Sunday, 28 April 2013

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

Was Margaret Thatcher a punk politician? No, no, don’t all rush at once to answer the question. Let’s analyse the premise of it first, though. She rose to the top in a party not known for its pro-women agenda; she was the grocer’s daughter who rubbed shoulders with the aristocracy and the upper classes, the typical fanbase, according to some, of the Tory party. And last but not least, as The New Yorker put it so clearly recently, she spoke out about the perils of climate change before many of today’s Earth-saviours.

So, was Margaret Thatcher a punk politician who went against the status quo?

One of the advantages of being an immigrant is that you can afford to have a good and comfortable outsider’s view on matters that trigger off very emotional responses. The downside of it, though, is that if you are as opinionated as I am, being silent is not a reaction with which you would normally be happy.

The word outsider describes my situation accurately. I was an outsider when Margaret Thatcher arrived at Downing Street in 1979 (cor, I was seven going eight-years-old! So, I was even an outsider in relation to adulthood!). I was an outsider during her premiership. I was still an outsider when she was ousted by her own party. And I was outside the country when she died.

Yes, even her death caught me outside Britain.

Early morning, Monday 8th April, I was in my hotel room in Cuba when my wife decided to switch the telly on. The night before we’d left it on the BBC World News channel and now, there it was, the caption running on a loop at the bottom of the screen: Lady Thatcher has died. I have to admit that at first I didn’t really react (react to what? To whom?). In fact, I was more concerned about dealing with a (non-existent) plug in our bathroom sink than with the demise of the Iron Lady.

Later on that day I went to the beach and ran into a British guy who was holidaying in the same hotel with his family. Did you hear, Thatcher died, I said. He looked at me, grinned, shrugged his shoulders and before I turned around, gave me the thumbs up. This is getting confusing, I remember telling myself.

I don’t think I can recall another politician in modern times who has polarised society so much. The Marmite effect could well have been invented for Margaret Thatcher. Heck, she probably created the bleeding thing and flogged it to the first investor she ran into after a cabinet meeting. What I realised in the days that followed her death was that when it came to Maggie, everybody had an opinion. She was a “stroke” politician, as in, you loved/hated her. Whenever her name was mentioned in public and more specifically in relation to her funeral (and the 10 million quid it was going to cost us), I expected television newsreaders and radio presenters to make a comment along the lines of: “delete as appropriate”.

What this evil/good duality brought about, in my humble opinion and outsider’s vantage position at the back of the theatre, was a reputation for being a major league hitter.  She was no longer “Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher” of the 70s, she was now The Iron Lady, a moniker that was intended as an insult and yet, as it happened to the Impressionists in the 1800s, became a badge of honour. “Wets” in the Conservative Party. Down. Miners’ unions. Down. The Argies. Down. There was no stopping Maggie. But riding roughshod over people destroys grey areas and replaces them with black and white ones. Thatcher suddenly found herself in the same love/hate category as Stalin (there are people who still think that his gulags were a necessary step in the construction of socialism in the old Soviet Union) and Muammar Gaddafi, to name but two satraps whose role in history will always divide audiences. This is the view with which I was presented when I came to live in the UK. A north/south divide in England, where in the former the Tory party had been almost expelled (in fact, cross the border and include Scotland, too). I also found an unbridgeable rift between those who believed in big government and those who plumped for a downsizing of the state’s role in the lives of individuals.

I do hold another opinion, however. This is that whilst Thatcher was in power politics was interesting. I don’t mean this in a voyeuristic sense; after all the long unemployment queues, the demos and the battles with the police have all been well documented. I mean it in the sense that people had something to fight for. Compare the 80s (which I didn’t experience in the UK) with the noughties (which I did) and the commodity most people trade in nowadays is apathy, despite the fact that the recent government’s disability ruling will probably be the coup de grâce to the independent living fund. No, last time I checked, there were no demos planned for tomorrow.

