We deserved to hear a rounded account of Thatcher yesterday. We didn’t.

by Kevin Meagher

In the Thatcherite spirit of free enterprise, the chamber of the House of Commons was leased out yesterday for a private wake as Tory MPs used the occasion of Margaret Thatcher’s death for what is becoming a familiar riff on How She Saved the Country.

As if the gap between the governing and the governed is not enormous enough already, our parliamentarians gathered to not to discuss the perilous state of our economy, but to trade lame anecdotes and hear boilerplate rhetoric about how dead-eyed Britons, existing on a diet of gruel, shuffled through a monochrome landscape before the brilliant new dawn of Thatcherism began in 1979.

This was the Commons at its private school debating chamber worst. History revised without question, assertions pedalled as fact. Guffaws all round.

When Tory MP Christopher Chope said Mrs. Thatcher was “not only a passionate Conservative but a compassionate Conservative” the dial on my irony-ometer whipped round to eleven. Compassion from the same woman who proclaimed there was “no such thing as society?”

Later Tory Daniel Kawczynski brought us the important revelation of how he once sat next to Thatcher at dinner. “I was mesmerised. My heart was beating.” Move over Cicero.

For the most part, Labour MPs sat there like lemons. A hardy few said what we needed to hear more of; that Thatcherism wrought a terrible price for the people and communities at the sharp end of her ideological crusade.

The faux outrage from the Tory benches in response Glenda Jackson’s biting remarks proved George Orwell’s old maxim that in an age of cant telling the truth is a revolutionary act. Plaudits are also due to David Winnick and Dave Anderson from Blaydon for having the guts and good sense to remember their job is to represent the people who send them to Westminster.

Alas, other Labour MPs seemed content to go with the flow and listen to partisan Tory-politicking masquerade as unctuous tribute-making.

I caught Frank Field warmly reminiscing about what an “extraordinary person” Mrs. Thatcher was. We can only wonder if that view is shared by constituents in his impoverished Merseyside seat.

Then came Edgbaston’s Gisela Stuart who was making some obscure point about how she agreed with Thatcher that her favourite book, Frederick Hayek’s ‘Road to Serfdom’, should be sent to every school.

Meanwhile Barry Sheerman seemed more bothered about slagging off the quality of the Labour opposition in the 1980s (hardly the point though Barry!)

It’s a shame some of Labour’s newer stars couldn’t bring themselves to help with the task of providing a more rounded assessment of Mrs. Thatcher. The point about yesterday was that the counter-argument should have been put. We needed to hear about the victims of her policies, about lost human potential and how former industrial heartlands are still trying to recover from her shock economic therapy thirty years on.

Hearing this in Parliament is all the more important because the circumstances of Thatcher’s exit from politics robbed her opponents out in the country of the chance to boot her out in 1992, as would surely have happened. She was “ousted” from the premiership by her own colleagues (a point the ever reliable Sir Gerald Kaufman gleefully made). Her death has therefore served to reignite the entirely justifiable anger so many still have about her.

The simple, unarguable truth is that Margaret Thatcher was the most divisive Prime Minister we have ever had. Great leaders – a Franklin Roosevelt for example – take a divided country and heal it. Margaret Thatcher’s entire ethos was about doing the opposite; dichotomising Britain between those she regarded as “one of us” and, well, those she didn’t.

Those who benefitted most from Thatcher’s policies were well represented in the House of Commons yesterday. What we needed – deserved – to hear from Labour MPs were the voices of those who didn’t.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut


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13 Responses to “We deserved to hear a rounded account of Thatcher yesterday. We didn’t.”

  1. Nick says:

    Since Labour has swalllowed the green agenda, that means no coal fired power stations.

    So you have to agree then that you would have screwed the miners.

