This interview with Tariq Ali was conducted by Die Presse in Vienna and appears in German in the paper’s Sunday edition.
What is Mrs Thatcher’s legacy?
Her legacy is clearly visible in the state of Britain today. It is essentially a story of decay and ruin: A small, post-imperial vassal state dependent on nostalgia and, more importantly, the United States to keep itself afloat. On the economy the Thatcherite model (astonishingly, still being praised by blind politicians in denial) was effectively the deindustrialization of the country, the purchase of working-class votes by squandering the monies that accrued from North sea oil and laying the foundations for a financialised economic model that exploded with the Wall Street crash of 2008. We live in a world where it is convenient to personalize politics. Thatcher obviously pushed through the measures required by capitalism with a raw and ruthless energy that was her very own. She was a great believer in appealing to the lowest common denominator, to the animal instincts that remain present in the psychological make-up of individuals regardless of their social origins. Another politician could have done exactly the same things as she did using a less charged rhetoric. A number of old Conservatives were not shy in stating that their party had been taken over by English ‘poujadistes.’ She almost came a cropper. Had the Falklands war gone differently which it might have done if Pinochet’s dictatorship (pushed by Washington) had not backed Britain.
She outmaneuvered the once powerful Mineworker’s Union, forcing it to call a strike on her terms and then destroyed the union and in the process broke the back of a once powerful British labor movement. She had referred to the striking miners as the ‘enemy within’. Even as she neutered the unions, she effectively destroyed the old Labour Party. Thatcher’s favorite Chancellor of the Exchequer and cabinet colleague, Nigel Lawson, while reviewing a book in the Financial Times noted admiringly that the tragedy for the Tories was that Thatcher’s real heir was Leader of the Opposition. Blair’s policies were little more than a continuation of her policies with better PR and an aggressive control of the media. Blair was less lucky with his wars. Iraq finished him off. He was exposed as a simple and straightforward liar. The Scottish writer, Tom Nairn, was accurate in his assessment: “Like other flotsam on the ‘no-alternative’ wave of the nineties, they think that the essence of ‘modernization’ is adjusting society to fit economic and technological advances. Which means serving such changes, via a machinery of collusion between government public relations, a compliant legal system and a servile press.’
With Murdoch dominating the press agenda thanks to Thatcher’s ‘generosity’, she sent her tank commanders to fire a few warning shots at the BBC. A reliable and appropriately named toady, Marmaduke Hussey, was catapulted on to the BBC board as chairman. His first task was to sack director general Alasdair Milne for “leftwing bias” and ‘not being one of us.’ Thatcher was livid that the BBC had permitted her to be grilled on the Falklands war on a live programme by an ordinary woman viewer from Bristol who successfully demolished the prime minister’s arguments. Hussey appointed a pliable Director-General in the shape of John Birt, a dalek without instincts or qualities, who transformed the BBC into the top-heavy managerial monster that it has become. When New Labour won, a New BBC was already in place. Blair and his spin doctors Campbell and Mandelson turned out to be even worse control freaks than Thatcher. Together with their subordinates, they regularly harassed producers complaining about what they perceived to be anti-government bias. Radio 4′s Today programme became a favourite Blairite target. Simultaneously they were crawling to Murdoch at regular intervals, hobnobbing regularly with the editors and staff of the Sun and happily inhaling the stench of the Murdoch stables.
What do you consider her biggest achievement?
I can’t think of any, but the English establishment would see the destruction of union power and the opposition party (Blair and his coterie Thatcherised the Labour Party as is obvious to this day) as an prerequisite to the privatization and marketisation of the country, with private money enable to enter the hitherto hallowed domains of the public sector. This was their finest hour and just look at Britain today. The film-maker Ken Loach has suggested that her funeral should be privatised too and the highest corporate bid should take charge. Or, one could add, it could be sponsored by several firms with logos proudly displayed on the coffin.
What do you consider her biggest mistake?
