And so the Great Bogeyman of British politics is gone, the name that every politician secretly hopes to be compared to but none want to be cast in the same light as. A genuine, dyed in the wool political monster – at odds with the society that voted her in but the only candidate for the job. Few will mourn her – I certainly won’t and I was only tangentially affected by her at the time – but it will be damn hard to forget her as the legacy of her decisions ring on twenty years after. If Atlee is the positive face of British politics, the Gentleman Scholar seeking improvement for all, she is the fierce, vicious underbelly seeking to divide society into the rulers and ruled. She will not be missed.
And whilst the press will write a million words about whether she was right to privatise industry across the country, to shake hands with murderous dictators in the name of “greater” freedoms or even to cancel school milk, her true legacy is that she changed the way politics were dealt with in this country. The Americans had been there for a few more years, charismatic people who could deliver a sound bite to the media, but here things were more restrained. America got Reagan, the affable father-figure who didn’t know what he was doing, we got Thatcher – not the out-and-out crook that Nixon was but as willing to sidle up next to them as he was – for the last fifty years we’ve looked west for our inspiration. The moment she cozied up to Murdoch and Co. things changed, politics moved from being about the possibility of positive change to dealing with a climate of fear; fear of foreigners, fear of the different. We’ve retreated into an island nation where The Daily Mail is the most popular paper in Britain due to its ability to spew its hateful rhetoric on a daily basis for people to soak up. It admires her, without her its freedom to distort the truth would not have been possible and peddles the myth of her legacy.
Even the opposition had to change. Kinnock was a dead duck – his heart was in the right place, but the moment we saw the repeat of him falling over on the beach he was dead in the water just as the media had decided. The media chose who was Prime Minister, and the media had got what it wanted when she supported it against the striking workers. You no longer won an election; you were merely not the loser. Kinnock may have narrowed the lead, but he wasn’t able to take it, not even against Major. His successor remains for me the great unknown, John Smith, the last true Labour Leader we’ve had didn’t care that much about his media image but his successor did. Blair may have been part of the opposition but his politics were as influenced by Thatcher as the current shambles. A different leader may have tried to turn around the damage she had done, instead he merely made different mistakes at the behest of his media manipulators. All of the current leaders grew up in her shadow and mistake the media for the masses, deal in spin rather than true politics – all because of her.
The problem is that whilst the mainstream media has become more powerful, it’s also become more unwilling to step across the line of decency. No British journalist will write anything with close to the same fury as Thompson’s obituary to Nixon, no one will claim that her body should be taken out and “Burned in a trash can” because to do so would be career suicide for them. Thatcher allowed them their freedom but also drew the line that none of them has dared to cross. Even today’s leaders realise that and use it to their advantage. When the journalists that grew up in the seventies are gone we may also see the death of true political writing, the willingness to stick your neck and be unpopular.
The truth is that it will be years before we’re free of her true legacy, a political generation that sees her way – a cult of personality, of rabid belief that the decisions of a single individual are more relevant than those of society – as against the norm. It won’t be our children, we’ve grown up in her shadow, it will be their children that question whether this is the norm, that is if we haven’t descended further down the spiral into doublethink and five-minute hate. Thatcher may be dead, but Thatcherism and its descendant’s lives on, on both sides of the divide. No one outside of her family will mourn her, but grave dancing isn’t going to do anything to solve the problems she created, it will just further the divisions in society she created.