In the name of objectivity, I should probably lay out my stall. I am not a huge fan of Margret Thatcher. Not just for the predictable ‘I work in the creative industries’ so I complain about Third World exploitation and think of myself as enlightened while wearing my Nike owned Chuck Taylors and waiting for my next pay rise for the killer break-out strategy I developed to help flog blood diamonds from the Congo into the burgeoning Chinese luxury market. I hate her on so many other levels. Working in London, and having grown up in south London, (unlike every other ‘Londoner’ I meet’- again, that is another rant for another day…) I saw how horrid this city was in the early nineties.
My memories of walking round the streets of Streatham then was a city that was very grey, very ugly and very unloved- a city where some people had spent the last ten years doing well, and hang the rest.
Now of course, there are many nuanced arguments about Thatcher, and if you want to understand them fully, ( and I promise to offer no more glib faux-analysis today) I would highly recommend the magnificent book written by my late tutor at Magdalen, Ewen Green.
One of the glib accusations that my fictional Chuck be-Taylored colleague may level at the Iron Lady was that she wanted to destroy society- that Bristol, Toxteth and Brixton were all part of her socially divisive agenda. I disagree with this ( I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the Brixton riots and Lord Scarman’s report- home office policy and policing has a lot to answer for though), but it is interesting to hear this misinterpretation.
She was quoted in a 1987 ‘Womans Own’ interview as saying that for those who feels that society owes them a certain standard of life, in her conception there is ‘no such thing as society’. In many ways she encouraged family values rather than state nannying and this can be seen again in the up to 50% reduction of the state that the current government expects to cover with the fig leaf of ‘big society’. The point is that Thatcher gets distorted, just like her rubber-faced doppelganger above.
I still hate her, but I will leave that on the shelf for now.
Thatcher’s liberalisation of economic policy and reduction of (at least in ideological terms, the extent to which the state was actually rolled back is debatable) the role of state created the ‘Loadsamoney’ phenomenon, as brilliantly parodied by Harry Enfield. Brash, self-serving, and interested in actualisation through acquisition, they were always going to be destined to be a little rough round the edges as they were the first to experience this seismic shift, let loose in the sweetshop of deregulated capitalism.
A quarter of a century later, it is web generation, those who have always grown up online, those in their late teens and early 20s now who are really fulfilling Thatcher’s dream. The number of 20-somethings who have opened a shop or a gallery, who have built pop-up bars or founded record labels, converted warehouses, lived in artist collectives or squats is huge. They all see themselves as iconoclastic, break-out individuals, but they are really part of a new nation of shop keepers. Growing up online meant that they always took for granted the idea that you could do anything for next to nothing- the start up costs were minimal, and everything became scalable. You could suddenly, though not surprisingly, find yourself running a music or arts festival.
Thatcher didn’t want us to be held ransom by labour (note small ‘l’)- the unions, the mines, the factories, she wanted to see a successful atomisation of what she felt was a needlessly public vision of society that represented barriers to her individual-centric (but not without responsibility) vision for Britain.
If ‘call me Dave’ wants to energise his ‘Big Society’ it is the galleries of Peckham and the club nights of Hackney he should go to to learn how he can get people to take things on for themselves- to become social entrepreneurs.
Personally I think there is still an important role of the state if those who have best managed to heed Thatcher’s call to arms are a bunch of Bethnal Green Ket-Trolls…