Everything from neo-liberalism to wars. From her point of view she was supremely successful. Her legacy lives on, thanks to Blair and Brown, except insofar that she was a xenophobe and a racist as the Australian foreign minister reminded us this week. She told him don’t let Sydney become like Fiji. He was shocked since his Malaysian wife was standing next to him. Thatcher in her election campaigns used the phrase that she feared how ‘Britain was being swamped by immigrants’. This was when 2 percent of the population was non-white! Blair and Brown preached a bland multi-culturalism. But Cameron and Miliband have started off on immigration once again.
She proved to be as divisive in death as she had been in life. Has she permanently split British society in “haves” and “have-nots”, in winners and losers, in “wets” and “dries”, in “one of us” and “not one of us”?
She did not do so as an individual. A new course for British capitalism had already been agreed to by her party under Edward Heath. She implemented it and those who followed her went even further. British society is extremely divided but there is no reflection of this in the House of Commons. All three parties constitute the extreme-centre. The democratic process is under great strain and all over Europe and North America.
How do you view the street parties celebrating her passing away?
Inevitable, but also a sign of despair. Had she been defeated politically and her legacy reversed her death might have been ignored. But I always disliked the misogynism by sections of the left. ‘The Bitch is Dead’ makes one cringe.
Is the Britain we live in today “her” country in the sense that it is still shaped by her influence and legacy, and in the sense that she would recognise it as a country developing in a way and direction she would approve of?
Without any doubt, apart from Scotland. The Scots never voted for her, but whether they will have the courage to break from her successors and come out for an independent Scotland remains to be seen. I hope they do. It will shake up politics and open a new space in England as well.
Who is her true heir? Was it New Labour? Cameron’s Tories? UKIP?
Blair, Brown and Cameron make no secret of their admiration for her and her policies. If he’s in form, Blair might manage a few tears at the state funeral she is to be given next week. They’ll turn to millstones as they fall. I hope, second-rate actor that he is, he does. It will be very diverting.
What lessons can be drawn from her reign?
The 19th century poet, Shelley, expressed well what needs to be done. Then , as now, the country is without a serious opposition.
Children of a wiser day;
Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many, they are few.
Enoch Powell famously said that “all political careers end in failure”. Is this also true for Mrs Thatcher? How will she be remembered?
I always regretted that her career ended via a putsch within her own party. She was seen by some as a martyr. It would have been far better for the country had she been defeated by the electorate, but her personal humiliation should not be confused with her political successes on behalf of the class that she represented. They, and those in their thrall, will always remember her with affection. And her opponents should heed Spinoza’s words: ‘Don’t laugh or cry, but understand.’
Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).
“It was definitely murder – they clearly offed her with a pillow over her face because she knew too much about the Jimmy Savile scandal,” Rudolf Hambone has claimed on his daily internet radio show. Right On. “I mean, does anyone really believe that nonsense about an eighty seven year old woman with her life ahead of her dying from natural causes, completely out of the blue?” As the world reels from the news of the passing of the sainted former Prime Minister, celebrated conspiracy theorist and right-wing commentator Hambone is asking the question: who killed Maggie Thatcher? Rejecting the official story that she died peacefully in her sleep, Hambone has used his daily political discussion show to speculate, to the consternation of many of his fellow right-wing nut jobs, that Lady Thatcher was actually the victim of a high level conspiracy hell-bent on covering up the true extent of the establishment’s involvement with disgraced former Radio One DJ Jimmy Savile’s sex crimes. “If it wasn’t murder, then why were they so secretive about the removal of her body, putting all those black screens up around the Ritz Hotel and taking her out in an unmarked van?” he demaned in yesterday’s broadcast. “In fact, why was she at the Ritz in the first place? I don’t buy this nonsense about her recuperating there after hospital treatment – why didn’t she just go home like everyone else does?” He has also cast doubt on claims that, toward the end of her life, Mrs Thatcher was suffering dementia. “If she really was gaga, why was she at the Ritz? I didn’t know that room service there extended to geriatric nursing care!” he observed. “She was fooling no one, wandering around her house with a flowerpot on her head doing seagull impressions – it was all an act designed to convince ‘them’ that she remembered nothing about the Savile conspiracy!”
