Monday 21 October 2019

It started with Maggie Thatcher, and it hasn't ended yet

Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

The third episode of the five-part documentary series Thatcher: A Very British Revolution started by describing her as the most unpopular prime minister since polling began. It was 1982, and her obsession with cutting public spending was the only salient feature of her time in office. She seemed to be doomed.

Then came the Falklands War.

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When it all kicked off down there, she became a beneficiary of her own lack of vision, because with tension growing in the South Atlantic, she had ignored requests from the foreign office to reinforce the island.

But they didn't mention such complications in Thatcher…, nor did they waste any time pointing out that Argentina had been given the impression for some time that Britain was relaxed enough about letting them have the Falklands.

Instead this was big-picture stuff, favouring the cartoon style of political TV in general - the essence of their story was that Thatcher had been saved by the Falklands and the great surge of popularity which followed. Which enabled her to enforce the thing we now call "Thatcherism", to engage in other wars against her enemies without and within.

And it is fascinating to revisit the Thatcher legend at this particular time, given that many of the consequences of her various wars, are still causing all sorts of human misery.

In this third episode, we saw her building on her defeat of the Argies by crushing the miners, a "victory" in which the devastation of communities all across Britain didn't seem to have any meaning for her.

But it still resonates with the forces of Brexit, who are themselves at war with a large section of the British people, indifferent to the effects of their obsession on what used to be called the working class - before Thatcher did so much to turn them into the underclass.

It might have been useful at this stage to recall another war of hers, with the EU, which she regarded as a cauldron of socialism - that too is still causing an ocean of grief, indeed the Europhobia which she encouraged is a source of much of the madness which has consumed the Tory Party and the nation which they have misruled.

Yet this episode of her TV history was largely about the fact that there were actually worse things than Margaret Thatcher around in the 1980s, and that they were of incalculable benefit to her - apart from the junta in Buenos Aires, and the gerontocracy which was ruling the USSR before Gorbachev, there was the IRA trying to kill her and her associates with the Brighton bomb.

In response, she opened the party conference at 9.30am the following morning, as scheduled. For this she was acclaimed as a heroine of democracy. But with enemies like that, she could not go wrong.

Yet this series still seems a tad understated, describing her as "unpopular" when in truth she was greatly hated, and was herself a great hater. Her natural successors are now carrying on that hatred, using "Europe" as an all-inclusive device for promoting their own version of narrow nationalism.

And it was bleakly comical to see her minister Michael Heseltine speaking about CND in the 1980s, claiming that he knew there were "many communist sympathisers" in it. These days old Hezza himself, with his allegiance to the EU, would himself be seen by the Brexiters as some sort of a communist.

So the things she started, are by no means finished yet - even the underlying desire of the No Deal Brexiters to sell off the NHS to their mates in America is an echo of the "freedoms" that she and Ronald Reagan loved, particularly the freedoms of rich people.

Indeed this series is important for anyone who wants to trace some of the most significant movements of the modern world back to their origins, and to form their own conclusions.

Or you could save time, and agree with mine.

Thatcher: A Very British Revolution (BBC1)

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