"You may say that I am a dreamer/But I am not the only one" John Lennon: "Imagine"

"So come brothers and sisters/For the struggle carries on" Billy Bragg: "The Internationale"

Elizannie has a reading room at 'Clarice's Book Page' http://www.villiersroad.blogspot.com/

Saturday, 13 April 2013

I Was There*

I was not going to blog about the legacy of Margaret Thatcher, the effects of Thatcherism, whether or not she should have so much money spent on her funeral by us [the taxpayers] etc etc. There are so many doing a better job than me on that. I don't want to go to parties that are celebrating her death, I actually find them bad taste but I also find the amount being spent of her funeral and eulogising her wonderful 'reign' bad taste too. But these past few days of dodging obituary type programmes and discussions [I didn't even survive the first question of Question Time on BBC1, Thursday Evening because responses from the panel and the audience, all shades of political viewpoints were beginning to grate on me]

But suddenly I can't keep quiet. You see, I was there. A lady never tells her age but I am not a lady and I am 63 this year. I remember the UK pre-Thatcher, during the Thatcher years and post-Thatcher years. And I listen to all these commentators telling us what it was like - and it really wasn't.

Sure there was industrial unrest in the UK in the late 1970s. And in Germany and in France. Just as a f'r instance, in Germany there were two steel strikes in 1978 alone over working hours, holiday entitlements and pay; again in France in the late 1970s steel workers held strikes which often became violent. The difference between France and Germany and the UK at the time I thought was a  matter of self denigration - our news bulletins were full of how bad things were in the UK [I was living temporarily in W.Germany, as it was in 1978/79, but travelling frequently back to the UK. I watched German TV and listened to BBC radio 4] but never seemed to mention the industrial unrest in other European Countries. German news used to show a lot about the industrial unrest in the UK [usually courtesy of the BBC or ITV ] and very little about their own industrial unrest.

I remember Margaret Thatcher's government being elected in 1979. I remember the fear as mortgage rates started to rise almost immediately. We returned to the UK in the knowledge that we couldn't afford to pay the mortgage on our house and thinking we would have to sell. Many other people were in the same position as us but were unable to sell their properties, upon which they could not now afford the mortgage repayments. Equally they could not sell as new buyers could not afford to buy with the new mortgage rates and the housing market became stagnant. Building society repossessions became common place.

Over on the social housing scene, Thatcher's determination to sell off the council housing stock as quickly as possible seemed odd. Whether or not that was a good thing is a debatable question. But the effects of it live on. New owners of their properites, ex-tenants found that when - often due to 'the Thatcher effect' - their jobs disappeared, they could not move easily to another area for work as they now owned property which they could not sell in the stagnant housing market. So Norman Tebbit's 'Get On Yer Bike' speech as it became known was even more of an insult to those unemployed. I heard a Tory grandee on the radio in the past few days saying that tenants who became home owners took more pride in their homes. What an insult to all those who had lovingly looked after their homes for all the years that they had rented them, one of the reasons they wished to buy them after all!

The legacy of selling off all those houses lives on. Councils were not allowed to use monies collected for rebuilding replacement stock. So nearly forty years on there are long housing lists, especially of the larger 'family' houses, the least desirable dwellings being those remaining which were not bought and are often now in poor repair. Additionally nearly a third of the housing stock bought are now in the hands of private landlords who are renting them out at exhorbitant rents often to tenants who are assisted by social services to pay the rent. The so-called 'bedroom tax' which 'demands' those in social housing [or having assistance with rent in private rental properties] considered to have excess bedrooms move to smaller properties is unworkable because there is insufficient social housing stock, anyway.

