thatcher and sas

1. As i become increasingly parodically English (i.e. as i approach perfection) my students more & more suppose i can answer questions like “what’s the difference between a marquis and an earl”, “should I tip the doorman at Harrods” and “what do you think about Margaret Thatcher?” Despite reading an essay on her in Paul Johnson’s Heroes, i cannot feel more than ambivalent admiration; admiration because she at least her some character, even if it was bad character. As Theodore Dalrymple wrote:

[…] it is unlikely that she will ever be considered a mere machine politician, dull and grey as John Major, Gordon Brown or David Cameron, or shallow and meretricious as Anthony Blair. Whether you agree with them or not, it would be easy to put forward a reasonably coherent set of views in which she believed; by contrast formulating the political philosophy of the others would be like trying to catch a cloud with a butterfly net.

One of my JobCentre students, an Italian philosopher & art critic, asked, with a genial smile, if i was sad that Thatcher had died. “I think you are conservative?” he added (i often do roleplays where the Turkish, Italian, and Russian students are thieves or terrorists and the Germans are the brutal interrogators who have to grammatically beat the truth out of them). In truth, her demise was surprisingly stirring; for though she more or less got to power by chance she was then a striking symbol for the changes in British culture.

Cultures tend to swing violently from one extreme to another; so she represented the violent opposite of the moustachioed socialist 70s; while i was too young and privileged to remember the 70s i gather it was a time of hairy miners eating fried eggs & baked beans when they should have been down the pit:

i feel ambivalent about Thatcher; but not because she was so primly middle-class: while i feel more comfortable with beret-clad bohemians, wild barons, sinister fascists, and vile peasants, the increasingly-defunct respectable middle class was as valid a part of England as the toffs and the horny-handed sons of the soil. It’s typical of shouty socialists that they hate the middle-classes, regardless of their own provenance. i haven’t yet met a single shouty socialist from a genuinely working-class background, i.e. someone who grew up in a council house, left school at 16, and went to work down the mines. Perhaps for this reason they like to romanticise working men as proud honest cannon fodder for their crusade against the hated middle & upper classes.

2. When i was younger i thought the machinery of politics and finance was so inexorable and complex that no single individual could make any difference. However, now i think that human society resembles a bee hive with its queen; the person in charge does exercise an influence, usually disastrous. Perhaps it is that, at the back of our minds, we take the person in charge to represent the ideal, or the inner essence of the country. Having worked in so many different places, i’ve come to see the immediate boss as the decisive influence.

Whereas i would say Tony Blair’s influence was wholly malign, Thatcher’s was mixed. She slapped down the shouty socialists – an undeniably benign act. However, she opposed their vile, self-interested, meretricious ideology with the disinterested pursuit of money. As my Communist enemy put it, she had the soul of a chemist: someone for whom the world is nothing but data, purely quantitative; for the chemist, aesthetics, spirituality, morality, culture, are qualitative and so don’t exist.

Socialism and unrestrained capitalism are both abominations. English socialists are driven by a hatred of Englishness (they regard any kind of genuine English or even European culture as Nazism); übercapitalists don’t care about culture, only money: they can live in Tokyo or New York or London, it’s all the same to them.

3. i’m largely uninterested in finance though i understand its importance; i just find it dull. So when people argue about protectionism and the free market and tariffs and what have you, my eyes glaze over and i reach for my pipe. i’m more interested in symbols and small daily actions, as i believe they determine our cultural identity and behaviour. In this respect, Thatcher was a disaster.

She transformed the public sector into a giant Stalinist bureaucracy, corrupting the values of public service. i don’t believe that the Army, police, doctors, and teachers were ever even close to perfect; but i think it has changed for the worse. My paper of choice, the Daily Mail, has recently featured a handful of stories about doctors (both white & Asian, before some socialist once more accuses me of being Adolf Hitler) sexually assaulting their patients. i’m sure this happened before; but just from anecdotal evidence i think the public sector has become increasingly self-interested, corrupt. (The police are a special case as they were always exposed to temptation and their work means they need to use force and largely encounter only the dregs of society). i believe this is due to Thatcher and, in turn, Nu Labour.

4. When i was child, i was entranced that my father, a doctor, received letters headed On Her Majesty’s Service. Naturally, i thought of the greatest Bond film ever made:

i also always respected the monarch. By a happy chance, Elizabeth II is, i think, a decent human being and so easy to respect. i never found knock-off Monty Python sneering interesting; in the 60s there was at least something mildly edgy about attacking the Royal Family; it’s now on a par with comparing people to Hitler – extremely old hat, like angry socialists ranting about “the Establishment” when the real Establishment in fact comprises the BBC and Guardian.

