Maggie And The Elephants

I noticed the other day, quite by chance, that the old blue goose is dead, so for those who haven’t heard about it yet, I thought I’d mull over it here.

She was of course the only science graduate ever to have become Prime Minister. She was also unusually clever, and possessed of immense powers of focus and concentration – in both cases above even a standard minister, I’d guess. And she always found herself different. TV’s “Margaret: Death of a Revolutionary” highlighted the distance between her and the traditional tory nobility – when she finally got amongst them. Unlike them she was lower middle class. Unlike them she was a scientist. And also being a different sex meant that she’d always had to cope with being different even at university (even though at an all-female college). And for those who know enough to know from an early age they’re right even when others disapprove, the habit of feeling and even appearing detached tends to install itself.

She gave me a wonderful Christmas present one year, when I made £200 flipping gas shares. I still didn’t like her though. Wearing my England track suit, not quite Union Jack level but still nationalistic, made me uncomfortable since the alternative to National Front echoes were now images of Thatcher and Tebbit. I didn’t thank her for that but it made me prouder to swap it for the yellow cross.

Some folks will have leapt to a spirit of independent enterprise by being inspired by her freshness of right-wing spirit that chilled even tory grandees, but the effect it had on me was to say: “Huh – it’s everyone out for themselves now is it? Then not only will I fence as a privateer under my own colours, but I’ll set up my own fencing club somewhat independent of the national governing body… and I may as well even do my own academic research on my own! Heck, I’ll even become a LANDLORD!!!”

Of course being a landlord wasn’t a first in my family since my grandmother was a communist through and through, and no-one understands capitalism as well as a communist. One of my best mates was a staunch communist, and he showed his understanding of the capitalist system by stealing my monopoly money whenever I glanced at the TV. I’m pretty sure he got richer than most of my other class-mates.


But both he and Maggie failed to understand The Lesson Of The Two Elephants. A headless elephant is a fine thing for a while but it isn’t going anywhere. On the other hand a badly controlled elephant can be just as much of a nuisance. State controlled enterprises while sometimes inevitable, can find it hard to go places they need to go, especially in a hurry. But then giving the market its head will allow you to discover two things about markets – and indeed all systems with minds of their own: just because they tend to home in on something, that thing isn’t necessarily the right thing. And even when it is the right thing for some people, it doesn’t necessarily optimise the greatest good for everybody. Untrammeled capitalism always was and is a disaster waiting to happen: yup, everyone can see that now.

But is wasn’t just the appearance she gave of not caring a damn for victims of the elephant she indulged, or those who, as she put it were not “One Of Us” – by the time she got to office it had worked down into her soul. Old guard tories – “wets” in her terms – either knew or had absorbed into their psyche the idea that you have to consider everyone, or at least to appear to. Whether this was through “whole nation toryism” or through considering themselves the natural party of government, they knew, as even Henry VIII knew, that you had to try to keep the whole country onside.


But for her it really did become Them and Us. She started by sticking up for hardworking aspirant shopkeepers like her dad, and by ignoring the views of the ignorant and biased. Then, once she’d married a millionaire and confirmed that she could count on the support of the grass roots party, and on the old labour voters who wanted to be economic go-getters or who had been bribed by council house sales, she thought then that she didn’t need – or need to show any consideration for – anyone else (though the ’79 election suggested her rise coincided with a sharp Liberal drop). She thought she was in touch with the underprivileged because she felt she could identify with housewives, but she was mistaken there, and she then made the poll tax mistake because she’d forgotten to care for those unlike herself. Finally, and finally for her, she made the mistake of persistently insulting Geoffrey Howe because she’d got drunk on years of her own power, and had made the mistake of forgetting that the most dangerous attack comes from behind or inside. I suppose successful power play requires you to sacrifice good will from some, having calculated and fixed the friends you need, but I’m still aghast at the huge list of categories who hated her: The Scots; the Welsh; The North of England; sport of all kinds (even though I think the football stands revolution happened in her time); the miners, indeed trade unionists and left-wingers of all kinds; The Queen; intellectuals; the graphic and performing arts; and even quite a few women’s libbers.

For me the clearest expression of who she was, and how bad she had got, was the way she completely and utterly failed even to begin to understand why the world was supporting Mandella’s cause against the apartheid regime. “But…” I seem to hear her say, genuine and total incomprehension in her face… “But these people are Our Friends!”

It might be that she believed a rising tide floats all boats (though economic tides don’t automatically) but at some point in her development she stopped caring whether it really was all boats or just her friends’ boats. She did sort out a few things that needed it but even Hitler did a bit of tidying, and was wonderfully patriotic to boot. Not giving a damn for the welfare of certain others makes you a shit no matter what good you may do.

I liked Ken Loach’s comment that her funeral should have gone to the lowest bidder: “It’s what she would have wanted.”

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