“They’re casting their problem on society. And you know, there is no such thing as society”
These are the famous words of the great heroine of British conservatism, the woman who took on the unions and won, who slugged it out with the Soviets and won, who snatched the economy from the jaws of socialism and replaced God with the daily bread of the banks. For eleven years the Iron Lady reigned with an iron heart, mutating the morality of a nation who was in motion towards egalitarianism and a meritocracy. By the year of her resignation I was but the tender age of one, but the world I would grow up in would be unlike any that had gone before.
In august 2011, twenty one years later, the streets of London toppled like drunk women in high heels to the power of the post Thatcher “youth”. Riots sparked off by the very dubious shooting of a man by police in the North London sector of Tottenham, literally spread like wild fire across the city, and eventually across the nation. Two days later, the riots had made their way to my home borough of Ealing, being the some what nosey person I am, I immediately made my way to the town centre to see for myself what force had brought the rule of law to its knees in much of my beloved capital. What I saw incited shock, disbelief and a dash of fear in me, cars were being used as bonfires, as £800 pieces of art were tossed upon it in a very Third Reich style. Windows of shops were being smashed in, and young people were walking out of them with anything from slender underwear to bottles of vodka, a combination best put to use at another time maybe, but the sheer size and harmony of movement that the dissenters displayed was the most impressive surprise. There were hundreds of young people roaming the streets, finding the next area to target, avoiding the police, while spreading their carnage and leaving a very coherent and unanimous message: Fuck You!
The response from the self proclaimed “respectable” community was very much the same: well fuck you too! Twitter and Facebook ignited with calls for the army to come in and crush the unruly youth. “Scum of the Earth” and “filthy chavs” were but a few juvenile names being thrown about like a cheap hooker on a Saturday night, and one ignoramus that the national news stupidly gave a platform, went as far as to call for the police to search all the council estates, a move that would not only be illegal, but open the door for the liberties that we have built up over hundreds of years to be swiftly cut down over a pair of £50 Nike trainers.
As I absorbed the whole picture of my country at this point, with fires blazing and abuse flying out of every mouth, from the terrified mother to the Prime Minister, the words “There is no such thing as a society” came to mind, its seems, a self fulfilling prophecy. If there ever was a society, right then, in early august 2011, there was not.
Nigel Lawson, the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the majority of Mrs Maggy’s reign, described Thatcherism in his 1992 book ‘The View from Number 11: Memoirs of a Tory Radical, his words were:
“Free Markets, financial discipline, firm control over public expenditure, tax cuts, nationalism, ‘Victorian values’ (of the Samuel Smiles self help variety), privatisation and a dash of populism.”
Now these qualities may sound like nice moderate conservative policies, they can be dissected and debated over, but they are grossly insufficient to describe how deep the wound is, that was left by the machete of Thatcherism. A superior quote can be found in the genius Harry Enfield and his character, the pathologically ignorant plasterer with the catch phrase: loadsa money!
This character and his catch phrase perfectly encapsulates the ideals of Thatcherism and how they translated on to the masses. Thatcher had done in eleven years what the Soviet Union never achieved, she has managed to usurp God, and replaced it with something just as false and infinitely more destructive.
Pre-Thatcher Britain was in an utter state of disarray. Britain just about stood in the world like an ex soldier on the high street who has succumb to alcohol and insanity, like an imbecile we stood, shouting statements to the tune of “I was the boss once, you did what I said!!!!!” and idiotically invading countries like Egypt to flex our non existent muscles. Just like the loss of a child causes the enfeeblement of a person, the loss of our empire left us emotionally vulnerable. Union bosses gallivanted around the country like medieval nobleman just falling short of demanding the politicians wipe their arses, and they shamelessly did this in the name of socialism. At the same time, almost every British institution was rotting faster than a heroine addict teeth. But despite all this chaos, all this factional political warfare, one aspect of society stood strong, and stood true: the moral code of the community.
