Wednesday 17 April 2013

Me and Maggie Thatcher

Allow me to call myself one of ‘Thatcher’s children’, though if that had literally been the case I would have disowned her. If the other way round had been the state of affairs the separation would have occurred as a matter of course, inevitably.  In 1979 when she was elected prime minister I was 12 years old but it was only when she really got into her stride at the helm that I myself truly came of age, if I can claim that. I was a teenager after all.

I remember quite vividly the party election broadcasts from that campaign in 1979, despite my tender years at the time. Leading figures in the Labour party, such as Callaghan and Healey, appeared on the tiny television my family had in a small room to warn of the travails the country would have to endure if they elected the Tories to power. Mine was a safe Labour home, parented by Irish immigrants, so even though I had just started wearing long trousers to school, I agreed with that. Little did I know that much of what they warned of was 100% correct.

My father, a proud and hard-working employee at one of Birmingham’s most illustrious plants, was made unemployed soon after Thatcher took up the reins. The effects on our family are easily imaginable to anyone with the imagination required. 

In 1984, aged 16, I was among a large crowd – several hundred strong - attending a meeting staged by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Tony Cliff was the main speaker. He said what I had been hoping to hear on that day about the miners' strike. That the closure of the pits was part of a general attack on the British working class..I agreed with him fully. I joined the SWP soon afterwards.

That year was a fascinating one. I went to a demonstration in Nottingham and saw how passionate the miners were to their cause. With other ‘comrades’ I sat warming my hands over a boiler on a picket line in the Cotswolds. You couldn’t be anything but be impressed by the resolve of those miners. And they were from a pit that were the minority out on strike. The refrain, however, was “She’ll not get me back”. “She”, meaning Thatcher. We visited the house of one miner who had been arrested, I believe on more than one occasion as a result of the strike. He’d also been a soldier in Northern Ireland. He was more resolute than any of the others. Thatcher has been described as divisive. She certainly was in his case. He stepped over to the other side completely.

I went to university, became active again in political activity, got tired with it and then concentrated on books. Then came a day in London.

The poll tax riots. I had seen other Thatcherite-generated violence in London before but never anything like that. It was mayhem and for a time the people on the demonstration had control of the streets. Police officers were running away from members of the public shouting “no poll tax!” repeatedly. Then a police van sped down the street straight at protestors. Miraculously, no one was killed. But one thing was clear enough. The people of the UK had had enough of Thatcher. Even the shop workers were chanting “no poll tax!” on that day. I was just scared of the police. That was another indicator of life back then. You can speak of the free market all you want and how it liberated people from the so-called bureaucratic post-war consensus but Thatcherism also gave policemens’ batons a free hand.

Today, David Cameron said, “We are all Thatcherites now”. I am not. I am a Socialist. I am an anti-Thatcherite. What I experienced during my teenage years will not leave me, nor should it ever. Hopefully one day there will be a proper tribute to the victims of that woman’s legacy, someone who trod on the lives of countless number of working class people, including that of my own family 

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