Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Don't let the debate leave you feeling MT

Frankly, I'm not writing this for you, I'm writing this for me. I have to write it; a final cathartic, unburdening, underlining and, hopefully, ending of the obsession I have been indulging since the news of her passing.

Like you, I've read just about enough commentary on the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to last a lifetime. I completely understand if you turn away from this blog and head back to your facebook profiles, twitter feeds and instagram filters.

Yet those complaining of the blanket coverage, or youngsters understandably bewildered by the fuss, perhaps don't realise that Thatcherism is still the pivotal political ideal around which British society revolves today.

Even Tony Blair, the man who could have been our hero, was in thrall to many elements of Thatcherism, and Cameron, although careful to initially portray himself as a new kind of 'compassionate' Conservative, has come to demonstrate that, on the contrary, he holds dear to his heart (stony and cold) many of the harshest tropes of the Thatcher government. The current battle over history's perception of her legacy therefore feels utterly vital to our future.

I can't rejoice at Thatcher's death, I couldn't rejoice at anyone's death. That would display the kind of reactionary behaviour I so often criticise of those on the right. I was only a child when she was in power and my view of her time at the sharp end of politics is appropriated from all I have read since I left school not through any personal experience.

As rightly pointed out to me, my reaction to Margaret Thatcher's death can therefore only be cerebral, never visceral. My family and I, nor the community we lived in, were affected by the closure of the mines, we lived in the environs of London, the one place in the UK that didn't suffer from Thatcher's iron will. Perhaps I, like many of those damning the revellers, have no right to do so from this detached position?

And yet, her passing, and the following struggle to define her time as leader, feels like an opportunity for the left to rise above the caterwauling and demonstrate to those on the right a compassion they so often lack. To lead by example. The idea excites me because this feels like an opportunity to reassess what we as Britons want from our government, what we want the country we live in to really be like.

After the Olympics and, more pointedly, the Paralympics, I hoped that the wonderful compassion and inclusivity of those summer months, ripe with a public booing of George Osborne, may have sown a seed in the conscience of the majority of Britons, that they might see the possibility of another way - the current debate feels like the possibility is being tested.

Of course, in reality, the real test will only come at the General Election in 2015 but it's now that the seas of change have to swell. It may well be that Thatcherism has indeed indelibly inked itself into the tapestry of British society never to be erased, yet the notable dissenting voice this past week - however distasteful - suggests that Thatcher's legacy will remain a divisive one.

Perhaps the traits I cling to most - compassion, empathy, care for the most vulnerable in our society, the repulsion of greed and the fostering of equal opportunity haven't, in fact, died along with the leader who's actions so fiercely sought to eradicate them?

I hope those who voted for Thatcher - elected her three times no less - did so because they were somehow blinded to the alternative, that they felt they had no choice. As a socialist I choose to believe this is true. In fact I have to. The death of Margaret Thatcher is a chance to raise the spectre of that choice once more.

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