According to Hambone, the then Mrs Thatcher, a close confidant of Jimmy Savile in the 1980s, used her position as Prime Minister to prevent the police from pursuing complaints of sexual assault against the late TV personality. “She also got the Security Service, MI5, to ensure that stories about Savile’s conduct were never published by the press,” Hambone asserted on his programme. “The fact was that Savile was the centre of a paedophile ring involving numerous members of the British establishment, including at least one member of the royal family and several Tory cabinet ministers!” Thatcher, he claimed, engaged in the conspiracy after becoming besotted with Savile. “She was always susceptible to silver tongued bastards with a plausible line in patter – if it wasn’t Savile making her go weak at the knees, it was Reagan, PW Botha or General Pinochet,” Hambone explained. “Savile knew exactly how to butter her up with well-placed flattery – he even persuaded her to lend him the Prime Minister’s official country residence at Chequers for one of his notorious sex parties!” With Savile’s death in 2011 and the subsequent revelations about his activities, other members of the paedophile ring naturally began to worry that they, too, could be exposed. “They began to worry that Lady Thatcher could be the weak link,” claimed the broadcaster. “In fact, her ploy of pretending to be gaga backfired, as they became so worried that she might let something slip in her demented ramblings, that they decided they had to silence her!”
Hambone’s theories have been met with hostility from both left and right on the political spectrum. “It’s ludicrous and, frankly, insulting to suggest that Thatcher could have been the victim of some phantom conspiracy of the rich and privileged,” commented Labour MP Ron Smidghurst in the his column in the Daily Norks. “The list of good honest working class people who could happily have killed her is practically endless. But obviously, the right could never accept that someone from the lower orders might be able to successfully ‘off’ their precious Iron Lady! Oh no, it could only have been some toff!” However, right-wingers are equally appalled by Hambone’s allegations. “These claims, linking Lady Thatcher with something as sordid as a sex scandal, before she’s even cold really are despicable. It is clearly just a crude attempt by some publicity-seeker to boost listening figures for his obscure internet broadcast by capitalising on the demise of this poor woman,” said Norbert Clenchingthorpe, deputy editor of the vDaily Excess, which included a thirty page full colour glossy supplement celebrating the life of Lady Thatcher in its latest issue, along with an editorial calling for her canonisation. “I suppose we should be thankful that he isn’t claiming that her children, Mark and Carole, smothered the old lady for their inheritance, I mean, that Mark Thatcher was always getting into scrapes wasn’t he, and Carole must need the money since she was dropped by the BBC. Not they would have done such a thing, obviously.”
The Excess has its own theories as to the untimely demise of Lady Thatcher. “If she was murdered – and that is a very big if, despite all those stories about her health, we believe she was still fit enough to best any attacker in hand-to-hand combat – we believe that it would have been a politically motivated assassination,” Clenchingthorpe has claimed. “Indded, our money is on it being linked to her support for the apartheid regime in South Africa – we’ve had several reports of a black man having been seen hanging around the back of the Ritz. Obviously, they are far too upmarket an establishment to be employing that sort. Moreover, was it just coincidence that Nelson Mandela was released from hospital just a few days before her death? Is his supposed infirmity just a cover? Does he have an alibi for the night of Lady Thatcher’s death?”
Hambone is adamant that his version of events is true. “If she wasn’t murdered, then why will there be no lying in state for Lady Thatcher? Why can’t we see the body?” he asked on his latest show. “Is it because it shows the marks of violence? Ligature marks around her throat, perhaps? Or maybe a gaping bullet wound?” He has also queried the levels of security which will surround Lady Thatcher’s funeral, with troops guarding the route. “Just what are they worried about?” he asked. “Are they afraid that someone might try to break open the coffin and expose the fact she was murdered?” Ron Smidgehurst has another explanation for the security precautions. “They’re more worried that some of the poor bastards who suffered under her diabolical policies will try and drive a stake through her heart, just to make sure she’s dead, if they have her lying in state,” he claimed in his newspaper column. “It’s the same with the security on the funeral route – they’re afraid the coffin will be hijacked and her body disinterred and beheaded by an angry mob. I just hope that nobody chants ‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Out, out, out!’ while the hearse is passing by, otherwise the evil old bat will come crawling out of her coffin to blight our lives all over again!”
