The Blog

Want To Know Thatcher's Legacy? Look Around You

Thatcher's Britain was one that lauded individualism, conspicuous consumption, and the fetishizing of creature comforts. It unitised the world around us, and made a virtue of economic hubris, cleverly rebranded as "freedom', no doubt with the help of an advertising agency.

In St Paul's Cathedral, where Margaret Thatcher's ceremonial funeral takes place tomorrow, is the epitaph to that magnificent building's architect, Sir Christopher Wren. It reads, "if you seek his monument, look around you"

It's fitting then that Thatcher's journey would end there because, love her or hate her, for better or worse, Margaret Thatcher's legacy too is all around us.

It was all around us from the hour she died. The online reaction, such a predictable set piece as it was, proved it: even in the immediate aftermath of her death she polarised dramatically. Visceral rejoicers were anticipated and tut-tutted by high-handed acolytes, with potshots about her corrosive effect on British society and a hypocritical lefty lack of empathy and respect flying back and forth all day. It seemed at points as if so much time and energy and preparation had gone in to the social media thrust and parry that it would almost be rude not to.

Apart from those either toasting her death or getting ready to chisel her face into the White Cliffs Of Dover, one of the more bluntly comic reactions to her death was that of some businesses. One restaurant used her death as a perfect time to let the world know that their mixed kebabs were "fucking delicious", while a bar in Belfast, where Thatcher was always a touchy subject for obvious reasons, had a promotion on Argentine beer, and offered free milk with every coffee. On some level, she'd probably approve of the small business innovation and initiative.

Even her very funeral arrangements - and the associated public costs - caused controversy. Although it's probably better the likes of G4S aren't handling it, as it would probably cost three times as much and the cortege would get lost on Waterloo Bridge.

There too were hints of her legacy in the fact none of Harry Styles' fans knew who the hell she was, nor would any of them have likely cared only for Harry tweeting about it. No such thing as society indeed. Her legacy was definitely felt in a sphere where Mr Styles is a lot more comfortable, the UK charts, where the whole "Dong Dong The Witch Is Dead" debacle led to a ludicrous BBC fudge that infuriated pretty much everyone in some form or other.

But whatever the reaction,the crucial thing is that everyone reacted. People always did. And yet the paradox is that while Margaret and indifferent reactions never went together, the society (for want of a better word) she left behind is riddled with ambivalence.

Thatcher's Britain was one that lauded individualism, conspicuous consumption, and the fetishizing of creature comforts. It unitised the world around us, and made a virtue of economic hubris, cleverly rebranded as "freedom', no doubt with the help of an advertising agency.

We've seen this very clearly in recent times, to give but one example, following the Occupy Movement. They were regularly scoffed for their economic naïveté, their lack of a mission statement, and apparent hypocrisy because some of them still drank coffee. That we lived in such a bottom line world in which it's impossible to evade the reach of capitalism and a system wholly based on planned obsolescence being precisely the point seemed lost on these people.

There's a certain "ends justify the means" deferential attitude to industry still knocking around that owes a great deal to Thatcher. Amazon are up their necks in ethical problems, Vodafone don't pay their tax, Starbucks were embarrassed in to paying theirs. That's just a few examples, but for every person protesting it, there's probably another one saying "that's awful" but still downloading and drinking lattes away, and another rolling their eyes at the bleeding hearts who reckon we should be lucky we live in a world of free texts and second albums for less than a pound. Margaret Thatcher did great damage to the social fabric by simply rejecting its premise. The writer Aaron Sorkin is very fond of the phrase "More and more we expect less and less of each other". He's right.

Then of course there's the legacy she left the opposition. In many ways they were the keenest disciples. With some on the left languishing in the kind of doctrinaire denial we see the free-marketeers displaying now, and the social democrats, liberals and centrists hamstrung by the lunacy of the electoral system, personality clashes and bad luck, 15 years of kicking their heels made for impatience. The likes of Tony Blair burned with a very Thatcherite ambition, and as such rather than carve out their own definition of the era New Labour followed the market trends that they thought was the Route 1 to the power and the glory; a carefully packaged commodity to sell to an increasingly consumerist, obsessively demographied public.

And yet in spite of her absolute dominance of the era (indeed, *her* era), the other important part of her legacy was the fact she regularly failed to do what she actually intended. She was an arch-patriot yet she basically cut the regions and the nations loose, to their perpetual resentment. She was a woman of staunch Victorian values of thrift and sobriety, yet oversaw unprecedented and lurid profligacy. She spoke of the freedom of the individual, yet decried and legislated against "the inalienable right to be gay". She blasted the Soviet Union in the most stringent and absolutist terms, yet found no problem with Apartheid South Africa, Pinochet or Suharto. She's been presented now as the pre-eminent statesman since the war, yet she showed remarkable lack of finesse on the world stage. She cited St Francis of Assisi pledging to bring harmony from discord, yet she became notorious in Ireland for her "Out, Out, Out" response to the New Ireland Forum, and her "No, No, No" response to Europe, a reaction that ended her premiership.

She was a woman of her time in many ways. Had she faced an election in '76, '77 or'78, she probably would not have won. Had she gone for re-election in 1982, Roy Jenkins could very well have been Prime Minister after. But she was lucky, and she hung on in there in office for 11 years. Her influence hung around much longer. And that is a great shame.