Monday, 8 April 2013

The End Of The Iron Age

The death of Margaret Thatcher has divided us all.

There are basically four main camps of reaction; those same four camps that spring up whenever any major political figure passes away.  There's the one's who genuinely feel a great person has passed beyond the mortal veil, that someone for whom our country is better off is no longer drawing breath.  I have nothing to say about those people other than to note how violently I disagree.  The second group are simply noting that they're not particularly affected by the news.  That's actually the group I fall into, or at least I would, if the resulting shitstorm hadn't drawn so much of my attention.

The other two groups are those that are actively celebrating the news, and those that are criticising those that are actively celebrating the news.  And it's those reactions that I wanted to linger on for a little while.  Because there's a world of difference between not liking the idea of celebrating another human beings death, and actually telling the people doing the celebrating that they are bad people for doing it.

In between the autumn of 2002 and the summer of 2003, I did my teacher training in two schools in County Durham whose catchment areas were either exclusively or almost exclusively former mining towns.  And it was just heartbreaking.  An entire generation of school children just marking time until they could go on the dole like their parents.  Hundreds and hundreds of young minds convinced there was nothing for them in this world except to drink and smoke and fuck and collect their benefits until they died of old age or were stabbed to death on the high street.  Like any other school, these places had their smarter kids and their less smart kids, the motivated and the unmotivated.  Living in those areas wasn't a death sentence, or an inescapable prison, and I'd be doing great damage to suggest otherwise.  Some could and did find their ways out.  Others could and did stay in these places where they were born and make something of their lives.  This was not a Dickens novel, written to prove a point.  It was messy reality where hope was something one had to scrabble to find.

The damage done by Thatcher's government in those places is as clear today as it was in 2003, or it was in 1993.  I am not immune to the arguments that say Thatcher does not deserve all the blame, but a historical debate on the true complexities of the early '80s political scene is not something I'm angling for here.  The point that I am making is that for over twenty years, the worst parts of the worst places in Washington and Spennymoor, or in Willington and Crook, have basically been ignored by the country in general.  For almost three decades it must have seemed to them that no-one in the wider UK gave two shits that the Conservative government ripped out their economic innards and left them to bleed to death in the cold.

Now that Thatcher has died, we're suddenly all paying attention again. We've remembered.  Those that have spent a generation remembering the effects of Thatcher's government every day - because they are still living through the aftershocks - are now being watched by a thousand thousand hawks ready to criticise the ferocity of their refusal to mourn. I know a lot of those observers have the very best of intentions, and want nothing more than to live in a world where the passing of a senile old woman doesn't cause a spike in the consumption of champagne and Doritos.

But too many of these self-appointed guardians of civility come from outside the working class.  Too many come from outside the barren, nicotine-stained North East.  Too many of them have only realised that those horrifically damaged by the Thatcher government still exist so that they can lecture them on the finer points of public discussion.  Every post by every white middle class guy telling those haunted by Thatcher's legacy that they should be nicer about the chief architect of their economic hellstorm might just as well have written "Christ, are you still here?"

I don't want to be the guy who celebrates the death of another human being. But that's nowhere near as bad as being the guy who tells people who've experienced the sky falling on their communities heads again and again over two dozen years and change that they should be reacting to this news the way I think least gauche.

Because two weeks from now almost everyone will have forgotten about the jokes and cheers that rippled out across the country this day.  And I can guarantee you almost everyone will forget about what motivated that reaction faster still.

Except, of course, for the ones that can't.

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