Grange Comprehensive School. Wednesday 12th February 1975.After registration, all us girls were told to go to the hall because Mrs Cornthwaite wanted to talk to us. We thought we were going to be told off for blocking the loos with sanitary towels. There was no internet back then, we had to make us own entertainment. As it turned out Mrs Cornflake wanted to talk to us about history, specifically the making of, with particular reference to us & our ability to do so. It was a bit of a rambling speech which I barely bothered to listen to let alone remember. The basic upshot of it was, that by the time of the next election most of us would be eligible to vote & now that the Tories had a female leader it was, for the first time, possible for us to vote a woman into the role of Prime Minister. Not only was it possible, but she practically told us that it was our DUTY, as women to be, to see to it that this historic event came to pass. I remember walking out surrounded by a general yammer of excitement about The First Woman Prime Minister. My best friend Thalma & I looked at each other & as one said “But she’s a Tory!” It was at that moment that I decided that whatever Mrs Cornflake thought, asking me to vote tory, even if it was to make history, was just too much. History was going to have to try again later.
I’d vote Monster Raving Loony before I ever voted Tory! So on Thursday 3rd May 1979 I voted for the sitting Labour MP, I can’t recall what his name was. He lost. Barry Porter (con) won & so did Margaret Hilda Thatcher. Thereby becoming the first female Prime Minister Of Great Britain. Which, if you don’t remember the 70s, was quite surprising at the time. I like to think that Mrs Cornflake, in her retirement, had a sherry or two that night & gave herself a little pat on the back for the part she’d played in Thatcher’s election. We had a woman in number 10. This is a good thing, yes? Things were going to change now! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Between The Wars.The town where I grew up had four main employers. Two oil refineries, a car manufacturer & a papermill. Virtually every household had somebody working in one of these. Some had the whole family working in one. In 1980 two of these closed, within a fortnight of each other, suddenly & completely. Due entirely to Thatcher’s moniterist policies. The town was devastated. Hundreds of people, many of whom had worked there since they left school, were suddenly unemployed. I’ll never forget going to sign on & seeing the queue stretch out of the building, down the street & around the corner. It was full of middle-aged men who had never been, & never thought they ever would be, in a dole queue. They were all suited & booted, nervously laughing & joking about ‘new starts’ & a ‘change of career’. The poor sods, they thought they were going to be given a job! I felt so sorry for them. The truth is that most of those men never worked again.
The reality that was about to hit them was that there were no jobs to be had. None. Nothing! Every week more & more people were being made unemployed as Britain’s manufacturing base was cynically dismantled to prove a political point. I watched those men crumble, a little more every week, week after week. They visibly shrank. It was a terrible thing to watch. I think some people don’t understand what grinding poverty can do to you. How helpless & hopeless it makes you feel & how it wears away your humanity. How inadequate it makes you feel to put your kids to bed with nothing but ketchup butties in their belly, to constantly be robbing Peter to pay Paul, to feel that there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
Then on top of that to be branded ‘the enemy within’, to be told that you’re a ‘moaning minnie’ for not being able to endure the unendurable & finally to be told that your misery was ‘a price worth paying’ to let the rich carry on in the manner to which they had become accustomed. You see it wasn’t enough for Thatcherites that she brought decent, hardworking, law-abiding citizens to their knees, they also had to be repeatedly kicked in the face for being down there.
For some of us the eighties weren’t about Wham, yuppies, shoulder-pads & deedly boppers. It was a time of abject poverty & relentless misery. If you watched The Boys From The Blackstuff (if you haven’t by the way; you really should) & thought that it was over the top or exaggerated in any way, let me tell you that it wasn’t. It was a very accurate portrayal of what I & many others suffered under the Tories. I personally know of people who ate their pets because there was nothing else. People who’s relationships crumbled & died, entirely due to their circumstances. And I knew of plenty of people who were pushed into depression, self-loathing & self-destruction. A lad I went to school with threw himself under a train, because he thought he was worth more dead than alive. I can’t even bring myself to write about all the wonderful friends I lost to AIDS & how the right-wing press treated them, but that was all part of the Thatcherite ideal of everybody marrying, having 2.6 children, working in the city & buying a semi-detached in the suburbs. To be different was to be wrong. The crimes of her government were many which is why I cannot sit back in ‘dignified’ silence & watch her being canonised by her cronies. Her only achievement was that she was the first woman Prime Minister. Well … The Duke Of Wellington was the first Irish Prime Minister; Disraeli was the first Jewish Prime Minister; Lloyd George was the only Prime Minister who’s mother tongue was not English; Pitt The Younger was the youngest Prime Minister. These are just trivial facts which say nothing of what sort of Prime Minister they were. She was NOT a great Prime Minister, she did NOT save this country, she sold us down the river. I will not stand by & let them re-write history!
The Last Straw.On 28th November 1990 Thatcher left Downing Street having been deposed by her own party. I was in a very good mood that day, it felt like an early Christmas present. She was going. She was, politically, dead. Ding dong. I watched the live broadcast from outside of number 10 as she dove away for the last time. The camera zoomed in on her face & it was clear that she was trying unsuccessfully to hold back the tears. That was the moment when I truly came to HATE that woman. How dare she?! How fucking dare she?!! After what she’d done, after all the lives she’d destroyed, the pain & misery she’d inflicted on so many to feather her, & her friends’ nests, to bolster her political image, how dare she, how very fucking dare she cry like a snivelling little spoilt brat? You pathetic, spineless, self-centered, self-obsessed, selfish bitch of a woman!! “Awh, but she lost her job.” Actually, no she didn’t. She got demoted. She still had a job, a very well paid job. She was still an MP. So I repeat, how dare she cry as she got in the car with her millionaire husband to drive back to their mansion in the countryside & start her new life of lucrative book deals & TV appearances & lecture tours? HOW FUCKING DARE SHE?!! I sincerely hope that she died in pain & agony, filled with fear, because then maybe she got a little taste of what she dished out to the rest of us. I can do no better than end on a quote from Nye Bevan, the Minister Of Health who spearhead the creation of the NHS in Clement Attlee’s post-war government:
“That is why no amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party that inflicted those bitter experiences on me. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin. They condemned millions of first-class people to semi-starvation. Now the Tories are pouring out money in propaganda of all sorts and are hoping by this organised sustained mass suggestion to eradicate from our minds all memory of what we went through. But, I warn you young men and women, do not listen to what they are saying now.”