Wednesday, 10 April 2013
Margaret Thatcher: the view from Broken Barnet
As we have observed many times, here in Broken Barnet, there is a certain inexplicable synchronicity that underlies the sequence of events, the peculiar chronology, the hidden history, and the unseen geography of our borough.
Our Tory councillors have no regard for local history, or heritage: Broken Barnet, in their conception, exists in a dimension of its own, in a place caught forever in a moment of time.
Yes: of course we are talking about the Thatcher years. The only legacy that matters, for local Tories, who represent a particularly mutant form of Conservatism, clinging obstinately to a set of values that their own party shoved to the back of the drawer years ago, but probably speaks to a certain type of unthinking, Daily Mail reading voter: a quaintly retro obsession with unions, the threat of 'socialism', an instinctive fear of Europe, a detestation of 'red tape', bureaucracy, political correctness ...
Finchley constituency was the seat of Margaret Thatcher for thirty three years, from 1959 to 1992. At every election night, she would come to Hendon Town Hall, and wait impatiently for the result - once Prime Minister, as Mrs Angry recalls, this visit would entail an enormous security operation - and a covert installation of copious supplies of gin for the Mayor's Parlour, and the gratification of Denis, as the count inevitably continued into the small hours.
Look at the following footage of election night, 1987, and the results announced in the council chamber at the Town Hall. (One can only wonder how differently might the course of history have run, of course, here in Broken Barnet, if only Lord Buckethead had won, instead of Margaret ...)
And listen very carefully, half way in, once the speech begins, the admirably rude heckling, and references to 'fascist scum' are followed by what appears very much to Mrs Angry to be a contribution by our dear friend Mr Shepherd, the veteran attendee of all council meetings, who sits throughout sorting through two bags of cuttings from the Morning Star, and making impertinent suggestions to Tory councillors ...
That Margaret Thatcher's long reign in Finchley was universally popular is a myth that local Tories would like everyone to believe: but many of them are far too young to remember how it was, and indeed the keen ardour with which they view her, and the iconic status she holds as their generation's political pin-up, is a most peculiar phenomenon.
The Tory party in Barnet is curiously misogynistic in outlook, and membership: there are a few older women, of the matronly type, who are permitted to sit on a few committees, as long as they do as they are told, and keep their heads down. The majority, however, is a motley collection of frankly deluded old timers and an equally loopy, unseasoned intake of hardline, immature young men, whom suspended Tory councillor Brian Coleman describes as 'The Boys'.
All of them, though, are devotees of the cult of Thatcher, with an unthinking, unswerving loyalty to - well, to what, exactly? A female embodiment of male authority, an iron resolution and a dispensation to be utterly self centred, ruthlessly unsentimental, culturally unresponsive, socially irresponsible. This is everything that gives them a sense of power, but they also loved Margaret because, like them, she was a working class Tory with aspirations to climb the social ladder - they are the same breed, small town Tories, Rotarians, masons, not public school, not Bullingdon Club: they will never belong to the establishment, or have brilliant political careers, but they can dream, and Margaret Thatcher still inspires those dreams.
The Barnet Eye made an interesting point on the day of her death: that it was notable how little official local recognition there is of Margaret Thatcher: nothing named in her honour, no Thatcher House, no Thatcher wing of any local hospital, no -oh, ok - yes, she, in her role of destroying angel, is really associated with shutting things down, rather than someone you think of to name new things after, perhaps ... and in truth in this respect a fitting commemoration is already everywhere to be seen, in every jobcentre, every hospital, every council estate, every ravaged corner of Broken Barnet.
When Mrs Angry heard Mrs Thatcher had resigned, she was, as it happens, at a meeting in a council office across the road from the Town Hall, in her capacity of something Maggie would have despised - a union convenor. (Yes, Mrs Angry has had many lives and incarnations, before she became Mrs Angry). In the midst of rather obstreperous negotiations, a secretary came rushing in, eyes gleaming, and whispered an urgent message in the ear of the senior officer. He gulped. 'Mrs Thatcher ... Mrs Thatcher has resigned' he said ... Mrs Angry threw her notebook in the air and cheered.
