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The International Writers Magazine: Opinion

The Blair-Witch Project
Colin Todhunter

As the 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?
"Now 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
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.

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 Tony’s 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. That’s “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 Thatcher’s 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 grocer’s 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 Thatcher’s 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 Thatcher’s 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. That’s 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 grocer’s daughter. That was indeed the sinister Mrs T’s 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 Blair’s ten years in power: she must also think “job well done”.
© Colin Todhunter September 2007
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