  2. alex says:

    Kevin, from this and your other pieces – i think you need a more rounded view of that era yourself. I never voted for her but one of the reasons MT did what she did was because Labour screwed up the country in government with its own brand of dogma and it needed to be sorted out. not once have you mentioned in your articles the poor dead people who were left unburied or the poverty inflicted on people by undemocratic strikes, or the 3 day week, or the simple fact that labour had yet again run out of cash by subsidising failing socialized industries – even after wilson closed down the majority of the mines. for every action there’s a reaction – and thatcherism was the direct result of the socialism that came before it. i think those in the labour party who have spent the week slagging her off should have a little more contrition, and a little less self righteousness. hate her if you want to, but your side of the aisle are nowhere near as innocent as you think you are.

  3. That old myth about their being no such thing as society. Hang your head in shame, the proper meaning and context of that quote has been doing the rounds so much your head must be stuck in a hole for you to have not seen any mention of it.

  4. swatantra says:

    Barry Sherman got it about right. You’re only as good as the oppo being so b****y awful. Its like some of these ‘fixed’ wrestling bouts, the poor stoolly just makes the other guy look better than s/he is.

  5. e says:

    @ Alex
    I was there, pre ’79 it was the oil shock price rises and the three day week which created the sense of everything going to pieces. But, and let’s be clear, even so I and my contemporaries felt we had a future, and relatively speaking we were never better off. As you say, for every action there is a reaction and there was certainly reaction to falling living conditions. But your approach to analysing Thatcher’s approach denies the reality of both Tory and Labour grappling with a new economic landscape. Doing this underpins our old fried TINA which truly is the greatest achievement of Thatcher’s constituents, among whom I now see Blair clearly sits. TINA robs ‘us’, by which I mean average working people, of any and all alternatives that would more fairly share the spoils of a decent ‘capitalist’ economy. “It is the economy stupid” indeed, but whose?

  6. Kevin says:

    Just a quick point – a couple of people have mentioned the infamous 3-Day Week. This took place during Ted Heath’s Tory Govt.

  7. e says:

    @sadbutmadlad

    You may be right, perhaps Thatcher never said any such thing, which begs the question why would so many believe she did? Perhaps because so many were economically and, or socially banished from featuring positively in government decisions…

  8. Arthur Scargill has not said a word this week. He must have been asked, and we would certainly have been told. Other people have danced in the streets, or shot their mouths off on the telly, sometimes both. But not him. He does deserve some credit for that.

    As for that record, Radio One say that it will only be played if it has to be, because it is Number One or the highest climber, and how hearing that term again takes one back. But I remember when Radio One would not play Number One records by Robson and Jerome purely because they were, so to speak, Number Two.

    The Beeb will also be covering the equally Third World “Ceremonial Funeral”, a concept invented for Diana. The only other one since has been for the Queen Mother. For whom they would otherwise have had to have invented something anyway, but it did not turn out that way. However, we do not have “Ceremonial Funerals” for politicians. Nor do we dance in the streets when they die. This is not somewhere up the Congo. This is Britain.

    And “full military honours” for a mere politician who had no connection to the Forces? (The Irish Guards carried the Queen Mother’s coffin because she was their Colonel.) It is like Thatcher’s hijacking of the Falklands Victory Parade, when she stole the proper role of a Commander-in-Chief whose own son has been one of the combatants. Perhaps that was the point at which we became Mobutu’s Zaire? We are undeniably Mobutu’s Zaire now.

  9. LesAbbey says:

    For the most part, Labour MPs sat there like lemons.

    Kevin, thanks for pointing out the grubbiness of the likes of Field and Gisela Stuart. Maybe our country’s hope does lie with the kids in the street.

  10. BenM says:

    Gisela Stuart is a funny one.

    She had a hissy fit over the drafting of the EU Constitution in the early 2000s and seems to have been on a rightward shift ever since.

  11. John Reid says:

    David Lindsay, Scargill replied to at txt that Mrs Thatcher had died ,with the reply, Scargillalive

  12. uglyfatbloke says:

    If ever two people deserved one another it was Thatcher and Scargill.

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