Margaret Thatcher, RIP

I came across an interesting thread on Facebook yesterday evening. The poster’s friends were being asked to put aside their personal views on Margaret Thatcher and to consider if their own lives were better or worse as a result of the policies that she implemented while Prime Minister. Most of the people who responded reported an improvement; most of them still hated her. She was a woman who induced strong opinions.

I find the idea of celebrating a death distasteful. Margaret Thatcher was once a major, public figure and it is understandable that her passing should prompt reminiscence and comment. Given that much of what she achieved during her time in power was controversial, the widely differing views on her tenure and legacy are understandable, but she had wielded no power or influence for many years. The death of an old lady is no reason to party.

As the dust settles on the news of her demise the public comments are becoming more balanced. There are those on all sides of the political spectrum who are expressing both positive and negative views on her achievements. It is interesting that there are many on the political right who are willing to be critical and many on the left who are willing to accept that some of what she did had a positive impact on the lives of many British people. These more honest and balanced reflections, which put aside the fawning or hateful rhetoric and, with the benefit of hindsight, look back at the historical impact, make interesting reading for one who lived through the time but did not pay a great deal of attention.

It is still rare for a woman to wield the type of power that Margaret Thatcher enjoyed. She did not align herself with feminists but proved that being a woman did not prevent her from doing her job. As ever, her gender is being used by her detractors. Her role as a mother is being questioned and criticised; how dare she ‘abandon’ her children for her career! The media does love to induce guilt in working mothers; we cannot know what her family life was like so why comment?

With plans for her very public funeral being finalised there are those who wish to use the event as a platform for protest. I can understand why many object to her funeral being publicly funded, especially as many of her policies introduced the idea of moving away from this type of financing, but I fear that the hijacking of her funeral by dissident groups will lead to violence. If protesters wish to gain publicity and sympathy for their cause then I suspect that these plans are likely to backfire. When feelings on both sides run high it is hard to maintain the peace and most people will feel that a funeral is no place for disorder. Even if one cannot feel respect for the deceased, regard should be given to those who wish to mourn.

Many of the more hateful comments on Margaret Thatcher’s legacy refer back to her treatment of the miners and heavy industries. There seem to be those who consider that the government has a duty to provide jobs with little regard for economic viability. It is still the case that a large number of public sector workers seem to be employed to push pieces of paper around, enforcing dubious rules and carrying out unnecessary consultations; while private sector employees complete the physical, publicly needed tasks such as rubbish collections, road maintenance and managing social housing. Perhaps if the public sector could demonstrate an ability to manage resources more efficiently and effectively then there may be more sympathy for the view that public ownership is good.

I do not feel qualified to offer much comment on the true impact of Margaret Thatcher’s time in power. I know that personally I benefited from many of her policies. My children will have a much harder time making their way in the world than I ever had, but I do not lay this entirely at Margaret Thatcher’s door. There have been too many other leaders who have been and gone who we may also blame for the difficulties that my children will encounter gaining qualifications, coping with subsequent debt, affording housing and simply finding work.

The world we live in now is very different to the world that I grew up in, but my guess is that the same could be said for every generation. Change happens and we cannot put back the clock. Instead of encouraging hate based on a retrospective view I would like to see more people working to improve things for the future. Whatever or whoever has caused the situation we are now in, we cannot change what has gone before. Learning from history is good but only if we can look back dispassionately and try to see clearly. We need to deal with the place we are in now and work to improve what is to come.

Hate and anger are destructive emotions. I would like to see the passion and energy being expressed channelled into influencing change here and now. Allow those who wish to mourn Margaret Thatcher’s passing the courtesy of doing so and move on. An old lady has died; I will not dance on her grave.



Forming a political opinion

I have been mulling over the events that lead to me write yesterday’s post. On hearing that Margaret Thatcher had died, a number of friends have been making known their views on her tenure as Prime Minister; the media and blogosphere are overflowing with comments posted on her life and legacy. I have been surprised that so many feel so strongly about someone who last wielded any sort of power over twenty years ago. The friend who I was referring to yesterday wrote an interesting piece setting out why he feels such animosity towards her, and I will continue to consider all of the views expressed. For today I am still deliberating over why we see things so differently; on what causes us to form our disparate opinions.

My friend and I were both born and raised in Belfast during what is known as The Troubles. Both of us come from families with a strong, working class background; debt averse, hard working and family oriented. We were educated at single sex grammar schools having attained our places by passing a selective test, and were amongst the first generation of our families to attend university. From there our paths diverge.

