“Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher forced Britain, kicking and screaming, to abandon its tired and tattered security blanket of a class-ridden and hierarchical society,” reads the caption below a picture of the baroness on the front page of the April 9 Vancouver Sun. The same edition notes the death of famous stage magician Reveen, and I thought the caption below his picture — “famed illusionist dies” — was better suited to the former politician.
Thatcher’s passing certainly cast a spell on the Canadian press, with tributes pouring from periodicals across the country in an adjectival torrent of twaddle. So for the sake of history, let’s try to recall just a few things she actually did and didn’t do.
She supported the South African apartheid regime as well as the junta of the murderous Augusto Pinochet, even describing the Chilean dictator as Britain’s “staunch, true friend,” during his indictment for human rights violations. She famously claimed, “there is no such thing as society,” and tried to prove just that by wrecking the British manufacturing industry and smashing the public sector into privatized pieces. She also leveraged the U.S.-U.K. “special relationship” to wage war in the Falkland Islands and petition for the installation of short-range nuclear missiles in Europe.
In a speech last week in British parliament, Labour MP Glenda Jackson declared that Thatcher had wreaked “the most heinous, social, economic and spiritual damage upon this country.” Describing the explosion of poverty and homelessness she saw first-hand, Jackson discovered “that everything I had been taught to regard as a vice — and I still regard them as vices — under Thatcherism was in fact a virtue: greed, selfishness, no care for the weaker, sharp elbows, sharp knees. They were the way forward.”
“Iron Lady,” a disparaging term that Thatcher embraced, came by way of a Russian propagandist who likely drew upon a Daily Mirror journalist’s 1976 description of the up-and-coming Tory as an “Iron Maiden,” a medieval torture device.
The steely coiffure wasn’t the only suspect thing about her. It took strenuous elocution lessons to banish her East End diction, resulting in a lower-register, sing-song approximation of an Oxbridge accent. Her 1979 election win was a triumph for another brand of artifice; the “Austrian School” championed by economist Friedrich Von Hayek. Over the same time period in the U.S. the “Chicago School” led by economist Milton Friedman had piggybacked on the 1980 election of the dimwitted Ronald Reagan. The 1984 Canadian election of former prime minister Brian Mulroney, Tory buddy-in-arms with The Iron Lady and The Great Communicator, made for a hat trick by the Anglo-American elite.
In the Thatcher/Reagan/Mulroney years, just as now, the rubes were told about the blessings of small government, competitiveness and individualism. Insiders soon learned this meant socialism for the rich and laissez-faire for everyone else. And now, in a fit of historical revisionism, mainstream pundits are trying to retrofit Margaret Thatcher of No. 10 Downing Street as the avenging angel of conservatism, rather than the public face of scorched earth, economic radicalism.
In their view, Maggie thrust her sword into the nanny-state serpent while resuscitating Britain, “the sick man of Europe,” with the beat of her powerful wings (well, a right wing at least).
Roger Ebert, film critic with the Chicago Sun Times, died a few days prior to the former prime minister. A good writer and a principled person, he knew that the human heart doesn’t sit well with ideologies of any stripe. As the chill of bankster-engineered austerity descends on the western world, it might be worthwhile for the powerful and powerless alike to count his humble words like prayer beads:
“Kindness covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”
The Vancouver Courier, Apr. 17