Family and friends of older generations have spoken to me about the way people used to live, and the ideals that were held close to heart. The most important thing used to be the well being and respect for you fellow citizen. People offered a helping hand to a neighbour in need, a network of support and trust could be found in communities from small town like Chesterfield to large cities like London. People were taught to respect their elders, a policy I try to live by my self when they’re not being bastards. But people were taught to work hard in a way that we would find completely unrecognisable in this era, people worked so they could provide they’re families not only with a roof and a hot meal, but with a sense of pride and self respect.
Then, with the force of an armada, came the eighties, with the dear leader at its helm, destroying any voice of opposition and out manoeuvring any alternative idea. The Thatcherites came in on a mandate for economic reform, but they took away a lot more than they put in.
My generation was the first in a thousand years of English history to be indoctrinated with the idea that greed is good. Up and down the country in the late eighties and nineties were being told, if don’t have money you have no worth. Being a teacher or a nurse meant nothing, because schools and hospitals don’t make money, and if you don’t make money then you were left to rot.
Why was this? In post Thatcher Britain, one can only find pride in the sports car, the mobile phone or the new pair of trainers. Self respect has been ousted by wealth respect, and through wealth and material objects alone can one be happy. Along with Ronald ‘trickle down’ Reagan in the states, Thatcher aloud corporations to get so sickeningly large that if they were people the heart would have given up along time ago. And while these people got richer, the working class were left stupefied by the loss of their livelihoods, and became enslaved to the sixteenth new ipod7gx7 out in four weeks, being taught to consume, consume, consume continuously, encouraged to get credit cards so they can consume even when they have nothing left of the tuppence they had to begin with, because so long as you’ve got an ipod, a New Era cap and Nike shoes, people will like you and no one will know that your poor.
There was an interesting observation that could be made while I was at school, and can still be made in the schools I work in now. On non-uniform days, the children from well off families would come in wearing average casual clothing, but the children from poorer families would come in dressed like they had been attacked by the major brand name stores on the way to school. The parent of these unwitting children needed to put on a pretence of wealth, because if you didn’t, well that means your poor, and if that’s the case, you may as well not show your face.
Over the past thirty years western society has lived with unchallenged capitalist dogma and corporate dictatorship, the right wing describe this dictatorship with the rosy pro-liberty term, ‘Free Market’, but it can far better be described as a feral market, because of its untamed, uncivilised characteristics and its complete lack of any sense of morals. This dictatorship has fed a generation of people on pure consumerism, leading people to believe they are free because they can buy twenty six varieties of cola from Asda, at the same time as silencing there political voice. To paraphrase a great hero Tony Benn, they have taken the power from the ballot box back to the wallet, and Thatcher allowed this to happen, maybe even wanted it. And now we find ourselves in august 2011, four consecutive Prime Ministers have failed to halt the advance of this Reagan/Thatcher style of capitalism, and the streets are under the control of the youth. This generation of young men and women, whom I belong, have witnessed nothing but a profit obsessed world, every job description beginning with; are you a money driven person? Well no! I am fucking not!
Just in the last few years we have witnessed elected official greedily claiming expenses from the public pocket, and bankers walking of in to the sunset with billions of pounds of our money, with no sign of repercussions, while we, the youth, are left jobless, trying to survive with our families, squeezed like sardines into small council homes. The mass of the rioters are angry and scared, and they have no voice and no stake in society, and violence is the only voice the country will pay attention to.
The anger that these people hold coupled with the moral void and materialist values hasn’t equated to a coherent political movement, but a sudden explosion of violence against all authority, taking from them not power alone, but material wealth. This is why political slogans can not be heard from the streets, and why government buildings are not targeted, instead they went for Footlocker and Sony. They told the country “we can do what we want!” because of the anger at being marginalised, but what they wanted was a plasma HD ready TV because of Thatcherism.
Thatcher taught us that greed is good, she said that if you don’t have money, you don’t have shit. She rewarded the ruthless chasing of profit and punished the innate human characteristics like love and caring for people and now we are left with a generation with warped morals and misplaced allegiances. During the eighties Margaret Thatcher ripped the heart out of Britain and sold it to the bankers, twenty years down the road we are still struggling to get it back.