When it comes to Thatcher and her legacy (maybe you are in the camp that benefited from her free market zealousness or perhaps you were affected by her “there is no such as society” motto) emotions run high and reason is usually pushed to one side. However, even if it comes from an outsider like yours truly, you will have to agree with me that two of the words that defined her years were “vitality” – of an economic type, say – and “imbalance”, social and economic. I am sure that even that chap on the beach would agree with that.

© 2013
 
Photo taken from The Guardian website
 
Next Post: “Urban Diary”, to be published on Wednesday 1st May at 11:59pm (GMT)


28 comments:

  1. ha...she was an iron lady for sure..and her politics wasn't always that easy to understand...at least from outside great britain...she was never very pro europe...smiles... cool that you're back

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  2. our leaders are shaped by the times...and remembered for how they chaped our individual lives more than the grand view of the country or the world...we make it personal...which makes it easy to see why people become polarized in their view...it was def interesting to see all the writes and how differently people viewed her

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  3. Thanks for this. I also have very mixed views towards Thatcher. On the one hand, one has to admire her determination and grit. And as a woman, I do especially admire that in her--

    Also, I think she had a much more substantial intellectual core and consistency than someone like Reagan, and I admire her independence.

    I am not sure about the rather blind push for privatization of everything. I don't think it works so well in the U.S. - and even the localizing of government function can lead to a lot of domination by local commercial interests. Yet, a centralized authority can be pretty dumb too. Part of the problem I think is that all these systems only work well if people are relatively honest--if greed isn't applauded and rewarded to the degree that it is - and Reagan at least seemed to make it seem as if greed was okay - an honorable impulse - I don't think he was himself like that - but the idea of self-interest above all else was presented as a paradigm for how things would work best. (They don't seem to!) Thanks much. k.

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  4. Welcome back and hmm she seemed a bit hostile to those from afar, but I admit I never paid much attention to her.

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  5. Bienvenido a esta parte del planeta.
    Ya nos contarás cómo ha ido el viaje. Aunque sea un poco.

    Saludos

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  6. It's interesting to hear your perspective as an immigrant living in London. I will always remember how she refused to go against apartheid and her ultra conservative politics.

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  7. The day she died, I thought of you and looked forward to your take on it all. There is so much romanticizing of the dead, particularly of those who were polarizing to begin with -- a sort of impulse, I think, to humanize huge and larger than life political figures. I am at once attracted to and repulsed by figures such as Thatcher, for obvious reasons, I guess.

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  8. Welcome back to blogging! I hope you had a good beak in Cuba. This is one of the more balanced reflections I've read on Thatcher. I did know about her green policy because her adviser on that was Andrew Sullivan, who was my tutor at Harvard, and had written a booklet on her request on Greening the Torries. Andrew has since become more liberal, especially on his social views. I wish Thatcher had moved that way too. I admired her social mobility and the way she broke into the old boys' club if not her policies. She was certainly a fascinating lady.

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  9. Many thanks for your thoughtful replies. I agree that sometimes an era defines a politician rather than the other way around. Or other times a politician tries to define an era. With Maggie, I think it was a combination of the two. It's hard to imagine now that at some point Britain had two women governing the country, although the Queen (the other half of the equation) didn't have any executive power. And was not elected democratically like Thatcher. But the mind wanders, for sure.

    Have a great week.

    Greetings from London.

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  10. Welcome back!
    You've given a lot to think about here and it is interesting to hear an'insiders' perspective as you are on the inside and I am on the outside.
    I do hope your trip to Cuba was wonderful!

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  11. I appreciate both this analysis and your giving me the term "The Marmite Effect."

    While I recoil from her policies and the effect she had on so many, I can still admire that she was all "lady" but completely dominated the boys.

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  12. I very much agree that primates need something to fight for~in which case, Maggie gave many people a great gift. I do also believe that she was, at times, though not an innocent by any stretch of the imagination, a lightning rod for misplaced scorn & generalized hostility. It is clear to me that from all the fuss something intelligent usually, perhaps inadvertently, emerged.

