Forget silences, flowers and front pages. They’ll last a minute, a week, a news cycle.
The policies, the ideas, the acts – many will live longer. Mining communities won’t return, while large-scale renationalisation (except of our brave financiers) seems a distant prospect. The current government goes further in its assault on the poor than Thatcher ever dared.
Yet practical Thatcherism, embedded as it is at every level of Britain’s political class, may not be indelible. It is just possible to imagine a day when monetarism’s grip is weakened, when politics once more places people at its heart, when compassion is expressed not through a nation of occasional charity runners but by an electorate which not only supports, but demands, government protection for the most vulnerable.
Such lurches in the political paradigm can happen rapidly, sometimes triggered by external events, their seeds often sown in thoughtful speeches and articles which bypass much of the media.
What may not ever change, though, is the mindset embodied by so many of those reacting not to Thatcher’s death, but to the response of others.
Social media, in many ways as Thatcherite a concept as it’s possible to imagine, is full of the censorious, the disapproving, the sanctimonious. These, truly, are the children of Thatcher.
Few national leaders since Cromwell were as obsessed with judging the actions of people beyond their own narrow field of experience. Few encouraged pettiness, small-mindedness and incuriosity with quite the same zeal.
Confronted by a reaction to an event different to one’s own, today”s socially acceptable response is not to enquire but to judge.
Events are never multi-factoral – so an outbreak of rioting is simply criminality, facile statements about no country ever spending its way out of recession are accepted as fact, the hiving-off of health and education for profit is described uncritically as ‘reform’,
Our collective inability and unwillingness to ask why, to step outside our own comfort zone and read at least one contrary view to our own, is as direct a product of post-1979 politics as anything enacted at Westminster.
It’s worth reflecting on Thatcher’s own background, and how different it was to those of most of her predecessors. A grocer’s daughter who studied at Oxford thanks to a scholarship, she studied chemistry, in marked contrast to MacMillan (Latin and Greek), Home (modern history) or her great rival Heath (philosophy, politics and economics).
These experiences in her early years, far more than her gender, coloured Thatcher’s political and social philosophy. Neither the cold realities of pounds, shillings and pence, nor the casino online certainties of the science lab, lend themselves to abstract thought and investigation.
In government, these glaring weaknesses – monomania, immovability, deliberate and fundamental cold-heartedness – were sold as strengths, and accepted as such by the 33 per cent of the electorate a would-be prime minister needs to persuade.
The post-war consensus, the idea that others might have a point, that a problem might be tackled from more than a single angle, was dismantled as surely as the pitheads and winding-wheels. The moderation which formed a central tenet of traditional Conservatism was replaced by spite and a form of stateist intrusion in people’s lives supposedly anathema to a party founded on principles of non-intervention and laissez-faire.
And so, today, we use the freedom supposedly afforded us by social media to limit the expression of others, policing one another and scorning dissent. We view the former miner, the ex-shipbuilder and the Hillsborough survivor alike as people with an agenda not a viewpoint, a grudge not a grievance, an axe to grind rather than a story to tell.
We talk at those we disagree with rather than listening. And when we talk it is to denounce and not persuade, abuse and not win over.
This week we lost a former prime minister. Like many, I’d long since divorced the physical reality of an 87-year-old apparently only vaguely aware she had ever been a politician from the woman happy to cut millions adrift from a society she didn’t believe in, so there was little either to celebrate or to mourn, other than ourselves – and what she made us.