The Point
Last updated: 07 December 2018. sky thinking for an open and diverse left

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Don't Celebrate - Organise

Graeme McIver looks at the death of Margaret Thatcher and argues that the left should not celebrate but organise to defeat Thatcher’s political legacy.



For a long time now I’ve wondered what I would do the day that Margaret Thatcher died. It was she more than any other figure that inspired me to become active in politics. Whatever she represented, I wanted to be the opposite. I had planned to celebrate. Drinks with friends? Listen to some good music? Perhaps I’d sport one of those t-shirts on sale at TUC events that appal the Tory right so much. How do the songs go?…“Jelly and ice cream when Thatcher dies”, “We’re having a party when Thatcher dies!”

In the end I’ve done none of those things.

For the best part of the last 12 months I have worked in the care sector and in particular with the elderly and those suffering from dementia. I first heard of her demise whilst returning from a funeral of one of my former clients. I watched the breaking news on the BBC standing in my suit and black tie and did not feel much like a celebration. I would not wish dementia on anyone, even on my worst enemy, even on Margaret Thatcher. I cannot bring myself to rejoice in her death not just because of the circumstances of it, but because more importantly, much more importantly, her politics, her cruel, heartless, divisive politics lives on.

It is perhaps ironic that she should die just days after the Conservative led Government of millionaires launched yet another blistering attack against the poorest and most vulnerable in society whilst gifting a tax cut to the rich. The bedroom tax is truly a Thatcherite policy just like many of the other so-called welfare reforms unleashed by the ConDems on April 1st. Her legacy is safe with Cameron, Osborne et al. When asked her greatest achievement, Thatcher remarked, “New Labour”. In another depressing turn just days before her death, the Labour Party, created by the trade union movement to advance the cause of working class people, capitulated in the most despicable and cowardly fashion by abstaining on a vote over the workfare scheme, where benefits claimants are made to work for no wages in return. Had she been able to understand the significance of the abstention then she would surely have approved.

As I watched tributes pour into the BBC and sympathy expressed for her family I was struck with the difference between her final days and the majority of the rest of the population who suffer from dementia related illness. Thatcher died in the Ritz Hotel. How fitting that she should shuffle off this mortal coil surrounded by opulence and extravagance denied to the majority in this country and the world. Sufferers of dementia and their families require a great deal of support from the NHS, social work and caring services, every one of which is facing brutal and sustained attack by this government as they did under hers. Many families provide vital unpaid support to their loved ones in the most difficult and distressing of circumstances. Friends, neighbours and communities also help in caring for these vulnerable people in an inspiring antidote to Thatcher’s claim that there was no such thing as, “society”. Yet at every turn their efforts are met with barriers from a government determined to make ordinary people pay the cost for the failures of the banking system. Community centres, day centres, lunch clubs, social events, elderly and disabled travel providers and funding for initiatives that can help ease the burden on carers and sufferers have been all reduced or scrapped under the ConDems. The workers tasked with looking after the elderly and dementia sufferers are more often than not extremely low paid with appalling conditions employed by companies tendering for contracts in the privatised care sector. Terrible though her last few months may have undoubtedly been, at least Thatcher and her family had the means to ease some of the burden of her illness. A luxury not afforded by millions of others.

In this quick response to her death it is not possible to adequately explore the extent to which Thatcher damaged the lives of working class communities nor just how divisive a politician she was. Listening to the fawning tributes currently being paid you would have been forgiven for thinking that Thatcher’s Britain was not one riddled with unfairness and division. You would be forgiven for forgetting the inner city riots, the deliberate decimation of the manufacturing base, the growth of unemployment as government policy, the courting of dictators such as Pinochet and Suharto, the privatisation of publically owned utilities and assets, the Poll Tax, selling off council houses, the Hillsborough cover up, her attitude towards the South African regime, attacks on minority communities, (section 28) the rise of homelessness, attacks on trade union and workers rights, the growth in inequality, a disastrous policy in Northern Ireland, the selling of arms to despotic regimes or the devastation of communities across the land. The list of shame goes on and on.

In working class homes across the country, especially in former coal mining and steel producing areas there will be few tears shed for Thatcher. Instead people will remember the damage her policies caused but to paraphrase Joe Hill, today the left should not celebrate…it should organise. The fact is that a frail old lady suffering from a cruel, pitiless and nasty illness died. Thatcher might be dead but Thatcherism lives on and thrives. It is only once that particularly cruel, pitiless and nasty political ideology is consigned to the grave and is replaced with a socialist vision that provides equality, dignity and respect for all that I will find cause for celebration.




Other articles by Graeme McIver in The Point can be found here

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