And there was the great nationalised industries sell off. I heard someone say how awful the gas board was pre privatisation. I honestly don't remember this. If something went wrong, one called the local gas board, got an appointment and a fitter turned up and fixed it. Now it is just as long winded to get an appointment, a contractor turns up, nothing to do with the company who supplies one's gas, doesn't finish the job or has to get someone else in or doesn't know what has to be done and if one is dissatisfied with the work done there is no way of identifying who did it [no fitter's number as in days of yore!] and the someone on the end of the 'phone can't help and it all starts again. Fuel costs keep rising, yet we are told that the foreign company which is now our 'service provider' has made a profit again. But it might be cheaper to find another service provider........ That is of course if one doesn't mind risking being charged by two companies because the first can't understand that in fact one has moved to the second, or not having fuel at all because the second forgot to do the handover thing..... Not that I am bitter of course...

Mrs Thatcher's determination to beat the Unions into the ground resulted in the decimation of the Coal and Manufacturing Industries. Others have written far more coherently on this. But my take on especially the Coal Industry is this. During the Coal Strike in 1984 some said Maggie was getting her own back on the Coal Industry for their part in the downfall of the Heath Government of 1974. I always felt she was getting her own back for the General Strike of 1926.

'Care in the Community' was introduced in the Thatcher Years. We were told that it was better for those, many who had lived for most of their lives in hospitals for those with learning difficulties, who had become institutionalised and were used to being given medicine and not take responsibility for that medication to now live on their own. Often in bedsits with no-one to ensure that they took their medication at the right times if at all. Unsurprisingly, although supposedly they were nominally supervised by the already hard pressed social services many began to slip the net. Many began to wander the streets and were plainly distressed but if taken into hospitals or police stations there were no psychiatric beds for them. The buildings which had previously housed them had been sold off and demolished or redeveloped. Some one somewhere was making a lot of money whilst it seemed that a lot of people who should be caared for were living in doorways or in 'cardboard cities'.

The Falklands war. What can I say. In 1982 a very small percentage of the population knew where the Falkland Islands were. When the Royal Navy repeatedly warned the Government that John Nott's [Defence Secretary] plan in 1981 that the HMS Endurance was to be withdrawn from its naval presence in the South Atlantic [Britain's only naval presence moreover] was a strong suggestion to the Argentinians that Britain was preparing to withdraw its defence of the Falklands land and territories.

When Argentinian forces invaded the Falklands in April 1982 the fervour of the patriotism that hit the UK was frightening to a pacifist like me. The flag waving and war mongering was immense and the waving off of 'our boys' to a place which so few could have pointed out on a map was worrying. Some of us felt that Maggie T was revelling in it. Her daily speeches, toning her voice, hair and outfit to suit the gravity of the news, her rabble rousing - ugggghhh. Her jubilation when the Belgrano was sunk - incidentally it was steaming away from the Falklands and after a peace plan had been suggested - was repugnant especially as 323 lives were lost.

You see, I remember what it was like in the 1960s and 1970s to leave school and know that there would be a job waiting. Maybe not the job one wanted, but a job that gave one self worth and the hope to be able to change in the future. I don't remember seeing people sleeping in doorways until the 1980s after 'Care in the Community' came into being. I remember the jingoistic fervour of the call to arms of the Falklands War and the return of the badly injured and burnt from the HMS Sheffield. I saw the faces of those in the manufacturing and coal industries who felt they had lost their pride and dignity by being thrown on the scrap heap to appease the right wing ideology of the Thatcher years. I remember how the nationalised industries worked before they were privatised and to be honest having a choice of providers has not improved the services.

I could say so much more. I will not be celebrating the death of an old lady. At the same time please do not expect me to agree with glorification of her life. I feel she led her government in many bad actions and we still have to put those right.

Video of Glenda Jackson's speech about the Thatcher years in the House of Commons debate about the life and death of Lady Thatcher on Wednesday 1oth April.

*With apologies to Max Boyce who was singing about something far more important than politics - Welsh rugby.


  1. Glenda Jackson is about 97% right, but very mean spirited.

    1. Interesting comment, anonymous. Especially when applied to Ms Jackson speaking about possibly one of the most mean spirited women of the 20th Century, imo!