Even in death, Thatcher’s zombie ideology that “there is no alternative” will continue to feed on our imagination. The time has come to prove her wrong.
Thatcher is dead — and I am in a state of mourning. I am mourning because she got away with it. Just like that disgusting dictatorial friend of hers, General Pinochet, when the mass-murdering monster peacefully died in his sleep in 2006. They both got away with it. And worse: each left behind an ideological legacy so politically and culturally pervasive that we are still beating our heads into the wall just to try and erase it. Like some kind of zombie ideology preying on our collective imagination, the undying spirit of Pinochet and Thatcher lingers on into the 21st century. We protest, we write, we riot — but nothing ever seems to change. For these are the undead. They cannot die.
“Liberalize, privatize, stabilize!” The austerity mantra is repeated by bland and lifeless technocrats from Mexico to Greece, while teenage students lock themselves up in high schools and go on hunger strike in Santiago de Chile. Others run riot in the street, dragging policemen off their horses and beating them up with sticks. In London, the disaffected youth rise up in riotous fury, attacking police, looting shops and burning down their neighbor’s homes. “There is no alternative,” Thatcher said. In this neoliberal era of cynicism, the only alternative left for Generation Playstation has become the emulation of the effigies of consumerism; or burning down its symbols of authority.
The traditional Left still has good reason to hate Thatcher, and perhaps to organize some kind of public party on her state-funded grave. I don’t blame them. But I also don’t think the celebration of her long-awaited death will do the cause of the Left much good. The traditional Left — based as it is on defunct political parties and dysfunctional trade unions that toppled over the moment the Big Bad Wolf huffed and puffed and blew a whiff of its neoliberal hot air at them — is clearly moribund and destined for the dustbin of history. Partly, the ferocity with which Thatcher pursued her state-based class war was responsible for its demise; but for the most part the decline of state-oriented labor activism is simply the result of a process of structural change that goes far beyond the actions of an individual woman.
In an otherwise profoundly misguided article, Slavoj Zizek once rightly observed that the greatest achievement of Thatcherism was not the 11-year rule of Thatcher herself, but the premiership of Tony Blair. There is a truth in these words that should weigh heavily on the conscience of all those who remain committed to social change today. The great triumph of Thatcher’s neoliberal project resides not in the many confrontational ways in which she sought to weaken Labour, but rather in the subversive ways in which her polarizing rhetoric actually ended up strengthening Labour — eventually turning it into the most powerful weapon of the capitalist class. If anything, Tony Blair proved that it was never really Thatcher who ruled Britain, but the financial interests in the City of London all along.
From the very beginning it was clear that Thatcher was really just the bitch of financial capital — who did not mind biting ordinary citizens in the face on its behalf. She deregulated the financial sector with a religious ferocity that would make even an inquisition-era Pope blush; but she was by no means single-handedly responsible for the financialization and de-industrialization of the British economy. Indeed, the seeds of that process go back way further, at least to the late 1950s, when a combination of structural pressures and deliberate state actions helped to establish the so-called Eurodollar markets in London, which effectively served to re-establish the City as a major international financial center. And, of course, Thatcher’s deregulation of the City continued with equally dogmatic conviction under Tony Blair.
In this sense, Thatcher is hated not because she assaulted labor and destroyed the British welfare state — but because she did it with such religious zeal and such extreme determination. She was hated, in other words, not for the policies and ideas she pursued but for the ugly face she put on them, and the extremely obnoxious squeaking voice with which she barked at her opponents. Ultimately, Thatcher was hated because she personified the naked logic of class warfare operating underneath the technocratic surface of her neoliberal project. She was hated because she made “there is no alternative” sound like there really was no alternative; and because her version of class warfare seemed to veer on the same blunt brutality that had marked the profoundly dehumanizing logic of laissez-faire capitalism in the Victorian era.
