Mar 2008

Me and Maggie Thatcher

The news came across the wires. Thatcher’s been admitted to hospital, they said. Tests, they said. And I wondered if the old woman was going to die this time. Would this week be the one filled with headlines about her death? And what would those headlines read?

Certainly there’ll be the tributes. Lots and lots of tributes. And many of them will be coming from those who should know better. Or, at least, did know better. There’ll be hagiographies a-plenty and the long-compiled documentaries will finally get their airing.

But there’ll also be those unwilling to hide behind the worn shield of speaking no ill of the dead. Such a strange taboo. As though history were not already littered with the inglorious and often ill-spoke-of dead. No, some will refuse to remain mute. To allow the moment merely to pass in bitter remembrance, but respectful silence.

Because she has earned contempt. Not respect. And to allow the inevitable revisionist airbrushing to get underway without objection, without an attempt to provide balance. Some sense of reality. Now that would be a real crime.

I was reading a messageboard. Somebody had posted the news of Thatcher’s hospitalisation. It was soon followed by the brief observation, “best news I’ve heard all day”. Someone else responded, “Can you think of a better PM in your lifetime…?” And it appears, as divisive as she was in power, she remains so today.

I didn’t experience Thatcher’s rule in the same way as many. I wasn’t living in Sheffield in the 1980s. Or Derry. Or Glasgow. Or North Wales. Or serving on the General Belgrano. In fact, when I arrived in England in the late 1980s, it was as someone in a position of privilege. That was thanks to the policies of decades of American presidents who aggressively promoted the interests of their transnational corporations, rather than anything Thatcher had done, but nonetheless I was never at the sharp end of her policies. Because of this, I don’t have that gut-level sense of jubilation at the thought of her death that some of the people I know possess.

All the same, even as a teenager I was aware both of how fortunate I was to be such an obvious beneficiary of capitalism, and also of how fundamentally unjust the entire system is. Some of my formative years were spent viewing “the developing world” from behind the windows of Hilton Hotels. If you’re one of those embarrassingly sensitive youngsters, that’s the kind of experience that poses lots of troubling questions.

Some people dismiss this as “liberal guilt”. But that’s bullshit. I’m Irish Catholic. What I don’t know about guilt isn’t worth knowing. It wasn’t guilt. Not for me anyway. No it was, rather, a sense of despair. I believed — as I still believe — that the human race has both the talent and the resources to ensure that millions of us don’t have to live in a condition of extreme poverty on the very edge of starvation. Yet we allow it to happen. More than that, we’ve built a global economic system that positively encourages it. Requires it, even. The collective will to help others simply did not exist within us. And the more I thought about that, the more angry I became.

But angry at who? Well first I was angry at God. For making me believe we were made in His image and then providing clear proof that we weren’t. Genuine religious faith is a terrible thing to lose, let me tell you. Then I got angry at my Dad. How dare he be so successful? How dare he try to elevate himself and his family above the suffering I so despised? And see, that didn’t make much sense either. Then I got really angry at myself. Much to my surprise, that didn’t do much good. And all the while I’ve been especially angry with The System. With The Man. Even when The Man was me.

And Thatcher, you see, is one of the many faces of that system. A personification of the injustices of the human race. She openly embraces that darkness in the human heart that condemns us to live out our worst aspects. My despair. My complicity. Even the futility of my opposition. All are contained within Maggie Thatcher. While her death won’t change any of that, it will at least represent that possibility. And for a few moments, I will enjoy that much.

Goose Green (Taking tea with pinochet) by Christy Moore

Posted in: Opinion