History Matters: Mourning After Margaret Thatcher

The news of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s death has had me shedding bitter tears. Despite her ‘Thatcher Milk-Snatcher’ reputation, I’d had high hopes of our first female PM – hopes for a common-sense, compassionate administration giving better deals on health, education and women’s issues. They were dashed soon enough when it became clear that Mrs T was determined to ‘out-boy’ the boys… so now I’m not mourning her, I’m mourning the country I used to know before she came into power. Mourning for those halcyon days before (to cite but one example) she flogged off all our State assets to line the pockets of the few…

Yes, in a country the size of Great Britain I’m all for State monopolies, simplicity and standardisation when it comes to transport and utilities. I liked walking down the High Street (in the days when high streets contained more than coffee bars, nail bars, tanning salons, pawnbrokers and boarded-up shop-fronts) to pay my fuel bills directly into the hand of a live human being at the British Gas and Electricity Board showrooms. I liked choosing new appliances there, helped by specialist assistants who knew what they were talking about – and could arrange for specialist fitters to come and install it at a time of my choosing. And if I had a problem, I liked having face-to-face access to a manager who could sort it out for me.

Alas, for Thatcher and her ilk, this was tantamount to Communism; so rather than investing in State assets to streamline and improve them, she stamped them out – in favour of her gods Free Enterprise, Competition and Consumer Choice. So, has privatisation worked? Has it given us the better services she promised? Has it heck. No – now we have a plethora of ‘businesses’ obliged to put stakeholder profits ahead of customer satisfaction; huge, inefficient bureaucracies that spend millions on bombarding us with bloody adverts and junk mail as they scrabble for the largest market share. Now, instead of maintaining expensive, staffed local branches they pay a legion of cold-callers to pester us on our doorsteps or phones, trying to persuade us to change our ‘provider’. (Don’t bother. Honestly, the pence you might save aren’t worth the hassle and pain it entails, whatever they claim to the contrary). Now we’re faced with scores of competing ‘special deals’ and charging systems of such labyrinthine complexity that the industry regulators have had to demand plainer English. Now, if you want a gas supply connected, your provider won’t send out a qualified surveyor to assess the work required and give a proper estimate (because they’ve all been sacked to save money and maximise profits). Oh, no. Now, (as we discovered when we asked NPower about it), the onus is on the householder to measure up and tell the power company what needs doing… whereupon they’ll send out a team who may or may not turn up on the stipulated date, and may or may not (depending on whether your guesstimate was right) have the requisite tools and materials to do the job – but either way, they’ll charge you the best part of a grand in advance. Naturally, I told NPower where they could stuff their gas connection, in a severely-worded letter of complaint. Did I get a reply, an explanation, an apology? Go on – have a guess.

And God help you if you have a utility problem, now that the local offices have been replaced by that bane of modern existence, the national call-centre, (especially when it’s based in another nation where the first language isn’t English), with its infernal robot systems and not a hope in hell of ever getting through to the same operator twice. I hate to think of how much time and money (and how many brain-cells) I’ve lost wrestling with these accursed things. Yup, these days, the only thing the utility companies can guarantee is that any simple query or issue will be anything but simple to resolve. I loathe them with a deadly loathing – whatever the shortcomings of the old nationalised systems, they were never half as bad as this. Welcome to the wonderful world of privatised utilities – gee, thanks, Maggie. How your legacy lives on…

And now our impoverished little country has to fork out millions on a State funeral for a PM who got into office in the most marginal way, and whose policies went on to wreck millions of lives. I laugh hollowly, through my tears. At least it’s not coming out of my pocket… I don’t earn enough to pay tax.

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4 thoughts on “History Matters: Mourning After Margaret Thatcher

  1. Couldn’t agree more. The policies from the thatcher era have left me reeling all my working life. Redundant 3 times in 18 months in the mid 80’s. So, I did what Tebbit said and got on my bike. Now those conservative policies have me reeling again. Redundant,. . . again . . . and at an age where I am unlike to get employment in my chosen profession.

    • thanks, alma. i was working in local govt. when cct happened… yet another cost-cutting exercise masquerading as improvement. and as the saying goes, ‘if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys’. local govt reorganisation, faffing about with electoral boundaries – gah, the amount of time/money wasted, the amount of stress and pain caused… it really does make me weep. i’d put it behind me till news of her death broke… and raked up some very bad memories.

  2. Great post Helen. I do agree about the lost opportunities of Thatcher’s time in government- while there was technically no obligation for her, as a woman, to champion women’s issues, her adoption of a very “masculine” persona, as you say “out-doing” the boys did a lot of harm for this issue, as well as all the other devastating, irreperable harm she did to the country. I can understand that she may have felt the need to conform to certain behaviours in order to rise and survive in that environment but she could have easily delegated “women’s issues” to others and facilitated the appointments and rights of other women. By propagating such ridiculous ideas that we only need 4 hours sleep and her lack of empathy made her, in my eyes, an active enemy to the female cause in the 70s/80s when she could have done so much. I don’t mean to be reductive to her as a woman- by suggesting she should have defined herself according to her gender but she was intelligent enought to have done both. I do get annoyed when I see people saying that if nothing else, she should be celebrated as our first female PM when she did so little to improve the lot of hard working women.

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