International Writers Magazine:
Cute and cuddly Tony
could always ham it up with a good dose of media-friendly mock sincerity
and tough talking. Thatcher and her PR people cynically forged the template
for that. What more evidence do you require? Oh, I nearly forgot
both had a tendency to ignore that damned nuisance called public opinion
and to land the country into a gruesome mess not of its own choosing.
smug Tony heads off into a potential Middle Eastern nuclear sunset,
you are already probably aware that there are a huge number of similarities
between him and Thatcher. Both were conviction politicians, both
had political love-ins with US presidents (Blair with Bush and Thatcher
with Reagan) and both liked to talk tough. Remember Thatcher as
the Iron Lady talking tough to the Soviet Union and
Blair to Saddam?
in 2007, you can easily point to the challenges, the things that
are wrong, the grievances that fester. But go back to 1997 ...
Think about your own living standards then and now ... There is
only one Government since 1945 that can say all of the following:
more jobs, fewer unemployed, better health and education results,
lower crime, and economic growth in every quarter - this one.'
Tony Blair's farewell speech
Margaret Thatcher once famously stated that there is no such thing as
society, implying that the individual is paramount and should not be held
back by it - or at least by those sections of society for which she had
a particular dislike. And, as a woman of conviction, there were plenty
of those around. "Freedom of the individual" was her mantra.
So she went on to grind organised labour and the unions into the ground,
whom she labelled as the enemy within, to implement a huge
range of wealth creation policies in favour of the tyrannised,
downtrodden rich and to put in place a variety of welfare-state-bashing
policies for the work-shy, damned-nuisance, scrounging poor. Some 20 years
down the line, Britain is indeed on the verge of not having a society.
She threw out the baby with the bath water. The baby now lies screaming
helplessly in the corner, frozen out by the excessive individuality and
rampant consumerism that we witness today: Tony Blair has been the protector
of her me-first legacy.
Last year, a study by York University in the UK found that British children
were among the unhappiest and unhealthiest in Europe. A UNICEF report
came to similar conclusions: children growing up in the United Kingdom
suffer greater deprivation, worse relationships with their parents and
are exposed to more risks from alcohol, drugs and unsafe sex than those
in any other wealthy country in the world. Inequality in Britain has continued
to increase since New Labour came to power, and the UK is now the most
unequal society in Western Europe: all of this under Tonys watch!
And of course both she and Blair have made us Brits all totally free!
Free to be monitored and surveyed like never before by the authorities,
free to be cynically targeted by the market, and free to build up the
greatest amount of personal debt and misery in Europe. Thats freedom
of the individual in the style of Thatcher/Blair.
When Thatcher came to power in 1979, much of her policies were regarded
as extremist. I remember living through the 1980s in Liverpool, the UK
city worst affected by Thatchers policies. It was a thoroughly depressing
time, with huge unemployment, economic and urban decay, mass rioting in
the city and with an extreme Left city council coming to power and trying
to bring Thatcher down. Well, if the mighty shock troops of the Labour
movement, the National Union of Mineworkers and its Marxist leader Arthur
Scargill, were defeated and then ground to dust, what chance did a single
city authority have? None whatsoever.
If it had not have been so deadly serious at the time, it would have almost
been laughable: the expressionless, tub thumping, fire-in-the-belly orator
Scargill, who always looked as though he had come direct from a Politburo
meeting in the Kremlin and was acting on direct orders from the Russians,
versus Thatcher; the simple grocers daughter from small town England
who, no matter how much she tried, could never overcome her superb talents
for sounding utterly condescending, acting grossly superior, and bludgeoning
anyone to death who dared disagree with her.
For me, any mention of Mrs T still brings on an attack of acute despair
followed by deep depression. In fact, any reference to the 1980s brings
on an attack of acute despair followed by deep depression. Both her reign
and the 80s seemed to drag on for an eternity. Caught between Arthur Scargill
and the like, with their electrifying and evocative fire and brimstone
oratory, and Thatchers depressingly Blairesque self-righteous preaching
and brilliant ability to listen but never hear, it was a case of heaven
and hell. As it turned out, it was mainly hell.
Looking back at it all now, the most frightening and frustrating thing
was that Thatchers party and her backers were highly skilled in
manipulating certain strands of latent populist sentiment and prejudice.
They passed off their platitudes to parts of an ill-informed public who
were all too eager to embrace them as constituting basic common
sense. That is the frightening bit. In 2007, to many Britons, what
were once regarded as the extremist social and economic policies of the
New Right have become entrenched as the norm, as the common sense of the
age. Thats the frustrating bit.
Thatcher presided over the virtual destruction of UK manufacturing industry
and deliberately set out to crush the union movement and any real
opposition to the policies of the Right. I, like many others in Britain,
waited 18 years for a Labour government to come to power. However, by
that time the party had reinvented itself as a Thatcher-hugging, right
wing, media-friendly concern: a watered down version of the former Conservative
regime with an upper middle class lawyer at the helm, looking like a friendly
bank manager, sounding like a corporate executive and acting like a certain
former grocers daughter. That was indeed the sinister Mrs Ts
finest achievement: the creation in her laboratory of a user-friendly,
cute and cuddly monster: Tony Blair.
In a strange kind of way, I can imagine a 1980s version of a much younger
Tony Blair taking a power-nap in the arms of a doting Cherie,
dreaming of the wonderful Mrs T and patting her on the back and saying
job well done after she had liberated the persecuted
rich by unshackling them from the monstrous burdens imposed by the feckless
poor, the whinging unions, unscrupulous lone parents and the work-shy
unemployed. Now, as the monster Blair floats off into the sunset on a
cloud of righteous self-satisfaction, the ancient, pernicious Thatcher
must power-nap and dream about Blairs ten years in power: she must
also think job well done.
© Colin Todhunter September 2007
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