I’ll be honest. I’ve been getting pretty tired of two things since Margaret Thatcher died on Monday. The first is people saying that anybody who wasn’t born when Thatcher was in power has no right to an opinion. The second is people feeling the need to tell me that celebrating people’s deaths isn’t nice if I even so much as mention her her name in any kind of context. So to all of you, this is my reply. And I’m going to do the unthinkable and bring my emotions into political debate. Try as you might, you can’t get away from the fact that the personal is actually political. This is the story as I have been told it by my parents over the years, and like any broken home, I may not have all the pieces. So bear with me.
I am 21. When Thatcher left power in 1990 I was just a mass of cells floating around. When I was 6 our house was repossessed and I was made homeless. My family were given two rooms, one living room, one bedroom in a council-run hostel whilst we were on the list for a council house. We shared a kitchen and a bathroom. My mum was pregnant with my youngest sister at the time and my other sister was 3 years old. We all became very ill with cryptosporidium, which is a nasty water borne disease which leads to severe diarrhoea and vomiting. When we stopped drinking the water in the hostel we became well again, but not everybody in the hostel realised this. The whole hostel reeked of vomit and disinfectant, any time I walk down a carpeted corridor the smell takes me back to living there. The neighbours would have noisy rows, there was a lot of drug use, although I did not realise it at the time. It was 6 months of my life when I was 6 years old but I remember it probably more than I remember some of my happier childhood memories.
My parents bought into a part-mortgage, part-rental scheme in about 1990 and we lived in a small, two bedroom new build house. This seemed like a good option to them as neither had well paid jobs, my dad worked in a tyre warehouse and my mum in credit control for red star. Even with their combined incomes there was no way they could get a foot on the housing ladder with a full mortgage. In 1996 the interest rate on the part mortgage they took out became so high that the Citizens Advice Bureau advised my parents that the only thing they could do was to stop paying the mortgage and wait for the house to be repossessed. So they did.
So where does Mrs. Thatcher come into this? Well she was very keen for everybody to own their own house, so she brought in the Right to Buy scheme. There was a housing crisis in the 80s and she decided to solve it by selling off the country’s council housing. OK then. With everybody attempting to buy houses and the banks in crisis, mortgage interest rates were pushed higher and higher well into the 90s, and long after Thatcher was forced from her position as prime minister. I was made homeless after I was born, after she’d left power, but it was her legacy and her policies which forced us from our home.
I remember the hostel, but I also remember the arguments, the early morning phone calls from Abbey National during which the caller would shout at my mum down the phone and reduce her to tears as they demanded money for mortgage arrears that we just didn’t have. These lasted until at least the year 2000. Thatcher’s legacy.
I could be the granddaughter of a miner, the daughter of a banking chief, I could be 15 or 25. I’ve still got every right to be angry at the things Thatcher’s government did to ordinary people whilst rewarding the rich. The miners, the steelworkers, the working families like my own. The railways, the energy companies, the roads. She sowed the seeds for the privatisation of the NHS. Her rhetoric planted people on benefits firmly into the British psyche as scroungers. Her legacy very much lives on. She may be dead, but Thatcherism is still alive and well in the UK.
I wasn’t born during the second world war, but I am angry that millions of Jews died in concentration camps. Closer to home I am angry that my gran has suffered from anxiety and depression all her life due to being evacuated. I suspect you have a thing or two to say about the war or Churchill or Hitler. Are only those over the age of 75 allowed to comment?
So to my second point. Am I happy that she’s dead? Well no, I’m not happy she’s dead. I’m not happy when anyone dies. I hate her and I hate what she did, I’m not celebrating her death, I’m angry at her life. And in dying she has brought the underlying anger that has been bubbling inside those affected by her policies and her legacies to a head. And when people are angry, they sometimes aren’t very nice. They sometimes need to release this anger in some way. And in this case, some people are celebrating her death, so to speak.
But it’s not a celebration, it’s a protest. It’s a protest about her legacy, about families torn apart, about people who haven’t worked since she took their jobs away from them. Ask anybody seemingly celebrating and you will find that actually they are angry. I actually neither condone nor reject somebody’s right to celebrate her death, personally I will not be celebrating but I fully understand why others would.
If you see it as disrespectful, then ask someone who is celebrating what Thatcher did to them or their families. You’ll see that, actually, she was pretty damn disrespectful to them. Again, I don’t really condone dancing on her grave, but I understand why. I have a lot of empathy for those who suffered under Thatcher, just as I empathise and try my hardest to support those affected by the coalition’s welfare reforms. Again it is the weakest in society being affected, the disabled, the mentally ill, the long term unemployed, the working classes.
So please, when I bring up Thatcher to you, you don’t have to tell me how disrespectful it is to her family to celebrate her death as people seem to keep doing. I am aware of this, but it is actually the media who will harm the family by publicly broadcasting the discontent. I don’t expect the Thatchers will be picking up a newspaper or watching the news at the moment, and I think they know all too well the effect Margaret’s legacy has had on the public. Just because someone dies that doesn’t cleanse them of everything they did in life. Should we never speak a bad word about anyone else who harmed the lives of people and then subsequently died? Because she did harm people with her policies.
I know people will find this controversial, and I’m not really sure why I’m posting it as I am feeling far too tired with arguing to argue any more. But this is just my viewpoint and it is deeply rooted from my childhood and from the stories those older than me have told me. I am unlikely to change my mind. And for the first time in my life I’m going to say this: if you think I’m a bad person for having these views, then so be it.