DAY 37

April 10th, 2013 § 0 comments

What a week! You go away for a short break in the sun (ironical, mostly cold and damp in the Midi around now and the natives are complaining); and suddenly everything changes; stories of corruption engulf the French body politic, and simultaneously Pablo Neruda is claimed to have been poisoned, while his poisoner’s chief ally, Margaret Thatcher, succumbs – to what?

09_thatcher_party_g_w_LRG Among all the should-we-rejoice (Brixton) versus should-we-be-statesmanlike (Miliband) debates – class war versus class treachery, you could say – no one has yet raised the obvious question for an English reader. You have a body; who dun it? In my mind, but I’ve been harping on this theme rather a lot, it seems no coincidence that barely a month after the new Pope has started talking about the Falklands, their stoutest defender is mysteriously dispatched. I hesitate to invoke the name of Opus Dei yet again, but it’s the kind of way the spike-belted warriors of the Vatican are known to operate. (See Roberto Calvi and other pious Catholic bankers who have been wiped out in unsavoury ways.)

However, we should keep an open mind, and I’d like to invite readers to solve the Thatcher Mystery, following the methods of any British classic, from Agatha Christie to P. D. James.

‘Wasn’t she some kind of a right-wing prime minister, Morse?’

‘She changed the face of this country forever, Lewis, you idiot.’

The winner will be awarded one of our ‘Stay Calm and Read Kafka’ t-shirts.

In any case, here is Glenda Jackson’s admirable House of Commons speech, on a day made monotonous by tributes:


It is hardly a surprise that Baroness Thatcher was careless over the soup being poured over Lord Howe, given that she was perfectly prepared to send him out to the wicket with a broken bat.

When I made my maiden speech in this Chamber, a little over two decades ago, Margaret Thatcher had been elevated to the other place but Thatcherism was still wreaking, and had wrought for the previous decade, the most heinous social, economic and spiritual damage upon this country, upon my constituency and upon my constituents. Our local hospitals were running on empty. Patients were staying on trolleys in corridors. I tremble to think what the death rate among pensioners would have been this winter if that version of Thatcherism had been fully up and running this year. Our schools, parents, teachers, governors, even pupils, seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time fundraising in order to be able to provide basic materials such as paper and pencils. The plaster on our classroom walls was kept in place by pupils’ art work and miles and miles of sellotape. Our school libraries were dominated by empty shelves and very few books; the books that were there were held together by the ubiquitous sellotape and off-cuts from teachers’ wallpaper were used to bind those volumes so that they could at least hang together.

By far the most dramatic and heinous demonstration of Thatcherism was certainly seen not only in London, but across the whole country in metropolitan areas where every single night, every single shop doorway became the bedroom, the living room and the bathroom for the homeless. They grew in their thousands, and many of those homeless people had been thrown out on to the streets as a result of the closure of the long-term mental hospitals. We were told it was going to be called—it was called—“care in the community”, but what it was in effect was no care in the community at all.

I was interested to hear about Baroness Thatcher’s willingness to invite those who had nowhere to go for Christmas; it is a pity that she did not start building more and more social housing, after she entered into the right to buy, so that there might have been fewer homeless people than there were. As a friend of mine said, during her era, London became a city that Hogarth would have recognised—and, indeed, he would.

In coming to the basis of Thatcherism, I come to the spiritual part of what I regard as the desperately wrong track down which Thatcherism took this country. We were told that everything I had been taught to regard as a vice—and I still regard them as vices—was, in fact, under Thatcherism, a virtue: greed, selfishness, no care for the weaker, sharp elbows, sharp knees, all these were the way forward. We have heard much, and will continue to hear over next week, about the barriers that were broken down by Thatcherism, the establishment that was destroyed.