My friend spent many years in academia before moving on to a career in the arts and media. To my knowledge, he has spent all of his life living in cities and now divides his time between properties he owns in the capitals of England and Germany. He has around ten times as many friends on Facebook as I do; an apparently eclectic mix from a wide variety of backgrounds.

I left university when I acquired my primary degree and spent ten years working in technology for the financial services industry. I left this to raise my children and, at the same time, my husband and I set up our own company which we still run. Since leaving Belfast I have lived in the gloriously peaceful and beautiful county of Wiltshire; for over twenty years now I have lived in the same quiet, rural village. With just a few exceptions,  my small group of friends are living a life similar to my own.

Margaret Thatcher first came to power while my friend and I were both still living in Belfast. At that time I had few political views, and those I had related to the problems in Ireland rather than England or further afield. We did not have the opportunity to vote for candidates representing the main, British political parties; those representing us in parliament gave their allegiance to the small parties of Northern Ireland. Life in Belfast was, I believe, much more insular than would be the case now.

I remember the strikes of the nineteen seventies, the three day week and the pictures on television of the clashes between police and the miners. It was a turbulent time but, coming from Belfast, I was also used to seeing pictures of the aftermath of the bombings and shootings that were still regular occurrences and were happening just a few miles from my own front door. I did not start to form opinions on the politics of mainland Britain until I moved to England during Margaret Thatcher’s third and final term as Prime Minister. My friend went up to an English university so may have been starting to form his opinions a little earlier.

Margaret Thatcher’s successor, John Major, was Prime Minister during my early years in England. After him came Tony Blair. Whereas my friend would blame Margaret Thatcher for destroying much of the social fabric of working class England, I would blame Tony Blair for introducing sound bite, shallow politics. He wasn’t the first leader to lie and deceive but I saw his politics as hugely destructive to trust and democracy in this country, and despise the man. By the time he left office I was developing my own political ideas.

I wonder why the views that I have formed are so at odds with the strongly held views that my friend holds. Given that we had such similar upbringings I can only conclude that it is the experiences and influences that we have encountered since leaving our parental homes that have shaped us. His metropolitan, arty, media influenced lifestyle coupled with his exposure to others who have chosen urban living will have been very different to my much quieter lifestyle amongst  private sector professionals and those raising young families in a rural idyll. Can these differing influences have affected our thinking so radically?

I would hazard a guess that we both like to think that we have considered the arguments and formed our opinions independently, but I wonder how true this is. I am fascinated by his view that there is no longer a a mainstream party with ideologies to the Left (socialist) in British politics as I have friends from the other side of the political spectrum who would claim that there is no longer a mainstream party with ideologies to the Right (capitalist). I will not get into a debate about these views here, although both polarised opinions can be well argued with carefully selected premises and hand picked facts. Personally I do not see the terms as particularly useful and am more depressed by the fact that none of the current crop of politician seems to offer what anyone really wants or to be different enough from each other to even offer a choice.

So, what is it that has influenced our political opinions? From reading the various blogs that argue each case and talking to those who feel passionately enough about their cause to have properly researched their recent history, I can only conclude that political views bear a remarkable similarity to religious conviction. Those who truly believe one way or the other are not going to be swayed by mere argument; they will always find a way to discount opposing views and be able to hold up a slew of carefully selected, salient facts to support their convictions and do down the opposition.

My friend has faith in his ideals; I do not. My political leanings are not aligned to one party or policy and I can and am still be swayed by new knowledge; my voting preferences are rarely decided too far in advance. I do not believe that I have been duped or that my views are extreme; neither do I consider that I am in full possession of the facts nor truly understand the potential consequences of some of the policies that I may be inclined to support. This is why I continue to try to partake in political discussions.

The exchange with my friend knocked my complacency but I now see this as a good thing. I have much to learn and will be happy to do so from him, but not solely from him; I still wish to understand the alternative view. I can see a dark side to a statist government and resent being compelled to contribute financially to so many national projects of negligible benefit to any other than the already powerful elite; I resent being told how to live my life, even if this is supposedly for my own good. Corruption and waste are rife in the public sector; whether the private sector can offer anything better is debatable so I have no easy answers. This will not stop me continuing to ask questions.

In politics, as in religion, we can agree to differ and move on. However little I may agree with my friend’s way of thinking, I absolutely respect his right to hold whatever views he chooses, so long as he does not try to force them on anyone else.

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