For this, we should actually be grateful to Thatcher: at least she made it very obvious where she stood. From the extreme police brutality at the Battle of Orgreaves to the highly symbolic milk snatching from school children, Thatcher’s approach to class struggle was straightforward and in-your-face: “my job is to stop Britain going red”, she once proudly boasted. Under Thatcher, as under Reagan and George W. Bush, the battle-lines were clearly drawn: you were either with her or against her. Things were so simple then. What are we to do today, with the Orwellian ideological apparatus of the neoliberal project firing on all cylinders? Thatcher’s dictum that “there is no such thing as society” became Cameron’s “Big Society”. The policies and social outcomes are still the same, but many people just don’t see it anymore.
In the global class war of the 21st century, Thatcher’s blunt upper-class sneers have been replaced with the seemingly progressive reason of the embarrassingly subservient Nick Clegg; Pinochet’s murderous role in suppressing the Left became Piñera’s heroic role in saving trapped Chilean miners; Reagan’s cowboy attitude to CIA-sponsored coups and US invasions in Latin America has long since made way for Obama’s friendly smiles and silent drone strikes. In the process, the dehumanizing logic of global capitalism and neoliberal ideology is obscured with a gentle layer of good-intent. This is capitalism with a human face; a blend of market fundamentalism specifically tailored to making you believe it is in your best interest to obey.
But the financial meltdown of 2008 and the deluge of public debt that followed in its wake have made it clear that the financial sector still pulls the strings everywhere, and that the political puppet-show and democratic dress-rehearsal repeated every four years or so are just that: superficial changes to cover up a terrifying process of structural change towards ever greater capitalist control over our lives. Coming on the heels of the collapse of the corporatist Keynesian compromise that had marked the post-war decades, Thatcher’s relentless assault on the working class came to embody that structural change — it came to represent it. But it remains crucially important to make a distinction here: it was not Thatcher who systematically erased our dignity and destroyed our society. It was the capitalist system she sought to defend.
If there is one thing that captures Thatcherism as an ideology and sets it apart from the naked logic of capitalism as Thatcher otherwise expounded it, it must be the immensely effective mantra that “there is no alternative.” In this respect, Thatcher helped to bring about one of the most dramatic and most successful suppressions of humanity’s collective imagination since the invention of the Catholic Church. Indeed, the mantra was so powerful that it continues to be repeated ad nauseam by the right today — in the proclamations of Troika representatives, for instance, when they claim that “there is no alternative” to dramatic budget cuts, impossible tax hikes and a mass firesale privatization of state assets in Greece or Spain. This is surely the most powerful way to repress change and avoid any democratic debate.
And yet the mantra’s most destructive and subversive legacy resides not in its dogmatic appropriation by the right, but in the many subversive ways in which it managed to undermine the collective imagination of the Left. For instance, when reviewing David Graeber’s new book on democracy, John Kampfner argues that “Graeber’s unwillingness to set out credible economic and political alternatives is curious.” But did not Graeber, by helping to set up the New York General Assembly and by explicitly mentioning Occupy Wall Street’s anarchist roots and its emphasis on direct democracy, provide precisely such an already-existing alternative? Was not the prefigurative politics of the Occupy movement precisely the type of real-world alternative we have all been longing for? By just refusing to see it, Kampfner indirectly helps to perpetuate Thatcher’s dictum that there is, indeed, no alternative.
Either way, regardless of how successful her ideological mantras may have been, Thatcher was never really the prophet her supporters made her out to be. In the 1980s, she unapologetically defended the Apartheid regime in South Africa, stating that Mandela’s ANC “is a typical terrorist organisation” and “anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land.” For Thatcher, there was apparently no alternative to white racist rule in South Africa. Luckily, it only took a few years for the Iron Lady to be proven wrong. Now that global capitalism and neoliberal ideology are running on their last legs, the time has come for us — those anti-capitalists living in “cloud-cuckoo land” — to prove her wrong once more.
Thatcher opponents have driven the song ‘Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead’ to the top of Britain’s pop charts. Was the ‘retaliatory’ promotion of a 1979 punk song fanned by fans – or a good capitalist moment?
