|Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (right) is greeted by former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone before the funeral service for former President Ronald Reagan at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
It is like an immutable rule: the worse the political leader, the more heinous his or her indifference to the welfare of ordinary people, the more the leader is adulated, especially after his or her death, by the dominant wealth-owning class that controls decision-making and opinion formation everywhere.
The death of Margaret Thatcher has given the right-wing press a glorious opportunity to express their real feelings, and they have not been niggardly at this task. For example, the Globe and Mail of Toronto headed their front page yesterday with the heading The Complete Leader, about as far from the truth about Thatcher as anyone could reach. Then, they filled their paper --- page after dreary page of it --- with tributes to her immense wisdom.
Closer to the truth, I have to admit --- and this was a surprise to me --- came the BBC, which, after the customary panegyrics, launched into a catalogue of her dreadful legislation and actions on the international stage. Only to return in succeeding days to the usual guff.
A similar thing happened on the death of Reagan, Thatcher’s soul mate. The two of them did, I will admit this, put a new face on Conservatism, which up to then had been represented in post-war years by more or less amiable figures such as Harold Macmillan, Rab Butler, Ian MacLeod, Reginald Maudling, in Canada by Robert Stanfield, Bill Davis, Joe Clark, in France and Germany by more moderate figures who acquiesced in the advances made in social conditions by leftist governments when they had their chance.
If, like me, you consider the entire history of the last 200 years to have been a matter of gradual improvement in the living conditions and social opportunities of the common man, beginning, let’s say, with the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the foundation of the union movement, the formation by the unions of their own political parties, the gradual --- in the English-speaking world this was so gradual as to be almost imperceptible --- the gradual creation of a sort of consensus that the common man had as much claim to a decent life as the wealth-owning nobs, then the arrival of Reagan and Thatcher into government preaching their mantra that the very existence of government was itself the problem, marked a very distinct change in the political atmosphere of our times.
I never liked the Conservatives, I disliked Macmillan and his cohort intensely, just as I hated for so many years the politics of the people who owed the newspapers I spent so many years working for, but compared with the thugs running businesses today the owners of yesteryear seem like a bunch of amiable Anglican vicars. In the same way, not until Reagan and Thatcher did I ever believe the Tory leaders were devoted to the destruction of every element of improvement that had been worked by the common man over the previous 200 years.
Those two set out to destroy the welfare state, no ifs and buts about it, the state built in the United States by Roosevelt, and by the Labour and socialist governments of Western Europe, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, even, more tentatively, Canada.
These two, Reagan and Thatcher, made it possible for Tories to believe that they could after all, crush the working class. I am reminded of what a colleague who worked for a newspaper in Coventry, England told me of what happened when Churchill was returned to power in 1951. The owners of the newspaper he worked for essayed out into the newsroom in which he worked, crowing, and shouting at their employees that they would put them back in their place in the coming years.
I don’t want to add more to the dreadful outpouring of reflections on the death of this appalling leader. I was impressed yesterday by an article written by a Chilean man asking, “How Could anyone Celebrate the Life of Thatcher?” and recalling her close friendship with Pinochet, who had murdered half his family, and of whom Thatcher said, “Thank you for saving Chile for democracy.”
I find myself in the camp of the young leftist writer for the Independent in London, Owen Jones, who wrote that “Thatcherism was a national catastrophe, and we remain trapped by its consequences.”
I might add in passing that this outburst of enthusiasm for the memory of Thatcherism interrupted another sinister campaign undertaken by the Toronto newspaper, which over the weekend began celebrating the rise of Justin Trudeau as if the NDP simply did not exist. Page after page about Trudeau’s success in building up the Liberal party, which, magically, as it seems to Globe and Mail writers, has been turned into the natural governing party, supernaturally by-passing the official opposition led by Thomas Mulcair, which suddenly for them seems to have faded into midair.