ASHES TO ASHES: the Gorgon that was Thatcher

April 18, 2013 § 2 Comments

Margaret Thatcher is reduced to dust. If only it were so with Thatcherism. Can one woman’s death alter the culture of free-market forces and privatisation that has led to ever-greater inequalities, when generations have now grown up with a naturalised view of it? Logically, no. Will the debate about her legacy subside? That remains to be seen.

I feel it’s important not to see Thatcher as a neoliberal vandal who happened along at the perfect moment for the Chicago ideologues, the disciples of Hayek and Ayn Rand. She did indeed fulfil this role of neoliberal Messiah, but she was no mere vehicle. Thatcher had a power of her own, some of it to do with her being a woman: a ruthless self-willed woman without fear of men. And the way people viewed her was not altogether rational.

Perhaps it was under the influence of the starey Spitting Image puppet and Steve Bell’s crazed zombie in Maggie’s Farm (first in Time Out, then in City Limits), that, in the 80s, I came to think of her as the Medusa, a creature of Greek myth. Medusa had writhing snakes for hair and the power to turn those who looked at her to stone. Perseus defeated her by avoiding her petrifying gaze with the help of a mirror carrying only her reflection (or using his shield, depending on which version of the myth you read). He cut off her head. Medusa was the only one of the Gorgons – all of them sisters – to lack immortality: when she was dead she was dead, though her head retained a vestige of its living power.

Thatcher was a cultural force to be reckoned with. In the world’s eyes she embodied neoliberalism and was its de facto founder. With that self-willed ruthlessness of hers, Thatcher possessed the power to petrify.  The scary megalomaniac she became has had to be downplayed by Conservative Central Office in the interest of hailing her as a national saviour. It’s been striking how fiercely her former Cabinet and other Tory men interviewed in this past week have denied being afraid of her. You had to be well-prepared for meetings, they claimed in mitigation, or, repeatedly, that she just liked a good argument. The first admission of fear I heard came during the funeral when a World Service reporter talked to Edwina Currie, one of the few women ministers Thatcher appointed. Currie described her as ‘absolutely terrifying’ and confessed she always had to rehearse with her officials before a meeting with her. Even the Labour Party was stopped in its tracks (or at least hypnotised by her effect), and look at the consequence: the invention of New Labour and its dire failure to see other options.

Her megalomania reached beyond the grave. David Cameron performed an uncanny act of ventriloquism when he read her chosen text for the Prime Minister of the day to deliver at her funeral. It was from the Gospel of St John, and it was not Cameron’s voice I heard, but Thatcher’s breathy insistence:

‘In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.…’.

(This following the grand-daughter’s reading of a biblical quotation tailor-made for the Iron Lady: ‘…putting on armour against the wiles of the devil…’)

Will she come again? One Glasgow protester characterised her as a vampire in need of a stake through the heart. But I think we can be sure that this Gorgon is gone. She was, after all, cremated. What a relief to know that we have only the politics to contend with now.

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