I left school in 1983, the same month Margaret Thatcher won her second election. In my Yorkshire hometown there was disbelief that once again the south had returned to power someone who had transformed the industrial heartlands in much the same way the US infantry transformed Baghdad.
By 1987, and Thatcher's third victory, I had followed her "minder" Norman Tebbit's advice and got on my bike to London; I'd never had a "proper" job and writing a novel was both therapy and a possible way out of the condemned house on a sprawling estate where I and my friends lived.
The book concerned the lives of four friends who had grown up under Thatcherism, and who - being deprived of work - never had the chance to fully develop; my provisional title was "Thatcher's Abortions". In the end I decided that would be problematic and chose "Fire Horses", after the Chinese astrological symbol.
Fire Horses are seen as uniquely dangerous, and many Fire Horses in the Far East are destroyed at birth. The last era of the Fire Horse was between 21st January 1966 and 8th February 1967; by having the main characters born around that time they became teenagers in 1979 and by the time the Tories lost power in 1997 they would be thirty.
Many of the events of my book take place on the day of the general election; the characters experience the harsher aspects of Thatcherism, often directly. Most fiction I've read about the eighties seems to concentrate on the Square Mile and the shoulder pad; I wanted my novel to describe how it was for those who didn't fare so well during that turbulent decade.
Late in the book, two characters are discussing Thatcher's legacy:
"I remember," I tell him, "before Thatcher, sad used to mean something else. Now it just means loser. See also: Billy No-mates; do-gooder." I swig my beer. "Know what I'd do? I'd hang the cunt for treason. Crimes against the state."
The anger elucidated, in blunt terms, by my characters; was how I felt - and still feel. For those of us who came of age in the Eighties, anger was our legacy. Perhaps I should thank the woman for that, at least; and for providing me with such a vivid backdrop of conflict and misery, in which to place my work.
Although my second novel, "Out of Office", was set entirely in contemporary London, many of its themes - poverty, intolerance, privatisation - were directly influenced by what a friend called Thatcher's "revolutionary capitalism", a revolution which Blair and Brown disgracefully continued and which now, under this ghastly coalition of Old Etonians and "Liberals", is almost complete.
Ken Livingstone has said that he couldn't think of a single thing Thatcher did with which he agreed. Some of Thatcher's policies were undoubtedly good ones, but it's hard to avoid the suspicion that even when they worked out well, the results weren't as she intended; in others, such as "right to buy", she turned a potentially brilliant policy into one which led to today's catastrophic housing shortage; and in cases such as the Falkland conflict, she was bailed out by the bravery of young men and women who joined up to escape the dole queue she had created and which she and her government saw as "a price worth paying".
Many of those now defending Thatcher's name are too young to comprehend how awful the eighties were for many people and the communities in which they lived. If today's young people are the "lost generation", what of those who experienced even higher rates of unemployment, the destruction of their unions and industries, the apparent lust for hunger-striker's blood, the end of the apprenticeship, along with the terrifying spectre of nuclear war?
I feel no compelling urge to attend the funeral, either to celebrate or commemorate one of this country's most divisive leaders. Although I find the sight of teenagers drinking cider to "celebrate" a little pathetic (if you can't remember the eighties, you weren't there), a part of me can't help thinking that if there was a riot today, it would be rather appropriate, as perhaps the most defining images of her reign were of our smashed inner cities.
Less appropriate is the song chosen by the anti-Thatcher brigade to mark her passing. It was silly of the BBC to refuse to play all of ""Ding dong! The witch is dead", but it was also a silly song to choose. How about "ghost town", by The Specials; "Crazy", by Gnarls Barkley; or better still "Kill the Poor" by the Dead Kennedys?
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