I wouldn’t be a) English or b) me if I didn’t say something about Mrs Thatcher. Unfortunately, whatever I say will piss off one half of my friends. I think the only thing I can say is that she is a Marmite person. Love her or hate her. There is no meh with Thatcher.
I think, too, that being born in 1972, three years before she took over as leader of the Conservative Party, and growing up knowing NOTHING other than Mrs Thatcher, she can’t NOT have had an impact on me. I was 19 before she left power. That’s all my childhood. I am a Thatcher child. I grew up between the Hattons of Liverpool and the Scargills of Yorkshire. I grew up in the homeland of socialism and the Labour Party. I grew up in the town that inspired (?) Marx to write The Communist Manifesto. And yet, I grew up in a household which fostered all of those entrepreneurial aspirations that Thatcher seemed to epitomise the most.
So, what does it mean to me?
Well, yesterday, I was trying to explain about Ade Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds. Ade Edmondson, as you may know, is married to Jennifer Saunders, and started his career in comedy in The Young Ones. The Young Ones, it is safe to say, would not have existed without Thatcher. Where would punk be without a system to be anarchic against? Who would Rik Mayall’s character have been rebelling against? Not unlike the boys in the Young Ones house, my whole education was influenced by Conservative politics. I might not have known it, but it did. Under Thatcher, GCSEs were born, and I was lucky to be one of the tail-end of University students who actually got a free education. It is a fact that the university population in England boomed under Thatcher. I don’t even know if that kind of aspirational spirit she fostered is the reason I went to the school that I did. Ironically, it was under a Labour government that tuition fees came into play.
Not that I disagree with tuition fees.
But I know I wouldn’t have gone to University had there been.
I just wouldn’t.
I was so afraid of debt that I would not have willingly got myself involved in something I didn’t know how I would pay for.
Thatcher’s government is responsible for the qualifications I have. From 16 to 22, every piece of paper I possess is as a direct consequence of that.
In a way, as well, with such a strong character, it invites polarised views. Back in the 80s, I loved Saturday Night Live, but would there be a Loadsamoney or a Harry Enfield without Thatcher, or a Ben Elton? Could there have been an Adrian Mole?
Without these things, there would be none of the things I believed in as a teenager, and I believe in now. Because of the whole Capitalist smorgasbord from Reagan and Thatcher, because I grew up in a time where mankind worshipped at Wall St and the yuppie was born, it showed me what I did not want to be. There was never a time in the last 100 years in England where materialism was so rampant and so evident. There was never a time that it was so acceptable to want more. Out of the Winter of Discontent, Thatcher rode a tide of cash right through the 80s until her eventual downfall.
Then there is her gender. Many will say she used bully-boy tactics and that she was as feminine as Stalin. I know this. But it is indisputable that it has been important to me to see that women can govern countries. I often talk about how important it is to have good female role models and how lucky I was to have them. Not that I think Thatcher was a good female role model… but she was female and she made it to the very top. Only later in her career did she become the kind of hard-arse bitch that had adopted very masculine traits to rule her cabinet. You only have to look at her cabinet to see how male-dominated a world it was. It’s not like that now. Maybe the feminism movement caused that. Maybe it was a reaction to Thatcher’s style and women wanted to show how to do it properly, but she marked the first time that a woman had reached such a position. That IS important.
Not only that, she showed what she had lost through her role. She emasculated her husband, neglected her children. There’s this view that women can do it all, but we can’t. Not really. Not without support. Not without sacrifice. A man can’t either. You can try, but it just doesn’t work that way. Ironically, the pay gap got worse under Thatcher. You’d think that having a woman in charge would bring equality to the fore. Not so.
It’s impossible for me to extrapolate the effect Mrs Thatcher had on my life. I cannot take one side or another, say she was the destroyer of England and the Nation, or say she was the country’s saviour either. She did things I agree with, and things I disagree with. Like I’m a fairly committed feminist, and yet she is clearly not a role model for me. Who’d want to emulate her style? But I agree we needed a national curriculum and a system of monitoring education that stopped such a lacksadaisical and haphazard approach to learning and put an end to sink schools and a divisive two-tier system. Where the hell do I stand on the Falklands, for instance?! I don’t even know where to begin.
I think it will be a long time before most people find the middle ground as she causes such a reaction in so many. She was undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with. How she did it, why she did it, what she did… you will never find a way to get people to agree. But one thing is for sure, much of my life would cease to exist had she not been ruling over her cabinet. I can’t think of one single person outside my family who had the same influence on who I am now.
And it’s a totally weird thing, since I’m completely sure there will never be another politician who will have such an influence on my life as it is.
It’s at this moment when all I can do is give a rather Japanese ‘hmmmmmm’ to end this, for it is all far too thought-provoking and also controversial to discuss. I suspect it will be so for many, many years to come. Probably, my inability to pick a side will infuriate ALL my friends.
So, Mrs Thatcher. Love her. Loathe her. The England of my formative years was shaped by her hand and I wonder who I would be without her.