Every nation has its symbols. They (subtly) order and determine the nation’s idea of itself. In 21st Century England it seems mainly to be football and Big Brother. There will always be symbols so as politics becomes increasingly meaningless the new icons are Jade Goody, John Terry, Wayne Rooney. Growing up in the early 80s, the Queen was still significant.

queen with gun

Just as the monarch is an ordering symbol, so are her servants. In his private life my father was mostly intemperate, belligerent, feckless, petty, maniacal, domineering, violent, deranged; as a doctor he was something different. He took the job seriously as, i’ve noticed, many Indians do; by “Indian” i mean they were raised in India; genetics is, for me, useless as a guide to character or worth: one of the most (and best) English people i’ve met was an Indian girl i temped with in 2005. An example: my father was in a car accident in the 70s; an off-duty Army officer, drunk, crashed into his car; the police wanted him to press charges and he refused, saying that he was a public servant as was the Army officer and he therefore did not wish to prosecute. This is the old ethic. In that time taking the King’s shilling meant you accepted higher human responsibilities (my father considered becoming a Jesuit in the 40s but felt they were too worldly). As i have said, i’m sure many just relished the power without accepting the responsibility; but i think this was less common before Thatcher; after Thatcher, meretricious self-interest became the norm.

The effect of Thatcher’s bureaucratization of the public sector was wholly deleterious. Every time a patient dies and the press find out about it, there is an “inquiry” and new processes, and new highly-paid socialist managers to implement the processes. And yet the hospitals keep getting worse and worse. My view – informed merely by working in a hospital for 2 years and by having a doctor as father – is that bad doctors will inevitably kill or damage patients, and the socialist “processes” and “initiatives” and vast body of hugely overpaid managers will do nothing to prevent this; they will in fact only hamper the real doctors from doing their job. They will do nothing because they aren’t actually interested in the patients, only in meeting their quotas and in Public Relations. From the Telegraph:

However ‘New’ Labour wanted to describe itself, the legacy of its reforms of the NHS are now sadly characterised by imposing system after system, and target after target. And it was sadly predictable that this emphasis on devising the perfect system, including targets and a complex universe of different bodies and different tick-boxes, would do what history has shown societies based on someone’s idea of perfect system tend to do: erode the autonomy and identity of those who work and live in that system.

5. The pillars of society forsooth. It sounds ridiculous now, especially now, but i think there was a time – up to the early 90s – when the police, doctors, teachers, priests, soldiers, were simultaneously human beings and symbols. Doctors and teachers, especially, could act as something like priests: for example, one of my father’s patients said she wanted to get an abortion; he is Roman Catholic and told her what the procedure means and asked her to think about it for a week and then come back and decide; she came back and said she wanted to keep the baby, who grew up to be a Premier League footballer. My father, now nearly 82, still takes the bus to the shops; when i advised him to take a taxi he said he meets old patients on the bus and they talk and sometimes alight early to help him carry his bags. A couple of years ago a mid-20s woman exclaimed, happily: “you’re Dr Elberry Senior!”; he couldn’t remember her but had treated her when she was a child, and she remembered. When i met his old patients they would always enthuse about what a great man he was and i just nodded with a frozen smile, remembering his demented aggression and bellowings. What they experienced was real; but it was only possible in his professional capacity (luckily, he worked almost every waking hour).

In our machine age, the only measure of human happiness is GDP (one could say that both socialism and capitalism are functions of the machine mind). The true powers are subtler, which means they cannot make a case for themselves in terms of quotas, profit, etc. The real powers are symbolic, imaginative – which is why i think Peter Hitchens is right to argue for the return of police foot patrols, as a visible symbol. The old professions – doctors, nurses, teachers, cops, priests – acted as ordering symbols for society; they were supposedly disinterested servants of the Crown, and so of the nation; and i think they were, often enough; and they influenced society. They were an ideal, a rebuke, a possibility at the back of the mind. Even when most of my teachers disliked me, either because i was half-Indian or half-asleep or fully stupid, they had an “aura” to them; we felt that regardless of their gross personal defects, they somehow embodied an ideal of correct behaviour, and their presence checked our juvenile savageries. This could be one reason why socialists always hate any kind of authority figure – as Saruman hates Gandalf and Denethor hates Faramir, because they represent an ideal of virtue. Not that socialists are wholly averse to authority; it’s just that they can only take it if they are the highest authority (as Tolkien demonstrates with Saruman, or Milton with his Satan).

6. As far as i can gather, the mining industry was making a heavy loss and only survived because the government subsidized it. Thatcher withdrew this support and allowed it to collapse. From a purely capitalist point of view, this was the right thing to do – survival of the GDP fittest. i saw the consequences in my 4 years at Durham: the locals are all unemployed and when they were born their fathers were already unemployed and would remain so. The only jobs are in McDonald’s, bargain and betting shops, chain drinking bars “where they sweep up the eyeballs after closing“, or in the public sector (the JobCentre, police, the prison). Drug addiction and violence is the norm. One of my fellow students lived in one of the satellite villages and said an ice cream van would come around, selling crack, ecstasy, weed, coke, etc.

