Sometimes I lose the will to write anything. A full and demanding diary doesn't exactly help, but then a pile of events coincide to leave me wondering if anything is worth saying. Say something – anything – and you get a shedload of stuff back for which there is little time to respond properly or appropriately. Read on and you'll probably wish I'd heeded my own caution.
Welfare cuts bite harder in the north than the south of England. Not exactly a surprise. But, the north doesn't really count, does it? The City counts… because the destruction of our manufacturing base, the lack of job opportunities, the creation of a service economy and our complete dependence on financial services and banking means that nothing else can take priority. The market economy has led to the market society in which people serve money and not the other way round.
The Church of England publishes a report on marriage which provokes scorn from all sides. And again we find ourselves reacting to the agenda rather than setting it. It is well nigh impossible to have a rational and respectful conversation about marriage, etc. when positions are polarised. It probably doesn't help when the Church pronounces in a context where everybody else is conversing. Culture change needed.
But, back to big news. Margaret Thatcher is dead. Is there anything further to be said? Why she is being given special treatment in death is beyond me. Does this now set a precedent for other dying former Prime Ministers: Tony Blair, David Cameron, Gordon Brown? There is something worrying about this whole phenomenon – and a million other commentators have speculated on what that might be.
However, my problem has not to do with whether or not we should speak ill of the dead, nor about whether public figures should expect a criticism-free ride on their demise. My problem is two-fold: the selective lionisation of her (and the demonisation of anyone who disagrees) by the right, and the angry demonisation of her (and anyone who disagrees) by the left. Let me explain.
I grew up in Liverpool. I am no stranger to the damage Thatcher did to the lives and communities of millions of people in this country. I was not surprised that members of her Cabinet suggested simply abandoning Liverpool and walking away. I still cannot understand how later governments can penalise people for not having jobs where jobs are not to be had – 7 people to every 1 job in Bradford, for example. One reason jobs are not to be had is because Thatcher's destruction of manufacturing and her ideologically-driven war against unions (not without some justification – although I was a union member at GCHQ when she banned the unions and removed our employment rights as a gift to Ronald Reagan) devastated communities in the north without laying the ground for anything to take their place. Obsessive and ideological deregulation of the City has led us directly to where we are today and that link should never be lost.
In other words, I am no fan of Margaret Thatcher's politics or most of what her governments did. Yet, I fear the response of some to her death says more about them than about her. If you argue that she created a nasty, impersonal and unjust society, you don't have to prove it by being nasty, impersonal and unjust. Seeing some of the vitriol aimed at this dead woman, you have to wonder at the character of the vitriol-aimers. Sure, people can protest (even if they weren't even born when she was in power; we still live with the consequences of her change to British politics, economics, society and culture). But, I do wonder what protest is expected to achieve. He time for this was when she left power, not when she dies at 87.
I started to write: “Wouldn't a more appropriate response be for her opponents simply to respect her demise by silently ignoring all the ceremony and debate, the put their efforts into opposing the pernicious policies of her political children today? Or donating a day to filling food banks, etc.?” But, then I remembered that public figures are subject in death as in life to public comment and scrutiny. That said, however, the evidence that she created a nasty, vitriolic, dehumanising and utterly divided culture and society is to be seen in the response her death has provoked.
I wish her family well as they mourn the loss of a mother, etc. But, I will put my energies into sorting out the present human mess rather than wasting it in pointless protest about someone who by definition cannot do anything about it. The appropriate response to her policies is to work to ensure we create a better, kinder, more just society for our children and grandchildren – and that will involve a rejection of divisiveness, commodification of people, nastiness and misplaced vitriol.
(And I think Jonathan Freedland has probably got it about right.)