Thatcher: a wound reopens

Thatcher Parties

Last night in Brixton, London, George Sq. Glasgow, Easton in Bristol, Derry in Northern Ireland, and in pubs and working men’s clubs across Britain, people cheered, raised a glass, partied, danced in the streets, to mark the death of Margaret Thatcher. Some people were shocked — young per­haps more than old — that in Britain people could ac­tu­ally over­come pre­vailing mor­ality and mass in the open streets to drink cham­pagne and sing the dozen or so songs written since the 80s in an­ti­cip­a­tion of this event. ‘Why?’, asked an Eritrean friend, who said she re­membered Thatcher the in­ter­na­tional Cold Warrior and friend of ‘liberty’. ‘Why would some British people breach the fron­tiers of per­sonal re­spect and in­vade the ter­ritory of grief?’

Because it was pre­cisely this in­va­sion of the person which defined the ex­per­i­ence of Thatcherism. Whether it was the Maze hunger strikers, the miners, the Scots, the re­treating sailors of the General Belgrano, it was not enough that Thatcher de­feated you on the field of ac­tual or fig­ur­ative battle; it was only when de­feat was as­sured that Thatcherism began, that the iron blade was thrust again and again into the rib cage. A point­less, gra­tu­itous ex­er­cise against the flesh be­cause the flesh did not matter — it was some­thing to be stripped away to get at the very soul where the real pun­ish­ment could be exacted.

It is com­mon­place to con­cep­tu­alise Thatcher’s evan­gel­ical en­ac­tion of Friedmanite and Hayekian eco­nomics in the UK as a de­lib­erate at­tempt to deny the ex­ist­ence of so­ciety and turn the popu­lace into atomic en­tities defined only by the en­gage­ment in market activ­ities. A kind of bad Hobbism where raw de­sire — the an­imal spirits —were un­leashed by a cre­ative de­struc­tion of legal and eco­nomic struc­tures. But to re­gard Thatcher as someone who stopped at the atomic ‘shell’ of liberty would be a mis­take, for whether by ac­ci­dent or design her policies could not even tol­erate that some residue of a lib­eral sub­ject in its ‘private garden’ could be left beyond the market.

There, in one’s in­most being, there re­mained some sense of self, some sense of com­munity, the ag­greg­ated codes of so­cial to­geth­er­ness. For Thatcher the chemist that meant there re­mained a re­sidual supply of po­ten­tial en­ergy locked up by cen­turies of sed­i­ment­a­tion, which had to be driven out like tar from pine when placed under in­cred­ible pres­sures. It is no wonder the Iron Lady blew the riches of North Sea Oil so quickly as she papered over the cracks of her eco­nomic ‘revolution’.

Thatcher the ar­sonist or per­haps even Thatcher the logger. The 1980s were the so­cial equi­valent of Amazonian de­for­est­a­tion: faced with the ap­parent ‘in­ef­fi­cient mess’ of twisted rhizomes, ar­bor­es­cence, and all that thrived within Britain, Thatcher poured on the oil, tossed on a lighted match, and claimed credit for the spec­tacle of light and heat. ‘See the en­er­gies re­leased by my philo­sophy!’ she might have cried as her easily ca­ri­ca­tur­able fol­lowers (think Alan B’Stard and Loadsamoney) raked it in from what they called the ‘Big Bang’. And then she, and her suc­cessors, handed over the flattened land to the cattle her­ders; land that pro­duced profits for a couple of years be­fore the re­maining nu­tri­ents of the soil dried out and scrub­land remained.

I am old enough just to re­member little bottles of milk chil­dren re­ceived, which Thatcher took away. My family were re­duced to a diet of baked pota­toes when my father went on strike. This was im­portant: the struggle did not stop at the work­place. Thatcher had to get at the dinner table, at the hearth of a so­cial re­la­tion; she seemed to be ob­sessed with con­trolling what people and their chil­dren con­sumed. That was the way in, the way into the belly, and through the belly to the heart. Thatcherism was not some­thing that happened to your country, it happened to you, to your in­most self, it was shoved down your throat. (I could go on with per­sonal memories but it makes me so angry.)

