Saturday, April 13, 2013

Ding-dong - nothing to read here

It is sensible enough advice: if you keep doing something and it hurts, stop doing it.

If you have an irrepressible desire to slap Tom Cruise in the face every time you see that toothy grin, simply avoid his movies. And if you keep waking up with a raging hangover, a strange person in your bed and no recollection of how either state of affairs came to be, stick to soft drinks.

My problem is that I keep visiting Mail Online, the website of Britain's venerable 'heartbeat of Middle England', the Daily Mail. Being an inveterate media rubbernecker, and despite the obvious health risks associated with elevated blood pressure, I can’t help being drawn to the road-strewn offal of the grotesque car crash that is the site.

Like its newspaper parent, the Mail Online is a mix of livid stories about the clearly and overtly Marxist-Leninist BBC, East European immigrants (legal and illegal), Kardashians, weight gains of the famous and a decidedly creepy fascination with LeAnne Rimes.

This week, however, the Mail and its online shadow have elevated themselves to an entirely new altitude of bilious invective and sycophantic obsequiousness with the death of the Baroness Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990, former Member of Parliament for North Finchley, and onetime Grantham grocer's daughter.

Her death left the Mail in a state of untogetherness, seemingly not knowing which angle to spew forth on the most, in a state that was somewhere between the extreme outpourings of grief you see in parts of the developing world and a child going mad on sugary drinks too early during a house party. You just know there will be a crash sooner or later.

I won’t pretend I ever admired Thatcher as a politician, or respected her politics, but I offer genuine condolence to her family: a son and daughter have lost a mother, grandchildren have lost a loving grandmother. She was, though, just a politician. A successful one, but a politician nonetheless. And certainly not the deity some media outlets - including the Mail - have contrived to position her as.

As a child growing up in the 1970s, Britain was a grey, strike-paralysed morass, with that decade culminating in the so-called 'Winter of Discontent'. However, I hardly had an opinion on who should lead the country into the 1980s. For a start, I was only 11 when Margaret Thatcher moved into 10 Downing Street on May 4, 1979, and was more concerned with the paint authenticity of my latest Airfix project than matters of such national weight.

But I do remember vividly her arrival speech, borrowed from St Francis of Assisi: "Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”

Within two years, Brixton, Toxteth, Bristol and other cities were ablaze in the worst and bloodiest urban rioting in British history. I don’t even remember what sparked the tinder, but I do know that it was ugly and The Specials’ Ghost Town came out of it. By the time Argentinian forces invaded the Falkland Islands in April 1982, Britain - to the 14-year-old me - seemed to be in as big a mess as it had been at the beginning of 1979.

Thatcher, however, seemed to come out of the Falklands episode stronger and more despotic than ever, propped up by her intransigent dogmatism and a sheer unwillingness to view the downtrodden as anything other than people who should just pull themselves up by the bootstraps. Ironic, considering she'd just gone up against a failing junta in the South Atlantic. Even more so that she would befriend and admire another South American dictator, Augusto Pinochet, responsible for the deaths of 3,000 Chileans and the torture of almost 30,000 more.

From the Falklands we had her battle with the unions, the miner's strike in particular, all waged more in principle than intended outcome. Yes, unions had been crippling British economic development for years, but was the permanent blighting of entire communities really the best outcome?

Picture © The Times
Thatcherism did its worst. Greed became good. The haves had even more, and the have nots had even less. "Loadsamoney" became the national doctrine, as the banks became deregulated...and we all now know how that has ended up.

I could go on, but I won't. I'd rather do something else than dwell too much on her legacy. People are entitled to their opinions, and so am I. Let's agree to disagree.

To return to this week's events, though, I am still disturbed by the press coverage and the slavish canonisation that the British media, and those in many other countries, have been exercising this week. The Mail's seizures, plus the blanket resurgence of that bouffant helmet of blonde hair, and those eyes so brilliantly caricatured by Spitting Image as piercing red lasers, have only brought back memories of a period of British history that has rendered my opinion of politics and politicians scarred forever.

It is not about left or right. It's about a legacy that, when held under scrutiny, did anything but bring harmony, truth, faith and hope.

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