I was in two minds whether to contribute to the expected rush of articles and blogs on the death of Mrs Thatcher. I have certainly resisted the temptation of instant tweets or Facebook posts. However, a tweet from Ian Lavery MP (Wansbeck) persuaded me that we should all record our experiences and thoughts about this woman. He ‘tweeted’ that it would be “cowardly” not to comment.
I grew up in the 1980s with parents who were far from political at the start of the decade, but who ended the decade as two of the most active members of the local Labour Party – candidates at every local election, branch and GC officers, conference delegates and so on. It was in this environment of the late 1980s, on a council estate in Tory Harrogate, surrounded by boxes of Labour Links, crumpled rosettes, ‘knocking up’ pads and canvass cards that my own interest in politics and specifically socialism developed. Once of my earliest Labour Party memories is of my sister and I hand-writing thousands of envelopes for the free mailing in the 1987 general election. I was only 6!
It pains me to say it but Mrs Thatcher did have one positive effect on my family and I – she politicised my parents (both of whom used that political passion to read, study, return to college and qualify as teachers), which was instrumental in making my own politics what it is today.
History has a habit of ignoring the facts, as I can see from my Twitter feed or Facebook timeline. I will not be celebrating the death of Mrs Thatcher, not because I look back with rose-tinted glasses like so many do, but because of what she made me. She made me compassionate about fellow humans, something that she was not. Going with my parents on protests and rallies in the late 1980s, seeing the effect the Poll Tax or rising rents and fuel bills had on my family convinced me that this Thatcherism as it was being named did not work. Even at that early age I could see that this wasn’t fair. Watching news reports about the homeless, visiting London in 1988 and seeing (for the first time) rough-sleepers, watching the unending greed in the City, reading about good communities in the north being decimated in the name of Thatcherism; all these things made me realise that what should shape politics is compassion. The reverse of Thatcherism – that there are enough resources in this world for all of us to have a decent standard of living.
Watching John Gummer pay tribute just now on BBC News; he stated that “even more people would have been worse off” if it wasn’t for Thatcherism – thereby accepting that Thatcherism did make SOME people worse off (presumably the millions and their families who lost their jobs in our industries). How can it be that this goes unchallenged? Thatcher taught me that any ideology that makes SOME people worse off is wrong – instead we need an ideology that gives EVERYONE a decent home, a decent job, a decent education and decent protections.
So tonight, I am not celebrating. I have never celebrated the death of anyone, in fact I feel distinctly uncomfortable when the world celebrates the death of ‘terrorists’ or ‘brutal dictators’. Instead, I shall remember the harsh reality of the 1980s and today – the facts of Mrs Thatcher’s legacy; huge inequality. I will be hoping, more than I have hoped for anything, that the true legacy of Mrs Thatcher can be a Labour government in 2015 which is proud of ideology (just as she was), but an ideology that is built on compassion and socialism. As a compassionate human being I have never celebrated the death of anyone no matter how lacking in compassion they were in life.