Issue 224 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published November 1998 Copyright © Socialist Review
'No alternatives', 'no back downs', ,market forces must determine.' These were the main themes of Tony Blair's address to the Labour Party conference. These phrases sounded like direct echoes of Margaret Thatcher. 'All he needed was the blue suit and the handbag and it could have been her,' opined one columnist.
A week later the original article was appearing in Bournemouth, much to the joy of the drooling young fogies who are meant to represent 'youth' in the Tory Party. Thatcher seems to get that bit dottier, not to mention more tired and emotional, each year.
So she delivered Hague a stern and patronising lecture in front of the world's press. She later nodded off during his speech, probably dreaming that she was still prime minister and that any second now the conference would start chanting 'Ten more years'.
That the most weird and wonderful element of what has become a very weird and wonderful Tory Party should still worship her should not surprise us. She was invented for them and they were created for her. But adoration continues to pour from other sources, sources supposedly way to the left of her, and that is more puzzling.
Tony Blair, for instance, heaps praise on her. She becomes one of his first guests at Number Ten, he buys her mad market theories at exactly the point when they are all biting the dust, and now he makes speeches that seem to he pinched almost word for word from her greatest hits.
Peter Mandelson lets it he known to anyone who will listen that there is much to be learnt from her. The fallen Blair acolyte Derek Draper repeatedly praises her on a radio discussion during the Tory Party conference. Martin Jacques, one time editor of Marxism Today, recently tells Tribune, 'Thatcher was a kind of hero of mine ... she was on the opposite side of the fence but you could learn a lot from her. She had a vision and a strategy to achieve that vision.' One could of course say the same for Hitler.
Surely the whole point about a vision is that you can only admire it if in some sense you share it, and the ideals behind it. After all, if I was mugged at knifepoint, I find it hard to imagine myself saying, 'Well, I may not think much of the guy who did it, but I had to admire his knifemanship and his threatening demeanour' So what was Thatcher's vision, and what was her strategy to achieve it?
The vision was one of sheer class hatred. She despised the organised working class, she was contemptuous of the vulnerable and needy, she abhorred notions of collectivity, community, sharing or caring. She sought to ensure a redistribution of wealth, taking as much as possible from the poor and giving it to the wealthy. Her strategy to achieve it entailed passing laws to fetter the unions, to make resistance all the more difficult.
She slashed away at the welfare state, which she hated, at the NHS, at the unemployed (who, once having created in large numbers, she then denounced as scroungers). She attacked one group of workers after another, reaching a climax with the miners.
She did all this while hiding behind a jingoism and a populism that were both fatuous and disgusting. She played with racism ('aliens swamping our culture'), danced on the graves of dead victims (positively glowing with pride when Bobby Sands and his fellow hunger strikers died) and urged us to rejoice at the senseless carnage of the Falklands War. Which part of all this vision and strategy are we meant to admire?
She was also helped greatly by a bosses' press which recognised an ally when it saw one. If Major's government became known as the government of sleaze then, as sure as eggs is eggs, that started under Thatcher--but none of the mass media were very interested in exposing it.
For this is the other great myth of Thatcher. She may, it is argued, have been ruthless about enriching her class, but she sure as hell was not there to enrich herself. Well, except that she certainly helped to enrich her son in that most dirty and dubious of endeavours, the arms trade.
Since she ceased to be prime minister she has appeared as a money grabbing lush travelling the globe, charging astronomical amounts for her pearls of wisdom even when sounding as if they are being delivered with the distinctive slur that comes from the gin bottle.
As for her Midas touch, she has, in one of life's finer ironies, also lent her important backing to the Tiger hedge fund which seems to be heading straight for the rocks.
Finally, forgotten in all this praise is the speed and ignominy with which she fell. Bloated by her own self importance, buoyed up by a sycophantic press and loyal coterie, she allowed her class hatred to carry her an attack too far. She introduced the poll tax! Suddenly the resistance that Jacques and his ilk were dismissing at the time, and Blair appears to dismiss today, exploded. And before you could blink, there she was, red eyed, muttering something about 'a funny old world'. Suddenly she was gone-after all the ballyhoo, the empress was naked.
Now people who at the time professed to hate all she stood for wish to try and convince us that the clothes were impressive after all. We shouldn't buy a word of it.