Don’t blame Margaret Thatcher for Britain being selfish: blame your hippy parents

Projection is a powerful thing in politics, which is why many people who claim to be opposed to hatred, bigotry and demonisation are guilty of precisely those things. Lady Thatcher’s death has brought some of that out with street parties, the revellers joining Gerry Adams and George Galloway in applauding her death (the ultimate projection being Galloway accusing Thatcher of being a friend to dictators).

What’s striking is that the party animals are clearly too young to remember her rule; do they even know anything about it? The fact that she is so hated by young, middle-class imbeciles is testimony to the Tories’ failure to win any of the non-economic battles of the 1980s.

The epicentre of hatred in that decade was not Liverpool, Glasgow or South Yorkshire, but Campden Hill, where Harold Pinter’s mates all lived. The intelligentsia hated Thatcher; academia (apart from Norman Stone) hated her; the BBC and Channel 4 hated her; the theatre establishment hated her. The middle-class public sector hated her, and during her reign and afterwards, that section of society grew and grew. Meanwhile the loony-Left politics that characterised local government in the 1980s – in the GLC and South Yorkshire, among other places – became the mainstream in 1997.

I’m not even sure they knew why they hated her, since lots of the events attributed to Thatcher were not her doing; monetarism began in 1976 and would have continued had Labour won in 1979. The number of manufacturing jobs was going to decline either way, and more mining jobs went in the 1960s than 1980s. But that all seems to be forgotten.

The biggest projection is that she made British society more selfish, a charge made by the same people who despised the stifling conformism of pre-Beatles England. Whether you personally like that change or not, it was the 1960s that made Britain more individualistic, and more self-centred; freedom and selfishness, that’s the trade-off.

The best measure of this, the proportion of households that give to charity, declined starkly from the very start of the 1970s; another good index, the number of broken homes, accelerated fastest under Callaghan. Thatcher, if anything, extended the belief in freedom from the bedroom to the boardroom, but it was part of a wider liberalisation process. (Seymour Martin Lipset argued that she was a classical liberal whereas most other Conservatives were Tories.)

Of course it could be argued that the social liberalism that preceded her made the economic devastation that much more painful, even if Thatcher never endorsed the “greed is good” mentality; the best line about Thatcher is that she wanted a country with her father’s morals but got one with her son’s (I can’t recall who said it).

When these people shout that Maggie made everyone selfish, are they just projecting their own guilt? Possibly.

But I can see why people resent her. Thatcher’s foreign policy was truly great, and it’s noticeable how much coverage her death has received in the States, reflecting the real presence we had during her rule. In contrast, under Blair, Britain played Godzooky to America’s Godzilla (although Thatcher was lucky to have been opposing Communists, who were wrong but at least sane; Islamists are far trickier).

And I always used to believe the Tory version of events, which was that job losses were horrendous but necessary, and before Thatcher came along the dead went unburied and union barons stalked the land like medieval warlords. But now the economic settlement that she created has basically come crashing down; deregulation of the lending market has fuelled a socially catastrophic housing boom, and our banking sector is in turmoil.

I disagree with my colleague Daniel Hannan about the wisdom of abandoning our manufacturing base – lots of perfectly sensible people, such as the think-tanks Demos and Civitas, believe we should invest more in manufacturing, as the Germans do (even if it would never employ anything like as many people as it once did). I don’t believe turning Britain into the city-state of London, in the hope that it would attract enough capital and create enough revenue to give the reserve army of unemployed enough to survive on, is a sensible long-term strategy, economically, socially or morally. And that’s a view that many Conservatives would still hold, with the greatest respect to Mrs Thatcher.

Still, for today let us take a minute to think about those poor legions of angry Thatcher-haters – what are they going to do with their empty lives now?

This article was published at Telegraph Blogs

What do you think?