Archive for April, 2013

Maggie and the Memory Hole

Posted: April 14, 2013 in Politics

How Margaret Thatcher’s memory is getting the laundering of the century.


Since her death last week, Margaret Thatcher’s premiership and legacy has undergone the kind of intensive laundering by the establishment which you would expect to see in the former USSR. The media has blessed her with biased tributes and the government is sanctifying her with a hugely expensive funeral. It is as if all the controversy of her career has been dropped down George Orwell’s memory hole – the pneumatic tube in the Ministry of Truth which erases history and replaces it with the party line.

Most of the media has adopted an uncritical response to the cross-party admiration of Thatcher and, even more controversially, to the elaborate plans for her funeral. Remembrance shows have focused on her personality, praising her for being a “conviction politician”, for her impressive work ethic, and her sharp humour. They have also highlighted her political victories over her divisive policies – her trumped up war for the Falklands and her ‘successful’ economic reforms, for example. Most media commentators have failed to challenge her supporters as they cast increasingly hyperbolic praise on the dead leader’s accomplishments.

Dissenters of the media’s gush have been criticised harshly. Whether on the established media or on social media, people who have used her death as an opportunity to protest her legacy have been accused of being insensitive and rude. Public figures across the political spectrum continue to appeal to people’s sense of decorum as they characterise protesters as naysayers. There has been a fervent movement among Thatcherites to wipe out any opposition to her canonisation. Unfortunately they appear to be successful. The BBC’s act of semi-censorship regarding the playing of “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” today proves how wary the established media is to incite the wrath of Thatcher’s supporters.

Those who admire Thatcher for her conviction are often the ones who lack conviction themselves and so seek to experience it vicariously. They are the idol worshipers who value strength above justice, whose admiration of power stems from their own powerlessness. With one breath they accuse the youth of being nihilistic and apathetic, and with another they brush aside their protests of Thatcher’s beatification as disrespectful, or worse, immoral. The most ludicrous argument I’ve heard against young people’s protests is that because they weren’t alive during Thatcher’s premiership they can’t have any idea what she actually did and so they should shut their mouths. It boggles my mind how a rational human being can say such a thing. So we shouldn’t comment on the past because we weren’t alive to experience it? Wouldn’t that make the study of history entirely redundant?

Thatcher’s death and the storm it has created show how the future is often fought on the battlegrounds of the past. Debates in Parliament currently take place on a playing field which Thatcher helped create, regarding taxation levels, economic policies etc. Her death has provided dissenting voices with an opportunity to challenge that playing field, to attack the common sense ideas of politics today. It is, in my opinion, an important thing to do. What happens to this country depends on which narrative can claim dominance. At the moment, Thatcher’s neo-liberal story still firmly grips the political class. That is why it’s imperative to contest her canonisation and to debate her achievements.

The row over reaction to Thatcher’s death is also a battle for the truth. We are witnessing desperate attempts to stamp out alternative stories to Margaret Thatcher’s life, stories which cast her in a bad light. Her support for Augusto Pinochet, her determined destruction of working class communities and her enormous transfer of wealth from the public to the elite – all of these facts are being dropped down the memory hole. It is a calculated and passionate charge against the truth and the grain of sand which they hope will tip the nation into collective amnesia is the ever popular imperial pomp. Thatcher’s ceremonial funeral, with its full military procession and royal consent, has been drafted specifically to conjure nostalgia for the days of Empire. Like the Diamond Jubilee, its aim is to foster a sense of British Exceptionalism rooted in an egotistical belief of superiority.

It’s no surprise the funeral plans were drafted during the premiership of the equally narcissistic Tony Blair. He hopes to receive the same kind of ascent to saintliness which Thatcher is undergoing when he dies, and he probably will. All the disgust for the war in Iraq will be eroded through hours and hours of shallow television tributes and a military send off to match Winston Churchill’s. Protesters will be labelled disrespectful while Blair’s historical blemishes are airbrushed out overnight. Division will be called unity, destruction will be called progress and, just as today, will we be edging that little bit closer to Orwell’s 1984.