And so it begins… that is the mindless, misguided ramblings (and some scribbles) that will become my blog. Blame Chris..
For starters I thought I’d get all controversial and sort of political.
Around dinner time on Monday 8th April 2013 the news of the death of Lady Thatcher started to circulate. First via the ‘traditional’ news channels and then the social media channels started to get… shall we say … lively, different from the usual collective response when a public figure passes.
The passing of Thatcher is an event that it had been predicted would give rise to some serious reaction and so it did. What fascinated me was the real strength of opinion, the polarisation and how it was expressed.
Because of platforms that barely existed 10 years and were unimaginable during Thatcher’s terms, we get a fascinating and sometimes brutal insight into people’s personal eulogies to her. And Twitter gave us, from the hash tag #nowthatcherisdead, ‘now that cher is dead’, which worried Cher/Cheryl fans, evidently of a generation that didn’t even know who the ex-Prime Minister was.
However, for those that did and some that didn’t, the name ‘Thatcher’ and her image still invoke very strong feelings, reactions and opinions thirty years on. You could almost replace the label off a bottle of cola with her image a comparison of it to the impact of a brand. For a while she looked like becoming a kind of anti Che Guevera identity; more emotive than some pop art. Almost like an brand of emotion and intensity of feeling from a name and image. That’s quite something from someone who’s been out of public life for 20 years. It seems that, according to her acquaintances she’d be happy with that.
I wouldn’t celebrate her passing as nor would I any other person. But won’t I celebrate her political career over other PM’s either. Commentators from both sides of the table can find things today that Thatcher laid the seeds for, both good and bad.
As much as some might want to idolise her, that she still is the focus of so much hatred from some quarters of the country, shows that there are many opinions of her.
From the sounds of things, it’s before my time (I’m enjoying being able to say that while I can), things needed changing. The UK wasn’t working in the late 70’s and I doubt any one political party can take the credit for that. The figurative steering wheel needed wrestling round to avoid the car hitting a tree. However where the car pointed next was fairly important too. And to take the metaphor further; that the passengers in the back were as happy as those in the front.
As a child, at home, politics were not mentioned to the degree I still don’t know what my parent’s political leanings really are. They vote and obviously have opinions, but no political ideology has ever been thrust upon me or my siblings.
As a kid, luckily, we definitely didn’t really suffer during/from the 80’s. That my dad needed to find a new job was more down to the design lifetime of an industrial facility rather than politics.
So my image of Thatcher is one of the person you’d see on the 6’o’clock news, after Charlene, Scot and Harold, and alongside Reagan, Princess Diana and Sue Lawley.
Nor was I anywhere near one the coal mining communities.
One of my interests, since childhood, is ships. This is down to my mum, who decided to counteract my dad’s interest in trains by walking us to the library and suggesting books we should get out.
The ship building industry in the UK had been in trouble since the 1960’s. The story of the building of the QE2 is almost a subtext to the financial issues, industrial unrest and uncertainty that surrounded her construction. The company that delivered the ship wasn’t the same company that started her construction. Moreover, the number of shipbuilders on the Clyde had dramatically decreased. So an industry in terminal decline?
Well yes, but it didn’t have to be like that. The demand for large ships is still around today and very healthy. The Norwegians, the Germans, the Koreas, the Japanese (the list goes on) all build vessels on the scale the UK (and especially the Scots 😉 ) did.
There’s demand for very specialised and innovative vessels (just watch something like Engineering Connections); the sort of thing you expect Britain to be designing and building, if you believed our forward looking speak.
So these companies were not profitable, so let them fail? Well…some banks weren’t exactly financially solvent a few years ago.
Obviously you can’t subsidise every failing industry but with the correct support and restructuring we’d be making some ships the country would be very proud to be selling.
As an aside, with a nod to shareholding.. There’s a difference between a company which is the sum of its products, assets, employees etc. and a company which is an asset held by another company. I know of and have used products where the ‘company’ has been passed from one holding company to another asset management group, then become part of a pension fund. When the people in charge are not particularly interested in what the company is doing, making or providing, no matter how modern or service orientated the product is and how good the share price is, it shows.
