Dear Labour MPs, Thatcher was the enemy. Use today to explain why

by Kevin Meagher

Every Labour MP I’ve ever met – every one – has got to where they are in politics by trading on their hatred of Thatcherism. Many affect back stories of hardship to impress selection meetings. The more honest express vicarious regret at what she did to industry/ the north/ working-class communities.

However I fear Parliament’s quite unnecessary recall today will see MPs of all colours – Labour included – at their oleaginous worst. Hyperbole will heap upon cliché in praise of Mrs. Thatcher’s legacy and person. Inevitable, really, given the session is to pay “tribute” to her.

But amid the mawkishness from the government benches, Labour MPs will also get an opportunity to chip in and there are only two contributions, as far as I can see it, they can honestly make.

The first is to issue regret that a former Prime Minister has died and express sympathy for the family. Fair enough, but that doesn’t take long. Poor Ed Miliband finds himself like a comedian with a ten minute act and three minutes’ worth of material. Perhaps he can segue into a riff about her fortitude in foreign affairs, but given her love of dictators and hatred of Nelson Mandela, it’s a delicate subject. Love of freedom? Again, a tricky one given her Shoot to Kill policy in Northern Ireland and the government-backed assassination of solicitor Pat Finucane.

However one thing Ed must avoid is drifting into psychobabble about her complex personality. It doesn’t strike me as particularly useful to ponder why she was kind to a few acolytes and monstrous to so many others. Tony Benn’s memory of her attending Eric Heffer’s funeral and crying over an old political adversary should be filed in the ‘gloriously irrelevant’ folder. All sorts of people blub at funerals; Tony is such a sucker.

Similarly her legacy as the first woman PM is a footnote given Thatcher did so little to advance women in public life and seemed to despise women campaigners, whether they were the desperate mothers of the Hunger Strikers, Women Against Pit Closures of the mothers of the 96 killed at Hillsborough. Not one iota of sympathy was ever offered to these groups – or many others.

Quite simply Margaret Thatcher is the most divisive figure in modern British history. We can rely on Conservative MPs to put the North Koreans to shame in deifying their lost leader, but the second speech Labour MPs can – and should – make today is to critique Thatcher with a passion and insight borne from the disastrous effects of her policies on their constituents. I guess that’s not meant to be the vibe, but it would be an honest response, as veteran Labour MP David Winnick is arguing.

When MPs think Parliament is at its best, the reverse is usually true. Occasions like today are designed to be saccharine and self-indulgent, a mark of just how out of touch the place so often is. Thatcher was a public figure and deserves public analysis and a rounded assessment. While it’s fair enough for Tory MPs in leafy Home Counties seats to simper on about her, Labour MPs from industrial heartlands have a duty to level the account.

The chamber of the House of Commons is the crucible of our national debate. Labour MPs from the North, Scotland, Wales and many other places, should not sit there grinding their teeth to fine dust in disagreement at what they will hear. They should explain why Thatcher was seen as a monster by their constituents and how her decisions wrecked so many lives and communities.

Still, there will, I fear, be a few of the more nakedly ambitious types on the Labour benches who will eye today as an opportunity to gloss their credentials as statesmen-in-waiting. Be warned: Thatcher didn’t respect fawners and your constituents won’t either. Wherever you sit in the Labour tribe, Thatcher was an enemy for good reason.

Or frankly my friends, you’re in the wrong tribe.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut


Tags: , , , ,


11 Responses to “Dear Labour MPs, Thatcher was the enemy. Use today to explain why”

  1. swatantra says:

    Lets see a move away from tribal politics to one of pragmatic progressive politics, otherwise we are no ‘One Nation Party’

  2. John Reid says:

    There was collusion between the police to turn a blind eye to pat finucanes murder, hardly state backed killing, regarding shoot to kill, all killings of terrorists the Soldier/Police officer who shoots a terrorist has to justify self defence, and in terrorist cases, that is justified, regarding sympathy for hunger strikers mothers , they were either in prison for murder, or had reasonable ground to have been suspected of Murder and those IRA men were in prison for other crimes, no one forced them to stAve themselves to death, they wanted to be treated as political prisoners, in which case they could have been put in prisoner of war camps, which would have been even worse.