You were forced to con­sume be­cause that was your func­tion now, to be a hyper-​consumer, to con­sume the fast food re­volu­tion, to con­sume the National Curriculum, to con­sume your family and cut them loose so you could enter the market where you con­sumed debt to buy real es­tate, con­sumed cars (if you were still using the bus at thirty ‘you had failed’, she said) — your soul had be­come obese, stretched beyond re­cog­ni­tion by the early 80s feeding re­gime and now cap­able of ab­sorbing un­lim­ited quant­ities of shit. You were one of ‘Thatcher’s Children’, they said. I am one of Thatcher’s Children, and I saw my school teachers dance in the cor­ridor when she was forced to resign in 1990.

Thatcher saw re­spect as a bar­rier to free trade. She saw em­pathy and grief as an un­tapped source of profit. And she mo­bil­ised every mech­anism in her power to pursue a rig­orous policy of prim­itive ac­cu­mu­la­tion in the ter­ritory of the soul. Abuse as eco­nomic strategy. That is why we see British people holding what Twitter calls ‘Thatcher death parties’ — she caused wounds too deep and too foul to have healed in just 23 years.

  4 comments for “Thatcher: a wound reopens

  1. ecadre
    9 April 2013 at 3:21 pm

    Spot on, ab­so­lutely bril­liant piece.

    I have not and will never for­give what she and the Tories did to this country, my home city and my friends and family.

    She de­serves to burn for all eternity for that.

  2. alex
    10 April 2013 at 12:44 am

    what about the good things she did for Britain, i guess she didnt have it all wrong!!

  3. Benedict Thorn
    10 April 2013 at 8:24 am

    It is funny but some of the rightwing de­fenders of Thatcher in, say, the Daily Telegraph have ad­opted the view (tactic) that Thatcher had bound­aries, that there were things she wouldn’t have done — e.g. privat­ising rail — which her suc­cessors did, and it is this that saves her.

    I would agree with that in the sense that Thatcherism was two pronged — it was au­thor­it­arian cap­it­alism. Firstly, Thatch’s private army (aka the po­lice) battered you into an amorphous mass of de­sire, and then secondly this mass was ‘free’ to gorge on whatever the market spewed forth. This in­ter­na­tion­ally revered de­fender of freedom had no qualms crushing anyone who dared to other than mean­ing­lessly ‘free’. She des­pised demo­cracy and her former Conservative min­is­ters hap­pily admit as much.

    Allister Heath, editor of City A.M, says as much in his typ­ical piece in the Telegraph: [after Thatcher] “greed was no longer bal­anced out by fear” (9.4.2013).

    This was Thatcherism — the dia­lectic of greed and fear, in which fear turned your being into a great Nothing which in­cess­antly searched un­lim­ited sat­is­fac­tion (greed). If you weren’t with the pro­gramme, you were “the enemy within” and a “failure”.

    I think a lot of what Thatcher did that people call “good” was that which at the time ap­peared good to a sec­tion of the pop­u­la­tion (splur­ging on oil, closing the pits, fin­an­cial­ising the eco­nomy, selling off council housing to ten­ants), but which in the years since have turned out to be false eco­nomies (the oil ran out, many coal pits are now flooded and use­less so we im­port coal, the Global Financial Crisis, housing is now beyond the reach of even the middle classes).

    We are left nbow, in 2013, won­dering what this great con­flag­ra­tion was for. Thatcher hoped the de­struc­tion would allow new eco­nomic activity to be cre­ated, but nothing but carrion-​devouring fin­an­cialism ever ma­ter­i­al­ised. She failed even on her own lim­ited terms.

  4. Benedict Thorn
    10 April 2013 at 8:25 am

    That was a reply @alex

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