Should Thatcher have continued to subsidize the more or less useless coal industry? Yes, i think so. In the 2008/9 crisis, many German companies only paid their workers half wages, and the Government paid the rest. When i asked one of my students how the Government could afford this, he said “if they don’t, they have to pay unemployment money”. Thus, the German economy recovered quickly, as the workers were in place to deal with the sudden uplift. Given how much money the British Government wastes on managers and gay dwarven awareness outreach officers, not to mention stealing taxpayer’s money to bail out criminally negligent banks, i think a few billion a year is a reasonable price, to give people meaningful work. When i tell my students about the North East, where seemingly everyone is unemployed and those who aren’t work for the JobCentre, they ask “doesn’t the Government do anything for the infrastructure?” i’m no expert but it seems to me that Thatcher pretty much set the tone: just leave people to sink or swim and if they sink it’s their own fault. i don’t like governments, or indeed any large institution, but if there is one thing they could and should do, it is to encourage work.

In Germany, companies get tax incentives to set up in East Germany (which is more or less like the North East of England or the south of Italy). In England, you can work in McDonald’s, a call centre, or be a Senior Sales Director in London. There are no jobs for the salt of the earth, Sean Bean working class louts, the proles as Orwell called them. i’ve always liked the Sean Beans and unlike Orwell i’ve never faked an accent to get in with them; they just took me as i was and that was that. They can’t smile and wear a stupid clown uniform; they can’t fake good humour; they don’t do office politics; they are the exact opposite of the plummy-voices champagne socialists, the Senior Sales Directors and hobnobbing Southrons. i only met people like this after leaving my school (which was full of Hitler Youth types and Muslim fundamentalists): one worked in a furniture factory in Huddersfield and told me he can’t read novels but liked Nietzsche; another worked as an electrician and kickboxing coach and had foiled an armed robbery by kicking the robber in the head; my stepfather is such another – i found them all to be gruff, sardonic, thoroughly decent, potentially violent, witty, proud. They made me understand Orwell’s “If there is hope, it lies with the proles”. They are unpolitical; they remain unaffected by political currents, by trends, shouting, rhetoric. Without work – physical, unbullshitty work – they despair. In a society offering only bullshit jobs (McDonald’s, call centres, Senior Sales Director) they would prefer to hustle, and if they can’t hustle they will go on the dole and spend their time drunk and high. Chavs are a gross corruption of Sean Bean.

7. i talked about this with a friend, saying: “i don’t like socialism but i think the government should take care of some things.” He chuckled evilly: “Yes, you want National Socialism.”


Holy shit!

i distrust any kind of large-scale human organisation; which means i would be, like Alan Furst’s characters, as ill at ease in Soviet Russia as Nazi Germany – both murderous deformations of human society. i value human to human contact, organic communities, the easy acceptance of imperfection and irregularity. i don’t want Guardianistas to be rounded up and shot; a really vibrant (as opposed to Nu Labour “vibrant”) society would have room for all kinds of nutters, as long as they mind their own business. i just don’t want these nutters to be in control, as they more or less are in England today; they are the most intolerant, steel-hammer-minded totalitarians, who believe their intellectual opponents should be silenced because they are not merely wrong but apparently evil and monstrous – because anyone who disagrees with the socialists is, naturally, inhuman.

Thus my Communist enemy could not abide that i read the Daily Mail and tried to bully me into submission, then accused me of being Hitler and a racist – just for reading the wrong newspaper. He was untroubled by the fact that i never once attacked his daily links to the BBC; apparently, you can be Hitler and still just let people go about their own lives and let them hold different opinions.

8. So i’m uninterested in either Thatcher’s capitalism or Stalinist/Guardianista socialism. Both are products of the machine age: thorough-going materialists who believe human beings approach perfection the more nearly they resemble the machine. Hence Thatcher’s bureaucratization of the public sector; hence the gulag.

i would wish for a limited and imaginative “socialism”, acknowledging the real, symbolic powers: recognising that people need work and that most men are too honest to do smiling office/McDonald’s work; that the public servants should be highly technically trained then allowed to do their work without bureaucracy; that education is vitally important and cannot be bought with money, only with trust, trust both in the individual and in the tradition of Western culture. This will not, i think,  ever come to pass.It would require great sensitivity, to avoid plunging into gross USSR-style socialism; to leave human beings the freedom they require.

The human imperfections of the old days are unacceptable to the bureaucrat. Thus the grubby, insect-like bureaucrat will continue to flourish, even as he parasitically destroys the host. The face of the future is David Nicholson, the Communist on 211,000 pounds a year.

david nicholson