    If the mothers of IRA prisoners wanted sympathy they should have condemned their murdering kids a bit more,

    Yes labour M.P.s do have a right from industrial areas to criticise her legacy, what’s that got to do with the mothers of murderers ,I don’t know,

  3. Jonny Morris says:

    The recall of Parliament is a political act. I hope that all MPs behave politically. Nice to be agreeing with you again, Kevin: “When MPs think Parliament is at its best, the reverse is usually true.”

  4. swatantra says:

    In fact it gave Ed M the opportunity to give the best speech he’s ever given in the House, probably the best in his life, better than Dave’s, even though it was a valedectory speech of no particular consequence. But that was the whole point of the day. Its an occassion.
    John Mann was just being a spoil sport. MPs have far too many holidays as it is, and we need to keep them in the House more often and make them earn their money.

  5. Chris says:

    The problem is, most Labour MPs haven’t done enough to reverse Thatcherism. We had 13 years. We could have done it all – renationalised everything she privatised, repealed every one of her anti-union laws, taken apart her tax system. But our MPs were too gutless, too careerist and too out of touch to do that. How can Labour MPs condemn Thatcherism when they themselves are semi-Thatcherite in practice?

  6. Kevin says:

    Jonny -we’re in total unison here.

    Swatantra – would be interested in your background. What’s becoming abundantly clear is that the effects of Thatcherism were not felt equally and so the reaction to her death is also unequal.

    My contention is that if you’re not working class and from the North of England/South Wales/ Scotland or the Nationalist half of NI, you were’t too badly affected and – secretly – you don’t get what all the fuss was about (not you personally, as the argument goes).

  7. mike says:

    Glenda Jackson gave a brilliant speech in Parliament today, her speech was spot on, everything she stated was fact not hearsay, I`ve heard enough of that from the coalition and media

  8. Kevin – I think that you have just made a drastic over simplification with your contention, and here is why. Although it may not be as dramatic, the destruction of our industrial base affected areas of the south as well – for example Ipswich and Lowestoft in Suffolk were two centres badly hit. The abolition of wages councils, rising house prices and the lack of council housing being built quietly ripped apart rural communities outside of these two towns, and across much of the south west. True enough, Labour MPs were thin on the ground, but this is partially the result of a voting system that is gerrymandering at its worst.
    Oh and the fishing industry – for all her “tough” stance on Europe, she was prepared to destroy that other dirty dangerous industry along with the miners.
    During her tenure, whenever asked the British public as a whole favoured quitting Ireland by a 60%-40% split in opinion polls.
    Millions of pounds were raised in support of the miners across “the south”, and don’t forget the Kent miners.

  9. uglyfatbloke says:

    Of course there was de-industrialisation in the South – though not on such a grand scale of course – but as Thatcher’s henchman said, unemployment in the north is a fair price to pay for prosperity in the south. Also, Thatcher (and Major and Blair) did invest in particular schemes which helped to ease the issue, hence spending the oil revenues and the proceeds of privatisation on projects that helped the whole country from Guildford in the South to Watford in the North. Yippee.

  10. scratch says:

    @swatantra “MPs have far too many holidays as it is, and we need to keep them in the House more often and make them earn their money.”
    Nonsense – MP’s do much more good in their constituencies, talking to and learning from those being destroyed by this Government, than in the House talking to each other.

  11. In such a highly respected industry you would think their actions would follow suit and show some respect. Putting differences behind for the death of this lady shouldn’t be that hard surely – we’ve all heard and grown up with the phrase, ‘If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.’

Leave a Reply