    I have 10,000 thoughts about her in fact; sometimes I wish I was just a contented imbecile.

    Glad you are back. ~Mary

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  13. Welcome back.
    I was decidedly not a fan, but was appalled at street parties held after her death.

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  14. One of the main differences between her and the current tory crop, I think, is that she didn't play the 'aren't we all nice and friendly, I'm just an ordinary person, hello, can I stroke your baby' game that most seem to these days. The government now are doing similar things politicially but just in a less obviously harsh 'fear me, feel my wrath' way and so, no matter how hard the opposition tries they are somehow less hated as individuals (mocked, yes, but their blandness makes the deep-felt hatred she inspired harder to organise!). Plus the world has changed... everything works differently in so many ways.

    And I'm sorry Cuban (for I consider you a real blog friend!) but I hate the at least 'politics was interesting' argument. Whilst I know what you mean, and a lot of people have said it, it always riles me. Interesting isn't always a good thing.. not when it means disputes, deprivation, prejudice etc. You should know that! I guess we need to learn to care about issues not personalities and drama... it's a tough one though when our natural tendency is, so often, to be pulled in the other direction.

    x

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  15. After reading some of the comments/blog posts/status updates, I would have to agree with your assessment of her being a polarizing figure.

    While I was not very aware of her while growing up, I do believe that because we had a similar politician that provoked that same kind of love/hate loathing/euphoria (GWB), I can definitely understand the reasoning as to why there is a love/hate relationship with her.

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  16. The times have changed and government leaders have to move with them.
    Thatcher was what(who) was needed in that era just like the leader we had in the founding years of this island state.

    Well.... politicians can never please everyone.

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  17. nice to see you´re back. :) Evn without snow. The snow is gone where I live, the post you commented is from a place up north that I visited last week.

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  18. Sorry ni fu ni fa, really I never like so much Margaret. Thatcher; especially she was so close and friendly with Pinochet. And this is difficult to understand.

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  19. Rachel, you don't have to say sorry for I understand perfectly well where you're coming from. At the same time I have to be as impartial as I can, even when discussing a subject that splits people down the middle. But I think you can imagine where my loyalties would have laid had I been born here. The clue is in the clip. :-)

    On offence taken, my blog-friend.

    Greetings from London.

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  20. Interesante artìculo. Enhorabuena

    un saludo

    fus

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  21. yep shes like marmite :-) and I agree I can be the same way here with US politics

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  22. Being an outsider I really don't have a major opinion on how the 'Iron Lady' ruled but I SO admire her for her trailblazing ways as a woman in a man's world. She is still doing that-just think, how many leaders are cremated? I think that's brave on her part.

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  23. I was surprised at all the animosity toward Margaret Thatcher after she died. I hadn't realized the strength and diversity of people's views! Welcome back..

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  24. Can't say I was a fan of Maggie Thatcher. Not at all. But you're right in saying she affected almost everyone.

    And welcome back!

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  25. I didn't like either her or her politics when she was doing her thing , and now I cannot help thinking that most of our present ills are down to her

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  26. I am hopelessly confused about Thatcher. But I think that although I hated so much that she did, she really did believe she was right - she was confident, authoritative and tough, and could also be attractive and charming... all of which make an excellent leader. I wish we had at least one politician like that today, although (just in case the Fates look to grant my wish) I would insist on it only if I also LOVED their policies!

    I had an irresistible image of Thatcher in a Mohican when I started reading your post. A blue one of course :)

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  27. I have to admit that I rather admired Margaret Thatcher for a number of reasons.
    She was a strong and powerful leader who I feel put Britain back on track, which is exactly what we needed at that time...and she was the only ever British female Prime Minister!
    However, in this era...well, I'm not so sure her forthright policies would be so appropriate.

    I, for one, mourned her loss...:(

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  28. Many thanks for your kind comments. Maggie in a blue Mohican? Now, there's food for thought! :-)

    Greetings from London.

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