Saturday, April 9, 2011

Two Writers on Thatcherism, One Great Song

I voted for her.

It is commonplace now to say that Thatcher changed two political parties: her own, and the left-wing labour opposition. It is less often remembered that Reagan in the US and Thatcher in the UK broke forever the post-war consensus - and that consensus had lasted for over thirty years.

Spin back to 1945, and whether you were on the Left or the Right in Britain or Western Europe, rebuilding socieities after the war could not happen using the outdated and discredited neo-liberal economies of the free market - unregulated labour, unstable prices, no provision for the sick or the old or the unemployed. We were going to need housing, plenty of jobs, a welfare state, nationalism of utilities and transport.

It was a real advance in human consciousness towards collective responsibility; an understanding that we owed something not only to our flag or to our country, to our children or our families, but to each other. Society. Civilisation. Culture.

That advance in consciousness did not come out of Victorian values or philanthropy, nor did it emerge from right-wing politics; it came out of the practical lessons of the war, and - and this matters - the superior arguments of socialism.

Britain's economic slow-down in the 1970s, our IMF bail-out, rocketing oil prices, Nixon's decision to float the dollar, unruly union disputes, and a kind of existential doubt on the Left, allowed the Reagan / Thatcher 1980s Right to skittle away the annoying arguments about a fair and equal society . We were going to follow Milton Friedman and his pals at the Chicago School of Economics back to the old free market laissez-faire, and dress it up as a new salvation.

Welcom TINA - There Is No Alternative.

In 1998, Thatcher's Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, called the post-war consensus, the 'post-war delusion.'

I did not realise that when money becomes the core value, then education drives towards utility or that the life of the mind will not be counted as a good, unless it produces measurable results. That public services will no longer be important. That an alternative life to getting and spending will become very difficult as cheap housing disappears. That when communities are destroyed only misery and intolerance are left.

I did not know that Thatcherism would fund its economic miracle by selling off all our nationalised assets and industries.

I did not realise the consequences of privatising society.

     Jeanette Winterson from Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?


I'd been tired, under
the weather, but the ansaphone kept screaming:
One more sick-note, mister, and you're finished. Fired. 
I thumbed a lift to where the car was parked.
A Vauxhall Astra. It was hired.

I picked him up in Leeds.
He was following the sun to west from east
with just a toothbrush and the good earth for a bed. The truth
he said, was blowin' in the wind,
or round the next bend.

I let him have it
on the top road out of Harrogate - once
with the head, then six times with the krooklok
in the face - and didn't even swerve.
I dropped it into third

and leant across
to let him out, and saw him in the mirror
bouncing off the kerb, then disappearing down the verge.
We were the same age, give or take a week.
He'd said he liked the breeze

to run its fingers
through his hair. It was twelve noon.
The outlook for the day was moderate to fair.
Stitch that, I remember thinking,
you can walk from there.

      Simon Armitage, from Book of Matches

Shipbuilding, Robert Wyatt, written by Elvis Costello

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