some time: the anger at the increasing uncertainty of peoples’ lives. Less revelry and more a long awaited reason for rebellion. If so, glad to see the glimmers of something that might turn into action and change.

The activist in me can’t help but call out: don’t just celebrate, organise!

What we need to die is not simply one individual but the agenda she implemented and its legacy.

Tonight I raise my glass in a toast to the end of Thatcherism. To the end of that set of horribly inhumane and destructive ideas carrying any further political sway. May Thatcherism, Reaganism and all the varieties of neoliberalism be relegated to the crumbling pile of stock exchanges all over the world. For that will be all that is left of them once the workers rise up and implement their own set of ideas based on what is produced in the real world and what matters to all of us.

And that’s about as red as I’m going to get tonight… the wine is staying in the glass.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Simon permalink
    April 10, 2013 8:24 am

    Personally, Thatcher’s death made me lament just how much Thatcherism is still with us today. I was in no celebratory mood.

    But the activist in me recognizes something different in the street, something like what you alluded to when you said:

    “Perhaps the spontaneous street parties have been fermenting for some time: the anger at the increasing uncertainty of peoples’ lives. Less revelry and more a long awaited reason for rebellion. If so, glad to see the glimmers of something that might turn into action and change.”

    This would not lead me to tell those in the street not to celebrate, nor presume that they’re not organizing.

    My guess is that most of those people in the street are the ones most familiar with the street. Some literally live in the street because of Thatcher’s legacy. Many of them are the very same activists who organize in the street day after day to fight the ongoing legacy of Thatcherism.

    When I think of how grueling that kind of organizing is in an age where Thatcherism persists and has literally been beating down these people in the street for decades—the entire lives of some of them—I have no lesson to give about how they should or shouldn’t celebrate.

    I’m more inclined to recall Emma Goldman’s famous adage about how the revolution needs dancing. Or to see the “faces in the street” as as Henry Lawson saw them. I look out into the street and see a spirit in those souls that still persists in spite of it all and think, “good on ya, I wish I could dance, too.”

    I suspect they’ll be back in the street organizing against the next neoliberal attack on society, and when they do their usual critics will say that no one’s joining them because they’re too serious and gloomy. But if they won’t join them in celebration, then when will they join? It makes me wonder what other questions we could be asking from the street, rather than at it.

  2. carl twobob permalink
    April 10, 2013 8:35 pm

    Beautiful words Antwo. The fact that some including myself are throwing parties (for which I have had death wishes and bile thrown at me online) paints a picture of jubilation. We are not jubilant, rather we are still angry for the very reasons you list above. But there is a catharsis to be had by marking her passing.

    Some want to dance on her grave and I don’t blame them, I will be giving a talk explaining why many of us middle aged Britons find the sentiment that Thatcher ‘saved’ our country utterly repulsive. There are many who have grown up with Conservatism (Neo Liberalism) and know nothing else, they are largely unpolitical. I seem to have shocked some of them by throwing my party. I hope to explain, to as many who will listen, why.

  3. April 10, 2013 10:25 pm

    Hello Simon & Carl. Thanks for your comments.

    Simon, I think you make some valid points. I recognise that the fermenting anger that has now erupted in her dying is real and deserves expression. And you are right, whatever form it takes we can expect, like with much protest, many sections of the media will dismiss it. That is always the case.

    My main point was something else – it was about not misdirecting that anger. Neoliberalism as a set of ideas was being developed and promoted long before Thatcher – the brand of it she implemented was particularly vile but if not her, someone else. This far into the project it is much harder to identify where it is indeed coming from. A neoliberal mindset seems to have permeated through everything, including our atomised unconsciousness.
    My observation was that as part of this neo-liberal inculcation, we have become atomised in how we express our anger and where we direct it. There is some connection to ideology in what I have seen since I posted this, but time will tell if this continued anger at how difficult life has become under the yolk of neoliberalism will indeed be the beginnings of a new movement or push back. I hope so.

    And Carl – it’s you Carl. Hello and glad you’ve found my blog.

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