She’s a Woman…
So Thatcher is our first and only female Prime Minister. Both facts are pretty appalling and more of an indictment of our political system and power structures, rather than our society. Thirty years on whether we have a male or female prime minister should be matter of fact, an unimportant detail, a near 50%/50% chance. Instead our political system still revolves around ‘who shouts loudest’, vile power games, semi-openly biased media and a system where a particularly ugly male stereotype wins out. The disproportionate amount of female political representation could be seen as only one symptom of a system where a particular type of political (and media) creature thrives. Politics must suffer from the loud, school boy atmosphere the Commons/media setup generates. It’s not just women that loose out there, it’s everyone. Surely we must be learning that not everyone thrives under a confrontational, aggressive, internally competitive environment, which isn’t necessarily a male trait. In fact wasn’t internal fighting the undoing of one Conservative administration? And another Labour one as well?
The unions must have been to blame for some of what transpired as well. Thatcher wanted a fight, they wanted a fight. There had to be at least one loser. Both sides squared up for the fight and the rest is history.
I’d hope Thatcher would want to be judged first as a politician, then a person. What’s slightly sad about Thatcher is she beat the old boys very squarely at their own games. Which is great but she didn’t change the system, just worked it very well.
Back to Thatcher, she was the leader, and she made mistakes. Sadly when she was challenged near the end of her front bench career, it was only partly on the welfare of those who elected her and her governance, the rest was over the semantics of our relationship with Europe. Whilst these things are something very important, it didn’t help people who were struggling to house, feed themselves and find work.
Even after her time, she seemed to cast a rather strange shadow, or rather more strange was those who chose to stand in it. Something that struck me at the time about the then party leader William Hague. It wasn’t his efforts on a roller coast wearing a baseball cap to try to appeal to some alternative audience. It was the potential future PM hanging around Thatcher like a puppy dog seeking approval and worshipping her. To me, it seemed a little strange.
The Square Mile
It brings to the fore some things that are still applicable today. I know if I need to find another (day) job, chances are I’ll need to move as well. Which isn’t a massive revelation nor that bigger deal, but it does get me thinking how thin my local economic ecosystem is. A thin layer of moss, rather than a thick fertile bed of soil in other places? Companies such as Cammell Laird and British steel downsizing were absolutely crushing to the local area. In many ways it has never recovered. The once giant maritime trading city of Liverpool probably now relies heavily on the retail sector for employment. There’s only so many technologists Next needs…
In the context of devolution, I can understand why some in Scotland would want to separate from the union. I could also see why parts of England would want to separate away and govern themselves. If a government concentrates on fiscal policy, cultivates a financial services industry which is heavily concentrated in one specific area, can it really be seen to serve the interests of a much wider area? A wider area which evidently works differently economically and perhaps socially. Isn’t it more gracious to admit you don’t have that wider area’s interests at heart and let go instead of hanging on? Or at least make a profound effort to address issues.
Listening to public opinion between her death and the funeral, the losers and gainers from Thatcher’s time contrast very starkly in both opinion and fortunes.
So back to Thatcher, as for her politics frankly I don’t know, like a lot of politics. Some of what she did I might agree with, a lot I may not. Her love of Pinochet for his economics but blindness of his murder of his own people isn’t something that sits well with me. The country was much divided over the idea of a state burial. Other people, in her time and since have shaped this country as well and her real influence was over long ago. All evils and all blessings do not rest with her.
But on [that] Monday an old lady, who had been ill for a long time, passed away. From watching my gran’s health fail slowly from dementia, I don’t derive any pleasure from learning another person has died, especially in that slow, painful way. To see someone who was both really revered, really feared (and also really hated, by some), with an obvious strength of character reduced to the state that age and mental decline leaves, is shocking. That’s what I’d mostly take away from Monday.