It was a memorable moment, savoured all the more for the memory of the poll tax demo not long before, outside the same Town Hall, (which nearly proved to be the end of Mrs Angry, due to an incident leading to a ruptured appendix and a nearly fatal case of peritonitis ... )it is hard to explain now the absolute sense of injustice that the Poll Tax engendered, or the hardship that it caused, except to say that what is happening now with the Bedroom Tax is horribly reminiscent.
And here is the thing, while reminiscence is the order of the day ... for all the dreadful, shameful things that happened in the Thatcher era, it has been clear, since the beginning of the evil coupling of this Coalition government, that the current Tory agenda, affirmed and facilitated by the scabby Libdems, is as bad, or perhaps even worse, than anything Margaret Thatcher produced. Yes, she destroyed our industrial base, and taxed the poor, and oh, devastated every mining community to be found in the length and breadth of the country (and Mrs Angry, without going all Billy Elliot again, has reason particularly to despise this contemptible deed) ... but here now, in her place, we have a Tory leader and a cabinet of monstrosities, a cabal of public school elite men, buffered by centuries of inherited privilege, set on humiliating the despised underclasses of modern Britain, and sending them to the depths of despair.
Margaret did not come from this background, of course, and here was the secret of her success, and her appeal to the Barnet Tories: the outsider who wants to be an insider has only one way to get there, by trampling on the class she comes from. Those who are there already, it might be argued, have no need to demonstrate any such act of betrayal: they trample on the poor simply because they enjoy it, and it reinforces their sense of entitlement.
Mrs Angry was in North Finchley on Monday, walking carefully along that faultline of Broken Barnet, by Tally Ho, opposite the epicentre of the Barnet Spring, Cafe Buzz, and passing by the spot where local legend Horace, much mourned by local residents, used to sit in the street, colouring in his drawings with crayons, and wishing people 'the very best of luck'.
Mrs Angry then noted another familiar face, out of context: it was one of the squatters who had taken occupation of Friern Barnet library, busking outside a shop, with a battered old guitar. He usually goes about barefoot, this guy, even in the coldest weather, something some of the more conservative minded residents of Friern Barnet found hard to understand.
A man with a face as worn as his guitar, a raggedy grey beard, and a gap toothed smile, he greeted Mrs Angry, and told her how much he had enjoyed his time in the occupation, and the founding of the People's Library, watching the empowerment of a community: Mrs Angry agreed, and said it had been an experience which was really about so much more than the sum of its parts, the library, or the Barnet Spring: it was the making of friendships, across boundaries which would never have been crossed before, and something else too, less easy to define. He smiled again, then, very sweetly. Mrs Angry moved off: and then, just a few yards on, with timing surely prompted by the underlying synchronicity of Broken Barnet, looking at her phone, stopped in her tracks, because she had just received a text saying that Margaret Thatcher had died.
And when you died, Margaret, as a Mr Damian Mc Bride noted on twitter, there was less mourning for you, here in Finchley, than there was for our man of the street, Horace, whose death was marked by a genuine sense of loss.
That something indefinable: community, no ... society, a place where people care about each other, that's what we were talking about, Margaret, when you shuffled off this mortal coil. We've been living it, here in your backyard, in the face of your monstrous legacy, the Barnet Thatcherites, who have been trying to sell us into privatised bondage to Capita for the next fifteen years.
You died in comfort, in your bed in the Ritz, but you died alone, lost in the shadows of dementia, no one at your side, no family, no friends.
My father died in the grip of the same cruel illness, not in luxury, moved from a hellish local care home to an NHS hospital, here in Barnet, but at least his daughter was there to hold his hand, as he slipped away. I think I know whose was the better death, and who left the better legacy, and who will be truly mourned.
Meanwhile, back in Broken Barnet: Thatcher is dead, but Thatcherism lives on.
Watch it fighting for survival, then - in the only way it knows how.
You Thatcherites by name lend an ear
You Thatcherites by name, your faults I will proclaim,
Your doctrines I must blame, you will hear, you will hear
Your doctrines I must blame, you will hear
You privatise away what is ours, what is ours
You privatise away what is ours
You privatise away and then you make us pay
We'll take it back some day, mark my words, mark my words
We'll take it back some day, mark my words