Irony and The Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher
According to my dictionary, Irony is defined as an “incongruity between actual circumstances and the normal, appropriate, or expected result.”
Incongruity, yes. Incongruity between what is said, and what actually happens. Incongruity between the public face of an event, and what lies behind it. A kind of opposition between appearance and reality.
It is also interesting to note that it is rooted in the Greek word for dissembling, meaning to conceal or disguise one’s true motives, to lie or to deceive.
That’s exactly it. In the period following Margaret Thatcher’s demise, and leading up to her funeral, the ironies have been heavy in the air, like the pall of smoke from her funeral pyre, and from the many pyres of those whose lives she destroyed.
Take this, for example. Margaret Thatcher said she believed in the primacy of the free market. She closed down our public institutions in order to sell them off to the private sector, on the oft repeated assertion that the private sector was more efficient. And yet she is to have a ceremonial funeral organised by the state, at the cost of £10 million to the public purse.
Really, if we were to follow the Thatcher doctrine to its logical conclusion, we should have privatised her funeral, put it out to competitive tender and accepted the cheapest bid, as Ken Loach, the filmmaker, suggested, just as she did with our public services.
Meanwhile, according to the Daily Telegraph, paupers funerals are on the increase because hard-pressed families are being turned down for funding. “Even for those who do get help, the typical sum awarded is £1,217, which is far short of the average £3,091 cost of a funeral.”
In other words, tens of thousands of poor families are being short changed on their funeral costs, while one family of multi-millionaires gets state funding for their lavish £10 million public affair.
Pundits complained when spontaneous parties broke out all over the country to celebrate her death, calling them “death parties”, and yet the rest of us are being subjected to a celebratory death party at our expense, regardless of our views. At least the people who assembled in Trafalgar Square on the Saturday after her death, and all over the country on the day it was announced, were paying for their own drinks.
They said that we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, and yet, when Hugo Chavez died, only a few weeks earlier, we were subjected to a torrent of abuse at his memory. Thatcher was in power for 11 years, and never won an overall majority of the vote. Chavez was in power for 14, always winning a clear majority, and yet they called him a “dictator”, and her a “champion of democracy”.
So in order to protest, tens of thousands of people bought a copy of Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead, from the 1940s musical The Wizard of Oz, in the hope of having it played on the Radio One chart rundown; using the free market system to emphasise their disagreement, spending their hard-earned cash to make a political point. It reached number 2, and yet, despite that, the publicly funded BBC decided not to play the track, instead inviting a journalist on to explain background to its entry in the charts, as if we were all too stupid to understand.
The rival song, “I’m In Love With Margaret Thatcher” on the other hand, was played in full.
Are we beginning to see any patterns here? When it comes to public funding, the rich get what they want. When it comes to the free market, the rest of us can go hang. It’s communism for the rich, and censorship for the poor.
The reason people felt the need to disagree is that vast amounts of air time have been spent eulogising her legacy, using her death as an excuse for a barely disguised frenzy of propaganda. We’ve been treated to a series of rousing speeches as justification for a political philosophy which serves the interests of the few over the interests of the many. Over and over again we’ve been hearing lies about what Thatcherism has actually achieved and a whitewash of her multiple crimes.
They said that she promoted democracy and freedom. In fact she supported Apartheid in South Africa and called Nelson Mandela a terrorist. She described the fascist General Pinochet of Chile as a“friend”, supplied arms to Saddam Hussein, and even stood behind the murderous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
They said that she was a patriot. And yet she destroyed that most British of institutions, the National Union of Mineworkers in order to sell our nation to the international corporations, wiping out skilled, unionised, well paid jobs in the manufacturing industries, to replace them with unskilled, non-unionised, low-paid jobs in the service industries: selling us off to McDonalds for the minimum wage.
They said she curbed the power of the Trade Unions, and this was true. But she also unleashed the power of the City in the financial Big Bang of 1986, which lead directly to the banking crisis of 2008; replacing the power of one set of institutions, which served the majority of people in the UK, with the power of another, which only serves the interest of the minority.
They said she broke the monopoly of the state-run utilities, which was also true; and yet she sold off our public services in job lots, turning them from state-owned monopolies into privately owned monopolies. She made the accountable, unaccountable, in other words, using public funding to subsidise profits instead of quality of service, hoiking up prices and lowering standards at the same time. Anyone who says that the rail industry is better off now than it was under public ownership needs their head examining. Anyone who thinks that we are better served by the energy companies than we were by British Gas and the electricity boards when they were publicly owned, clearly has no idea of the real state of affairs.
They said that she was against the power of the State, and yet she used state power to attack all those opposed to her, unleashing a highly paid and politicised police force in a frenzy of violent assault, firstly against the miners, then against the New Age Travellers, and everyone else who stood in her way.
She destroyed mining communities, travelling communities, manufacturing communities, and wrenched the heart out of our great cities, turning them into post-industrial wastelands. She sold off our housing stock, leaving us with a housing shortage. She turned the South against the North, the rich against the poor, the middle class against the working class, Basildon against Barnsley. She destroyed the post-war consensus which had created a fairer and a freer Britain and killed off the hope of a generation.
And this from a woman whose first words on coming to power were these: “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”
Was there ever a greater incongruity between what was said and what was actually meant? No wonder so many people turned their backs at her funeral.
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