Monday, 9 January 2012

# 9 Margaret Thatcher, Politics and Looking Back In Apprehension

As a child of the seventies I grew up predominantly under Margaret Thatcher's 'rule'. I can remember yuppies, the Rubik Cube, poll tax riots, the NUM and a seemingly endless round of power cuts. I recall evenings spent by candle light - I was scared of the dark as a child. My Dad was an Electrical Engineer with the LEB (London Electricity Board) and emergency call outs when he was on 'stand by' through the night were relentless.

The wreckage of Airey Neave's
car at the House of Commons
I can also remember the Falklands War, the unrest which ensued when anti Government protest marches turned into violence and I can also remember clearly the terrifying grip the IRA had over us. I can vaguely remember when Airey Neave was killed when the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) placed a bomb device under his car at the House of Commons in 1979. Closer to home I was living not far up the road when they bombed the Baltic Exchange back in 1992. I heard the bomb go off.

On Saturday I went to see 'The Iron Lady' at the cinema. I had no particular desire to see it, and I was apprehensive given that I'm not a fan of Meryl Streep. I certainly wasn't a fan of Margaret Thatcher. But I am relieved I went, because not only was it a great film so different from the usual 'Thatcher movies' but it got me thinking long and hard. I'd spotted several things I hadn't really considered before and there were some ironic and worrying parallels with what we are experiencing now.

The Poll Tax Riots 1990 - look familiar?
I don't look back on the 1980s through rose tinted glasses. But we can sometimes forget what volatile times we lived in back then. We suffered what was then deemed the worst recession since WWII. This is an accolade since ovetaken by the recession we are currently in the clutches of and in recent years we have some of the worst GDP figures since WWI. The IRA were the most dangerous terrorist organisation we had ever known (since surpassed by Al-Qaeda) and we were being governed by the first (and only) female Prime Minister of our country's political history (our current coalition Government is the first since WWII) both of which are always ripe for finger pointing. What we are going through now and have been since 2008 at least is a worrying set of parallels.

The violence which ensued during the Poll Tax riots in 1990 was very similar to that of the student riots earlier this year. In August 2011 the Daily Mail published an article titled 'These Riots Reflect a Society Run on Greed and Looting'. But don't think for one minute that the Poll Tax riots were purely about the Poll Tax. It attracted its usual set of low-life looters and muggers - opportunists jumping on the bandwaggon. The only real difference as I can see it was that the police used a heavy hand to control the rioters back then. In 2011 they just let them get on with it.

The Baltic Exchange in the City of London after being destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1992
One of the overriding feelings I came away with after the film was, I am so pleased I never had to do her job. I don't envy anyone a role in politics, it's a minefield, you're always making enemies and you'll always be criticised for making the wrong decision and rarely remembered for the right ones.

One parallel I'm pleased about though is that at least they both dug their heels in over the European Union.

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