The day I was born was momentous for more reasons than my screaming, reluctant entry into the world. Firstly, it was Shrove Tuesday and my sister was, quite rightly, narked that my arrival meant that she missed out on pancakes and apparently threw a mega-strop. Secondly, it was the day that the Miners’ Strike started as the National Coal Board announced their intention to close 20 coal mines which would mean the loss of around 20,000 jobs and the primary source of employment for many communities in the north of England, Wales and Scotland.
I had the fortune of being born in an affluent market town in the south-east, with all the trimmings of ‘ye olde’ tea shops and cathedral (let’s call it Torychester) so a strike somewhere up t’north was, for the county set, merely another example of Thatcher sorting the nation. And then came the Big Bang in 1986 and the free market, in all its glory, helped a generation of aspiring city boys achieve their dream of being able to say that ‘their hard work got them to where they are now.’ Thatcher sorted the overregulation of the financial sector and intended to do away with the elitist old boy’s network; the success of London’s banking sector lay in competition and meritocracy. Torychester baulked at the nouveau riche with their pinstripes and nouvelle cuisine, but this new social strata proved their point that hard work meant that even the lowliest pleb could rise from the quagmire and get rich, ‘even if they do spend it on vulgar things Lavinia’.
Thatcher successfully encouraged everyone to go out and do it for themselves. After all, too many people were “casting their problems on society” as a result of their dependence on the Welfare State. She pointed out that too many people were assuming that the Government would give them a house, provide for their children and give them an income to facilitate their cushy lifestyle of smoking, drinking and dossing about. How political rhetoric has changed…
As Thatcher’s child, I have far to go. I grew up playing with my dad’s squeaky dog toy of the first female Prime Minister and listening to my mother despairing at Thatcher’s every breath. And it is my parents whom I now blame for preventing me from embracing Thatcherite doctrine, as having a social conscience is bloody wearing if I’m honest. It would have been so much easier for me to have accepted wholeheartedly the Iron Lady’s view that, “…they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour.”
Sounds good! Looking after ourselves first… that’s what the nouveau riche were doing. That’s what the financial sector was doing. That’s what the privatised utility companies are doing. That’s what all the thousands of unemployed and homeless and people on benefits should be doing. After all, “it is our duty to look after ourselves” and if you aren’t doing that… what is wrong with you? Because your neighbour won’t want to know, they are ‘looking to themselves’ trying to make ends meet in the community that you live in which hasn’t recovered from the pit closures and is now being hit further with ‘the individual men and women and families’ having their meagre handouts from the state being reduced or taken away. Alternatively, your neighbour won’t want to know because you should be looking after yourself as they are doing, ‘I saw a homeless person in town Marjorie, must have done something wrong to end up begging. Why don’t they just go and get a job? I’m certain they were a drug addict. I just looked away, you know how they look at you.’
Thatcher passed away in her suite in the Ritz having truly left behind her origins in the flat above her father’s grocery shop. I imagine that spending your last days in a luxury hotel is definitely preferable to running the risk of dying from neglect in a privately run care home but still, where were her neighbours? It sounds like looking to yourself first could turn out to be lonely in the end. I’d like to leave the world as reluctantly as I entered it (hopefully without the screaming), and I believe that can only happen if I don’t spend my life just looking out for myself so I should probably offer to cook some pancakes for my sister.