What we have heard, with the words circling around like stars, is that Thatcher created an aspirational society. It aspired for things. One former Prime Minister who had himself been elevated to the House of Lords, spoke about selling off the family silver and people knowing in those years the price of everything and the value of nothing. What concerns me is that I am beginning to see what might be the re-emergence of that total traducing of what I regard as the spiritual basis of this country where we do care about society, where we do believe in communities, where we do not leave people and walk by on the other side. That is not happening now, but if we go back to the heyday of that era, I fear that we will see replicated yet again the extraordinary human damage from which we as a nation have suffered and the talent that has been totally wasted because of the inability genuinely to see the individual value of every single human being.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) referred to the fact that although she had differed from Lady Thatcher in her policies, she felt duty bound to come here to pay tribute to the first woman Prime Minister this country had produced. I am of a generation that was raised by women, as the men had all gone to war to defend our freedoms. They did not just run a Government; they ran a country. The women whom I knew, who raised me and millions of people like me, who ran our factories and our businesses, and who put out the fires when the bombs dropped, would not have recognised their definition of womanliness as incorporating an iconic model of Margaret Thatcher. To pay tribute to the first Prime Minister denoted by female gender, okay; but a woman? Not on my terms.’


Short public memory department:

Those of you who are over 25 may remember that there was a time when not everyone had broadband, or could go to Starbucks and use the wi-fi there. There used to be – nay, there still is, in remote and backward areas (e.g. the village in France I’m about to visit) something called ‘dialup’ – you’d access the internet through your phone line via a modem (It’s the same as a codec, but the reverse, sort of).


This fitted into a modem port on your computer. Macs have discontinued them – they would – and for all I know, PCs have too. You remember them now? Of course. But a quick trawl down the Tottenham Court Road reveals that almost all of the assistants – wise men, technically skilled, with an average age of 40+ – have forgotten the word, the concept, the object. It’s obvious that most people don’t need to remember what modems were, but that’s not the point: as someone said, ‘Reason not the need!’ The fact is that someone is erasing data which they think is superfluous from the collective memory.  You have of course experienced it in more important and more distant cases – the invasion of Grenada, most of Jeffrey Archer’s novels, and who won Britain’s Got Talent last year (Ashleigh and Pudsey). But modem ports? I can still remember phones with two buttons marked ‘A’ and ‘B’ – as do you maybe, if you’re a pensioner. B got you your money back, and extra if you were lucky. Who, what sinister unsupervised agency, guards the collective memory? I know I put mine down somewhere, but I’ve forgotten where.

In a quite unrelated exercise: can you relate wars to operations? (Cast Lead, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, Pillar of Fire)?

A bit like the beginning of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, only I didn’t ask you to put them in order.

Today’s poem – we need to lighten the tone a bit – is John Crowe Ransom: ‘Poets have Chanted Mortality’. (I had thought: ‘Of chills and fever died she, of fever and chills’, but it seemed off the point. The old Southern gentleman seemed rather fond of death as a theme.)

It had better been hidden
    But the Poets inform:
We are chattel and liege
    Of an undying Worm.


Were you, Will, disheartened,
    When all Stratford’s gentry
Left their Queen and took service
    In his low-lying country?


How many white cities
    And grey fleets on the storm
Have proud-builded, hard-battled,
    For this undying Worm?


Was a sweet chaste lady
    Would none of her lover.
Nay, here comes the Lewd One,
    Creeps under her cover!


Have ye said there’s no deathless
     Of face, fashion, form,
Forgetting to honor
     The extent of the Worm?


O ye laughers and light-lipped,
    Ye faithless, infirm,
I can tell you who’s constant,
    ’Tis the Eminent Worm.


Ye shall trip on no limits,
    Neither time ye your term,
In the realms of His Absolute
    Highness the Worm.

And, to conclude, Exploited’s Don’t Pay the Poll Tax, with a memorable vid of a police riot in Trafalgar Square; and, predictably, ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead‘ (extended version from The Wizard of Oz, Glinda, Munchkins and all) – which it seems is climbing the charts as I pen these words. Note the puff of smoke at the end which reminds us that the death of one witch does not solve all our problems.


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