As Thatcher is buried today, I’d like to relate my experiences under Thatcherism.
We entered her tenure in a state of high inflation, where food prices and rents went up radically and we did all we could to ensure that our wages kept up. The other price rises came in the form of interest rates. Some of us were lucky to be in a position to save up the minimum 10% needed for a mortgage. Interest-only was the mortgage offered to the hard-up, with a mandatory endowment payment. This resulted in a shortfall at the end of the term - not the promised bonus; and which lined the pockets of the financial district. So there we were, trapped in a mortgage as council houses were being sold off and mortgage rates climbing to 18%. During these days of high interest rates, I learnt how to make a weekday meal out of soup and potatoes.
Life was filled with fear.
Fear of losing your job was the prime one. To be on the dole made you a social pariah. Bosses soon started annual redundancy rounds. Jobs were re-organised and manipulated to hide the plan to drop staff at one salary level and replace them with the lower paid. And if you raised your head above the parapet with dissent – well it would be easy to get rid of you next time round. As unemployment went up so did the pressure at work – there were plenty of people to replace you. That gut-wrenching feeling every morning...
Fear of unions was another. She made the atmosphere so bad that those petrified workers in the private sector were too afraid to bring in a union to their workplace. They were totally without protection. Scargill was made the daily hate figure, ‘him and his unions will bring down the country’, ‘it’s all his fault’, ‘he’s a criminal’ and so on. My mum stayed true to him, bless her. But as much as she taught me about what was going on, that Thatcherite-induced fear lay deep within me, I stayed quiet, I just let it all happen. After all, with a crippling mortgage I couldn’t afford to lose my job. And slowly but surely, with the blessing of an anti-union public, the public sector that we had paid for with our taxes was sold off like the family silver. The revenues were given to the rich in the form of tax cuts.
Fear of politics was perhaps the worst. As the years under Thatcher and her successors rolled on, it became increasingly difficult to say you voted Labour. It started very subtly, and was mostly positive toward her. It was when she took on the unions that the negativity toward those on the left became slowly but surely more insidious. How did the atmosphere change so imperceptibly from one election to the next? Any mention of politics in the office meant being surrounded and shouted down by braying fools who made jokes about Michael Foot and Tony Benn. The atmosphere was a replica of McCarthyism. ‘Are you or have you ever been a member of the left?’ But what was the worst: it was your colleagues who were doing it to you. ‘Are you with us or against us?’ – although Bush didn’t go as far as Truman’s Loyalty Review Board the atmosphere was there for the Patriot laws.
So let’s always remember Thatcher and how the left disintegrated under her thirty years ago. My involvement in politics in those days was at the ballot box. I don’t know why the left fractured so much – I do know they weren’t there when I needed them. We must create an atmosphere where our friends do not fear admitting they are left wing, an atmosphere which is not black or white but allows the shades of grey of opinion. We must support one another in this fight against the Tories and remember what Edward Murrow said: