This is not intended as a rant. I don’t intend to offend any friends or colleagues who I respect greatly, but with whom I may disagree strongly on politics. It is instead one persons perspective. My viewpoint on the death of Margaret Thatcher and the subsequent inquest into her legacy. It is a deeply personal standpoint and I don’t expect all to agree. Though I do hope they will be better able to understand my position.
Following the death of “The Iron Lady” or “The wicked witch” depending on which side of the political fence you sit, there have been jubilant celebrations in my home town of Liverpool. My phone buzzed relentlessly yesterday as the news broke. Friends and colleagues were eager to share the news. My Facebook page was awash with posts overwhelmingly declaring their utter delight, that one of the most reviled Tory politicians in memory had finally bit the dust.
My Twitter feed was equally vociferous. However, there were some dissenting voices. There were those who proclaimed “I’m no fan of Thatcher but you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.” It is also fair to say that one or two of her supporters voiced disgust at the revelry on display. In death Thatcher managed to divide as much she did in life.
To the right wing of world politics, Thatcher saved Britain from being the sick man of Europe. She transformed it into a thriving free market economy based on personal freedom, self reliance – a property owning democracy. To people on the left (like me) she tore the country apart, throwing millions onto the dole, destroying communities, and shifting the balance of power in society firmly in favour of the state and the employer. She famously said there is no society only individuals. That was chilling, but it epitomised her world view.
This was a view that was diametrically opposed to the collectivist philosophy and culture I grew up with, and still subscribe to today. I was born and raised in Liverpool. Specifically the Norris Green area. Today that area is synonymous with drug abuse and gun crime, but in the 70’s it was a community in every sense of the word. Don’t get me wrong, it was no paradise. The houses were badly in need of modernisation, and most of the population were on low pay.
My parents did wonders on meagre wages. However, they did have jobs, as did the parents of my friends. My Mum and Dad and our neighbours looked out for each other. There was an elderly lady who lived over the road from us. I remember them taking it in turns to check on her. One summer, much to my chagrin, I was ordered to go and mow her lawn because she was too ill to do it herself. Our next door neighbour would baby sit my sister and I at 6am until my mum returned from her night shift, allowing my Dad to go to work. Mum would then walk us to school with four or five other mothers and their children.
After school the streets were alive with school kids. We’d step out of line quite often. A ball would hit a window, or someone would answer back when told off by a neighbour. If you went crying to your parents they would invariably tell you to apologise. You must have done something wrong if Mr so and so had needed to tell you off. Think about that, it was the responsibility of the whole community to raise the children.
My Mum and Dad demanded that I respect other adults. If anyone complained about my behaviour, they were assured that I would be dealt with. So I learned respect for my community and social rules. Occasionally they would defend me when they felt I had been hard done by, and so I learned the importance of fairness.
So there was absolutely such a thing as society. At least in my world there was. What’s more it worked. It held us together, and kept order. There was self respect and dignity. There was also respect for each other. Again this was by no means a utopia, but definitely a community, or a society.
Then came 1979. I was 11 going on 12, and getting ready for the transition into senior school. I had no idea who Thatcher was, but I knew my parents were not happy with her election. My Dad was a trade unionist in North West Water (Now United Utilities) and immediately saw what was coming. Suddenly friends were talking about their parents losing jobs. I had an uncle who delivered coal for a living until the early 80’s. he would just swear at the telly every time she appeared. Us kids found it hilarious. I guess we just didn’t get his anger and despair.
Suddenly I became aware the world was changing. Norris Green was changing. I had never heard of drugs until the early 80’s. A young lad from the area died of a heroin overdose. It was all over the front page of the ‘Echo’ (local paper) and radio stations. It was a huge deal then. I wonder how many headlines the same story would create today.
Unemployment soared as did the number of kids on free school meals. There were protests at school closures and the removal of free school milk. There were literally no jobs when I left school. 90% unemployment in Norris Green – yet we had to prove we were looking for work. Get on your bike said one of Thatcher’s right hand men (Norman Tebbit). I was at the job centre every day. Time and time again I would enquire about a vacancy advertised only to be told it had miraculously just gone. Fake jobs in my view. Paranoia? Maybe, but I wasn’t alone with it. Today I see the same eerie echoes of this hounding of the unemployed.
My home town was at war. Many people accuse Liverpool people of “playing the victim”. Not so. Victims don’t fight back. Liverpool did. There were riots in the Toxteth area. Government cuts were resisted nowhere more vehemently than in our city. The council joined forces with many others to challenge them. One by one the others crumbled and Liverpool was left standing alone. Instead of capitulating they remained firm.
Ultimately they were defeated. To me they were a shining light of defiance, in stark contrast to the official opposition (Labour). They were telling everyone to keep their heads down. There were other beacons outside of the city. For me Scargill, and Benn were inspirational. However, without the backing of the wider Labour movement they were woefully isolated. Most people I grew up with or worked with felt it was Liverpool against the rest of the country. We were Thatcher’s enemy within.
The 80’s ended as they had started, with resistance. This time it was another of Thatcher’s brainchild’s, the poll tax. I didn’t really appreciate it at the time, but many other inner cities were also in revolt.
These feelings of isolation were crystallised in the response of the state, the media and in particular Thatcher to Hillsborough. This convinced me and the whole city, both red and blue that we were on our own.
To this day Liverpool fans chant “We’re not English We are Scouse”. I know many Blues who feel exactly the same. In many ways this sense of isolation strengthened our feelings of community and solidarity.
When the Dockers went on strike, that sense of Scouse Solidarnosk was very evident. Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman displayed T-Shirts in support, during a game. Thousands of pounds were raised in support. I remember donating food parcels to my aunt and uncle as he was out on strike. This gesture was repeated by families all across the city. You didn’t question it you just did it because an injury to one is an injury to all.
Perhaps that explains why the Liverpool Dockers were the last to go back when the strike was ultimately defeated. You see there is a society, and I am sorry Mrs Thatcher individuals are much stronger when they act collectively.
I have always believed that in Liverpool Thatcher failed. She thought she had broken the city when she surcharged the left wing council that fought her on its own. Her cabinet recommended that she abandon the city to “managed decline”. But she failed.
Today Liverpool stands proud, rejuvenated, confident and defiant. A community, just as it always has been. Look to the reaction to the murder of Reece Jones. Consider the show of solidarity between the only two religions that matter in our city in response to the Hillsborough Independent Panel report. Maybe that’s why some chose to take to the streets in Liverpool to celebrate the death of Thatcher. Did anyone expect Liverpool to react any differently? Really?
However, the greatest surprise for me was the reaction Nationwide. Brixton, Glasgow, Leeds also partied. Perhaps many more joined them, only a few media outlets reported the street parties that greeted Thatcher’s death. Harder to ignore will be the Wizard of Oz song hurtling up the charts as we speak. I was moved and surprised by the level of support Liverpool received from outside the city in the wake of the Hillsborough Independent Panel findings. In seeing the nationwide reaction to Thatcher’s death I realise that we were never truly on our own at all.