As was repeated endlessly at the time of her death; Margaret Thatcher was divisive. The Iron Lady created both loyal admirers and bitter enemies through her programme of modernisation, stretching from the late seventies to the early nineties, which drew battle lines that still guide much of British politics.
As the longest-serving British Prime Minister of the 20th Century, Mrs Thatcher unleashed the City of London as the global powerhouse that it is today, transformed Britain’s ridiculous nationalised industries, and curtailed the bullyboy mob of trade unions that had been holding the country to ransom for years.
A new door had been opened in the United Kingdom and the old way of doing things was preventing many Britons from stepping through it – until Mrs Thatcher gave them the push.
However, for all the progress that was made, there were losses and one group very close to my heart was hit very hard - white working-class men. For instance, men who had been able to rely on secure jobs, passed down from their fathers, found themselves without stable employment, or any employment at all.
While one of the enduring stereotypes of the Thatcher years may be the “loadsamoney” ‘Essex Man’, enjoying his new-found wealth, for many working-class men, without education or the connections required by this new era, the Thatcher years are not remembered fondly. The new, modern economy in which they found themselves was as alien as the new culture of Duran Duran, Wham!, and Adam & the Ants – with their make-up, strange hair, and flamboyant manner.
For all her achievements, Mrs Thatcher’s legacy has a very dark blemish on it – she left many young white working-class men behind…
…and it is happening again.
“Oh God!”, I can hear you sputter, “He’s a men’s rights activist! Close tab!”
Fear not, dear reader, I’m not.
Men, generally, are not an oppressed class and, especially if they are university educated or trained, being a man in modern Britain, America, or Western Europe doesn’t constitute an impediment. The ‘MRAs’ are a petulant creche of manbabies who do those of us who want men’s issues to be taken seriously a disservice and provide a convenient strawman to our opponents. However, there is a kernel of truth in their misdirected, politicised concern - for men, at the bottom of society, life is getting tougher.
White working class men in the UK are far less likely than their brothers and sisters in other cohorts to have a decent set of qualifications in their back pockets when applying for jobs and, as Theresa May pointed out in her first speech as Prime Minister, are also less likely than anyone else to study at university.
Furthermore, white working-class men are at the top, or near the top, of all the tables you want to be at the bottom of – violence, drug use, homelessness etc. – while they find themselves at the bottom of the ‘good’ lists. Most frighteningly, although its impact has become dulled horrifically by exposure, is the rate of suicide among this group – the numbers are truly shocking. Suffice it to say, if you’re poor, white, and under 40, and you die, it’s probably by your own hand.
A more cynical person may place this in the context of restorative social justice.
Perhaps the troubles of white working-class men now are justifiable following the years of ‘supremacy’ they have enjoyed at the expense of others?
Maybe the architects, or at least their sons, of the patriarchy (a concept that, like a bad liar, becomes harder to believe with each interrogation) are simply getting their comeuppance and this is justice in action?
How can we sympathise with these men and boys who hold generations of ‘privilege’ and have only now had it taken away?
Sure, they miss out of a few university places and a couple of them don’t have jobs but what about the devastation their bothers have wrought?
Even if genuine human solidarity isn’t enough, there is one chilling element that should make everyone who isn’t a white working-class man care about their plight. The last time the situation was like it is, after the Thatcher years saw the end of the mines and the mills, we saw the rise of hooliganism, yob culture, and the football casual movement as ways for white working-class men to cope, using those unfortunately base male proclivities of violence and aggression.
The worry is, if we continue to create a similarly disenchanted and angry group of young white working-class men, we risk a similar phenomenon emerging but only this time with the might of instant and readily available digital communications in the mix.
The prospect is frightening and the need to do something is urgent.
Please, let’s not forget about these boys.