Friday, April 12, 2013

The Ballad of Mick Philpott and The Iron Lady

I baulk at the notion of rejoicing in anyone's death, there is nothing to be gained from it and only one's dignity to lose. Thatcher may have been frequently misguided and deluded by hubris but she wasn't evil. Those who gloat over her death should be ashamed of themselves; gloating disrespects her loved ones right to grieve in peace. Gloating and hateful -is that the face the Left wants the world to see? And these people miss the point: there is nothing to celebrate, because she won. Throughout her reign her ideas were tacitly accepted by enough people in Britain to win her three elections and they continue to dominate our culture. Her mixture of free market individualism and Right-wing moralising is the reason the coalition is able to demonise anyone who claims benefits, even though the majority of claimants are working but simply paid too little to survive. A puritan work ethic has triumphed, where those who do not succeed do not deserve to. Lack of social mobility is seen as the fault of the individual. These attitudes have become ingrained, and it is Thatcher and her henchmen in the Right-wing press that were responsible for disseminating and normalising them.

Popular music drowns in trite language of self-realisation; add an element of ritual humiliation and you have the currency programs like The X-Factor trades on; all the logical result of the culture of individualism perpetrated by the New Right. Instead of thinking how they can contribute to their community, young people have been encouraged to indulge egoistic fantasies. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, no less, has just tarred all benefit recipients with the brush of a psychopath, insinuating a causal link between the welfare state and the killing of children. This is morally outrageous, and would have been unthinkable before Thatcherism; but he does it with his characteristic smug self-assurance that in the eyes of the public he is on the right side of a shockingly squalid argument.

In his book The Silence of Animals John Gray writes “All human institutions are stained by crime... Explaining human nastiness by reference to corrupt institutions leaves a question: why are humans so attached to corruption?”. Mick Philpott was addicted to appearing on TV programmes such as Jeremy Kyle and Ann Widdecombe Versus The Benefits Culture, modern forms of bear-baiting and gladiatorial combat, pressure-release valves for a frustrated society, and he killed his children in a botched attempt to engineer another appearance on them. The stained institution we should be examining in great detail is the 'look at me' culture of egoistic self-realisation. Mick Philpott was behaving in just the way the 1980's buccaneer capitalist ideology encouraged us to: take whatever you can get, give nothing back, every man for himself. Bankers continue in this vein despite having just screwed over the entire world. Peter Oborne wrote after the 2011 riots “The moral decay of our society is as bad at the top as the bottom”. He's right, and people learn by copying the behaviour of those at the top. We have Thatcher to thank for all of this; her project was an unbridled success. Her death won't change that.

Addendum: This piece by Russell Brand is very funny. (Yes, really; he's a great deal cleverer than he sometimes comes across). He describes her voice as "a bellicose yawn, somehow both boring and boring" which made me laugh louder than anything else this week. It's also a very intelligent reflection on what she did to the country. "It always irks when rightwing folk demonstrate in a familial or exclusive setting the values that they deny in a broader social context. They're happy to share big windfall bonuses with their cronies, they'll stick up for deposed dictator chums when they're down on their luck, they'll find opportunities in business for people they care about. I hope I'm not being reductive but it seems Thatcher's time in power was solely spent diminishing the resources of those who had least for the advancement of those who had most".

And if you really want to understand why she is hated, Ken Capstick's piece explains it beautifully.