The mainstream media valorisation of Margaret Thatcher rested on one main narrative idea, that she, “saved the nation”; that before her the country was being effectively governed by unelected trade unionists and that this was destroying our economy and culture and reducing once Great Britain to the status of a third world country.
And this was an almost unbearable humiliation for Thatcher and her generation who had grown up in a world in which two thirds of the map of the world was pink. (Not because everyone was gay but because this colour was used to indicate the countries that were part of the British Empire). Indeed, racism in the UK was premised on the idea of British Exceptionalism – that the British were/are an exceptional race of human beings who God had given the mission of civilising the world. (We currently live in the age U.S. Exceptionalism).
Yet in 2004 the New Economics Foundation published a report suggesting that the British as a nation were “happiest’ in the 70’s, 1976 specifically.
So how come we were all so happy and yet Maggie Thatcher had to ‘save us’? Well, I would argue that one of the reasons we were all so happy was exactly the thing Thatcher was supposed to save us from, i.e. trade union power.
On a training course I once did it was suggested that there are five psychological preconditions necessary for a sense of personal well-being.
- To love and be loved
- A sense of security – physical & financial
- To be a respected member of a community
- To have a sense of personal competency
- To have a sense of personal autonomy
I would argue that with the strong trade union movement of the 70’s the vast majority of ordinary people had far greater levels of all of the above except number 1. As the old Strawbs song said, “You can’t get me I’m part of the union!” Personal autonomy at work came from the protection provided by the collective power of the trade union community, a sense of competency from job demarcation and fraternity from the collective endeavours of industrial action. As ‘ordinary people’ we felt ‘powerful’, we were powerful.
Conversely if you were a member of the ruling elite in 1976 you were as powerless as you ever had been and had much lower levels of 2-5 above than you had had in say 1946, when WWII ended. You were no longer respected as part of the elite, indeed you were often scoffed at, your financial security was threatened by strikes and progressive taxation and as a result your ability “to do as you damn well pleased”, was seriously undermined.
So Thatcher didn’t save the nation; she saved the ruling class. She defeated the “enemy within”, i.e. the rest of us, and reasserted the idea that government should be in the interests of the governing.
This is why for the rest of us in the Anglophone world there has been a massive increase in mental illness, depression and suicide since 1979. We are all up to our eyes in smart phones, laptops, X boxes, 48 inch screen HD TV’s and other bits of consumer kit but meanwhile we’re all stressed to fuck, working every hour God sends while our incomes in real terms sink further and further below their 1970’s levels.
We haven’t been saved, we’ve been well and truly shafted.