Wednesday 28 September 2016

Thatcher and Reagan, bad 'uns and no mistake

Published 10/04/2016 | 02:30

Margaret Thatcher with Ronald Reagan. Photo: PA
Margaret Thatcher with Ronald Reagan. Photo: PA

The columnist Peter Hitchens, who is regarded as a man of the Right, has realised that the vision of Thatcher and Reagan was all a cod.

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"I am so sorry now that I fell for the great Thatcher-Reagan promise," he writes. "I can't deny that I did. I believed all that stuff about privatisation and free trade and the unrestrained market. I think I may even have been taken in by the prophesies of a great share-owning democracy."

He mourns the fact that: "A journey across the heart of England, once an exhilarating vista of muscular manufacturing, especially glorious by night, turned into archaeology."

That it would take a man more than 30 years to arrive at this conclusion, when it should have been completely obvious after about 30 seconds, does not somehow take away from our admiration for Hitchens and his admission that he has been wrong for most of his life.

The inability of people to admit that they have been wrong in some fundamental way is a terrible curse and probably causes just as much grief as the original error of judgement - indeed in relation to Thatcher and Reagan, over the years I have tried to examine my own hatred of them to see if I have been in any way mistaken.

They were the great ogres of my political childhood, as such, which somewhat confuses the issue because at one level we invariably look back and realise that we might not have been entirely fair to everyone we encountered back then. And yet our instincts are so strong and pure at that time, there's got to be a really good chance that essentially we were right all along.

Having examined the matter on many levels, I have concluded that on Thatcher and Reagan, essentially, I was right all along.

But then it's a bit like the Iraq War, in the sense that so many people were right at the time, not with the luxury of hindsight. By accident, I found myself in Brixton during the riots of the mid-1980s - I had only gone to interview Madness, oddly enough - and it is strange to think that every one of those people who were at war with Thatcher's Babylon, all across the UK, had understood something about the situation at the time, which apparently only became clear to Peter Hitchens last Tuesday week.

Oh she was a bad'un and no mistake.

But because there are unthinking individuals on the other side too, the sort whose view of the world is so encrusted in cliche they still use the word 'Thatcherite' as a term of abuse, again I would need to look at Thatcher "in the round" and I would say this for her - she had an eye for a kind of civil service bullshit which was at least amusing in a certain way.

And she showed fortitude, not least in the way she came through to lead her own party, which was full of really disgraceful men who despised her for all the wrong reasons.

She had the luck of the devil too in her enemies, from General Galtieri to the Provos to Arthur Scargill, and she rode that luck all the way.

But really, that's about all I could say for her and that was before we realised that she had been a close personal friend of Jimmy Savile, with whom she saw in the new year on several occasions at Chequers.

Like many politicians Thatcher was a terribly limited person, but perhaps her genius was that she was the most limited of them all. So devoid was she of human things such as humour and empathy and taste, we would now probably define her as someone with a personality disorder. And yet in her chosen trade, this must have been deeply liberating - we can see this with Trump, for example, and his most invaluable personality disorder, whereby he is unembarrassable.

She would have instinctively liked Trump, as she seemed to instinctively like anyone purporting to be a successful businessman and virtually nobody else. But in Reagan, her collaborator, she found someone with such a commitment to the same "values", whatever they were, that he makes Trump seem like just another clown who will say anything to get elected.

They changed everything, because they rejected the one big idea which had underpinned the recovery of the post-War western world, a great and complex idea which when boiled down to its essence went something like this: that the role of government, after all is said and done, is somehow to stop the rich people from stealing all the money.

It was accepted that no human agency could stop them from stealing, say, 95pc of the money. But if, through a few rules and regulations, you could set aside just a few quid for scraping the poor off the streets and burying the dead and so forth, at least you could say you tried.

In liberating the appalling energies of Wall Street and the City, it was clear that Thatcher and Reagan never got that idea.

But there were always enough hacks to declare that no matter, eventually they destroyed the old Soviet Union itself, did they not?

And you know, maybe they did that too. The fact that unfortunately they also destroyed the western world is something that is only now being appreciated by all.

Sunday Independent

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