Two songs are battling to the top of the British music charts in memory of Margret Thatcher. One is, her supporters say, in bad taste, but the one adopted by fans of the late Conservative prime minister isn’t quite what it seems, either.
Opponents of Thatcher have campaigned successfully to have “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead”, a song from the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz” composed by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, to reach the top spot Britain’s official charts.
The response from Conservative Party supporters was swift, with newspapers including The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph demanding that the BBC refuse to play the song. The BBC has said it will play a five-second clip of the song along with a news item explaining why during its official chart rundown on Radio One, Sunday.
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Equally irritated, though less outraged, Tories had another plan: counter Ding Dong with a song of their own. They chose the little-known 1979 punk number “I’m in Love with Margaret Thatcher” by the Notsensibles.
The British press loved it — and why not? It’s a good story, in a silly sort of way: a bit of political argy-bargy in a fun and digestible package.
The media didn’t exactly work hard to uncover the truth of the story, such as it is. A phone call to the band’s former frontman, Michael Hargreaves, was all it took to discover that the campaign predated the Tories’ adoption of it.
Hargreaves himself started the campaign with a Facebook page on Wednesday that soon garnered 8,000 likes. Surprisingly, though, by Friday it had been adopted by Conservative Party supporters as a counter to “Ding Dong.” Facebook, Twitter and Tory blogs lit-up with requests that people buy the song in order to keep the anti-Thatcher song from reaching the top spot in the hit parade.
Would Maggie be proud?
In some press interviews, Hargreaves has implied, rather unconvincingly, that he is a supporter of Mrs. Thatcher. But if the song is a hit, the royalty checks may represent some private enterprise Margaret Thatcher would approve of.
Hargreaves, an ex-punk rocker who now works with adults with learning disabilities, is an unlikely figure for adoption by Conservative Party members, though he did say “Ding Dong” was disrespectful. (Read a in-depth profile of Margaret Thatcher here.)
“My grandfather was [both] a Christian and a communist. I’m a fat, 50-year-old punk. You make your mind up about my political sensibilities,” he says.
Hargreaves, who is due to perform with his old band on BBC television news in Manchester on Monday, says he doesn’t really mind how high the song charts in the end, but that the experience has been fun. “We dunked a pebble in the lake and there seems to be a few ripples.”
Eighty-five seconds of the song were previously featured in the 2011 biopic movie “The Iron Lady,” starring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher.
“I find it hilarious that Tories have adopted it,” he says. “The song is a sort-of tribute and sort-of not.”
Her head will be used for dog meat.
Mrs Thatcher (archive)
The statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square declared: ’Never in the field of human governance was so little done for so many by one mad old bat. This idea will get a big bronze V-sign from me.’
Even Cleopatra’s Needle, Victoria Embankment, London, was observed to wilt for several hours at the thought of a Thatcher statue, while the smiles disappeared from the faces of the statues of Morecambe and Wise on Morecambe promenade.
Londoner and living statue Stewart Lansbury once tried a stint as a Thatcher statue but gave up after an hour because, even though silent and motionless, it scared the shit out of small children and pensioners who were ‘there at the time’. Lansbury said he’d heard that Lord Nelson was seen to vomit marbles from his plinth in Trafalgar Square, causing a number of minor injuries to tourists below.
Despite Baroness Thatcher’s antipathy to the arts, some sculptors have expressed a cautious welcome to the idea of a statue in her name.
‘I don’t want to knock holes in the idea,’ said Jacob Bernstein, ‘but when Thatcher was prime minister she was always chipping away at the arts budgets. So now maybe we can do the same to her.’
The only stone-hewn effigy reported to approve of a Thatcher statue is that of Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris in the Strand. ‘But the motive for Harris’ support is unclear,’ said an RAF spokesman, ‘but it may have something to do with Dresden.’
‘Some people have expressed surprise at the reaction of the statues to a Thatcher statue,’ said Mr Lansbury, ‘But they have feelings, too, just like the people they are statues of. Do you think they’re made of marble or something?’