Saturday, 1 June 2013

Discussion of Margaret Thatcher - the personal is the political

A theme of this very interesting BBC radio talk on Margaret Thatcher, aired shortly after her death, was the focus of criticism and admiration on what she personified, or aspects of her personality, which many people find closely bound up with her policies. Conversation finds its way back to her personal "arc" from greengrocer's daughter to baroness, or her odd mixture of old-fashioned housewife who has no social policy (as Peter Hitchens points out, she might have been expected to resist social liberal reforms introduced in the 1960s and 70s, but she did not) or some other "idea of herself" which came to bear in the world.

I certainly remember nothing more vividly of her period in office than the hurt that was caused to my father, who had thrived in local government as a public servant, and I think believed in welfare state institutions and trade unions as a good thing, yet found himself, in the last years of his working life, draughting the contracts that would turn over state funded services, such as refuse collection, to private companies. It was a shift away from collectivism and it had a profound hurting impact on him (as I have written elsewhere), which has affected my life very deeply too. I think a nostalgia or sentimentality, like the need to feel needed, supported people's allegiance to welfare state institutions, acting as a social glue, which is enormously valuable. Overturning socialised industries and services the Thatcher way saw no need for social glue of any kind, or at least simply assumed that some kind of US-style right-to-bear-arms independent puritan yeomanry would appear in the population that had been liberated. Religion and religious life waned enormously after WW2. What was going to provide commonality in Thatcher's world? How are we to value ourselves before and after our ascent through "aspiration" to the better life? I have seen social mobility at least as much downwards as upwards among friends and in my generation (b.1970s) if not more downwards, and without the general air of things getting better (modern, progressive, technological) that seems to have been there through the 50s and 60s.

Hurts were felt to which, I believe, Thatcher was constitutionally blind.

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