Tuesday, April 9, 2013

I reminisce about Thatcher and give OK to parties

Just a couple of reminiscences about Thatcher. And by the way yes it's quite okay to party at her demise. The politicised contest about how to remember her is not about the past it's a battle over Britain's present and future. Read Jonathan Freedland in today’s Guardian. The only reason the expression “state funeral” isn't being used, he says, is to avoid a vote in parliament which would give opportunity for dissent. Palace and government are working hard to make the funeral create the illusion that Thatcher has a cherished place in the nation’s memory.

Michael Foot lost the 1983 election.
A decent cove.
But I promised my reminiscences. One is from the 1983 General Election. Thatcher had been in power for 4 years at this time and it was pretty clear Labour led by Michael Foot were heading for a catastrophic defeat largely due to the SDP split.  Thatcher would increase her majority and five years of misery beckoned. I was the presiding officer at a polling station in Acomb in York. During the evening a working class family came in to vote, and I could tell the middle-aged man had difficulty reading. There was a protocol to follow, which I think involved me going into the voting booth and reading the names on the ballot paper to him. This I offered to do, but soon wished I hadn’t. He drew himself up to his full height and informed me that that whilst he might not be able to read and write, he knew right from wrong. Off he stalked into the polling booth, and when he came back a glimpse at his ballot as he slipped it into the box told me he had voted Labour.

The other reminiscence is from the day of Thatcher’s departure in November 1990. Geoffrey Howe’s speech in Parliament had triggered a Conservative leadership election, and though it seemed to be about Europe I think everyone knew it was really about the poll tax.

Poll tax demo in late 1980's
This was a local tax which took huge sums from the poor in order to reduce the tax paid by the rich. Millions refused to pay - 18 million if you believe this anticapitalist website, though I'm not sure I do. The Tories knew they were on to a loser and all three of the contenders to succeed
Thatcher as party leader pledged to abandon the tax.

When it became clear that she wasn’t going to win the leadership election,  Thatcher resigned. Joy all round. The day was Thursday 22nd November 1990.  Eileen and I were due in court within the next the few weeks for poll tax non-payment and we prided ourselves on having contributed in a small way to her downfall.

At that time my Dad was alive and living in Bristol. Every Sunday we used to talk on the phone. He was a big Thatcher supporter, he really loved her, I think that can be said of a lot of her supporters. So on Sunday 25th I didn't ring. I knew he would be sore about her going, and we would have a destructive quarrel. And I'm very glad I didn't, as it would have been our last conversation. A few days later he died suddenly of a heart attack. Those are my Thatcher reminiscences for what they are worth.