All My Little Words

Thatcher and Her Ism

Posted in Politics, Rage by nickchristian on April 11, 2013

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I was an occasional contributor/compulsive consumer to/of a a fairly popular online forum. I won’t name or link to it. Made up of one subject-agnostic main board and multiple sub-boards catering to smaller groups, discussion could spring from anywhere as threads could be started about anything. The standard of discourse was generally high, the contributors brighter and better informed than your average YouTube commentator: as such I read more than I wrote; I had more to learn than impart. We have two ears and one mouth…. etc etc

Eventually, as one does, I grew tired of it. I had never really fitted in with the community and found the atmosphere to be of an increasingly hostile, Darwinist playground; as a resource Twitter now more than served my appetite for news, essays, opinions and joyous internet nothings. So a year ago I decided not to go back.

Which isn’t really important except that I did go back there on Monday. From before I first visited I remembered that there had been a thread called “Thatcher dead!!!” – there might have been more or fewer exclamation marks but exclamation marks were certainly there – created as a kind of April fool, presumably, to con people into thinking… well, take a guess. There were a few similar threads off which the digital dust was occasionally brushed – Lisa Kudrow RIP being one other notable example – but that one was revived most often. For the lulz.

As long as she was alive, what the thread was about was the promise of jubilation – this is where we will be it said, when that day finally arrives, to record our own exhilaration to pop a digital cork and allow a magnum of vitriolic bubbles to pour forth. After hearing the news the voyeur in me wanted to know if that was indeed what would be happening so I stopped in again briefly. That was indeed what was happening so I didn’t stick around for long.

In a rather more real way that was also what was happening just a few hundred yards from my front door in Brixton. I didn’t like that any more than the online version.

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Not even seven years old when she was defenestrated by her own party, some might say that age is what stops me from really “getting it” – “it” being how people feel – but I don’t think you have to have lived through Thatcher and been directly affected by her policies to dislike the outpouring of glee at her death. And it really is, quite specifically, the glee that I cannot stomach.

More than inevitable, it was right and necessary that her admirers and her detractors should immediately take to battlegrounds online, print, radio and television, to debate her impact at the time and her legacy today. Honest criticism of a person who is dead, particularly one so prominent and who had so much impact on so many, cannot be inappropriate and there’s no such thing as “too soon”.

It’s also not that I think an individual’s death should never be source of satisfaction. When a tyrant, such as Gaddafi, is ousted and then executed, what his death delivers and represents is permanence, a promise that that particular rein of tyranny is over. What the campaign to get Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead to number 1 this week seems to either forget or ignore, is that right up to the moment Dorothy’s house dropped on her head the Wicked Witch of the East was an authoritarian dictator and enslaver of the Munchkin people. Liberated in an instant from bondage I can understand why they might want to sing a little bit.

John O’Farrell, who recently took a sound stuffing as Labour candidate in the Eastleigh by-election, was partly undone by the Daily Mail for confessing his regret that Thatcher herself had not been killed by the Brighton bomb in 1984. Fantasizing about or even taking satisfaction in, the death of someone actively powerful, at least makes some sense to me. If you believe that an individual is responsible for harm and that this harm will be interrupted by their demise, while it does not become morally right it at least can be viewed as logically justifiable – or justifiably logical – and is, in fact, the root of every political assassination ever.

Dancing in the street over the death of an old lady who died in her sleep, even one who once wielded great power and committed egregious harm on a people, serves no logical or practical purpose whatsoever. It is instead the manifestation of nothing more than spite, a spirit of unkindness that might even be the clearest evidence that Thatcher did, in fact, win. According to her friends, she would have been disappointed had people not celebrated her departure, so why give her the satisfaction? Those insisting we show no compassion or kindness for her because she showed none for the miners, the steelworkers, the victims of oppressive regimes she befriended and so many others, are the living embodiment of her vision of Britain, and tacitly admitting defeat.

For if Margaret Thatcher represents anything to me, it’s inhumanity, unkindness and isolation – Russell Brand describes her as “an icon of individualism“. Whether or not “there’s no such thing as society” is a quote that has been manipulated beyond its original meaning, for many it serves as an accurate elogy of Thatcherism: even if it was not true at the time she said it, it certainly became so thanks to her. Beyond mere self-reliance to the abandonment entirely of a common good, of tides that lift all ships, to the idea that for good or ill, your standing in life is 100% down to you and you get what you deserve.

The consequence of this has been, much worse than no society at all, one revolving around rivalry and suspicion, that looks up, down, and across in judgment of you as a commodity or competitor before it does so in simple human empathy. Of course the idea that today is less kind than the day before Thatcher could be nonsense; the suggestion that we are more predisposed towards conflict, less towards cooperation than we were before might be baseless; perhaps she was blameless even if such a shift did occur.

Still, what’s striking to me is the contradiction between Thatcher’s capacity to recognize her own unique strengths and her inability to recognise that the very uniqueness of these strengths meant that her experience could not be applied to a population and used as a basis for an organising philosophy of governance.

I agree that, to one extent or another, there is always something we can do to improve our own situations in life, but I also believe that we all need help and that we all are lucky, or unlucky, to varying degrees. My problem therefore, with Conservatism in general, but Thatcherism in particular, is that it denies the very idea that anyone’s opportunities to succeed are inferior to anyone else’s, or that opportunity plays any part in success at all.

Individuals will always say that they want their children to have better than they did – we know we’re making progress as a society if the next generation climbs higher than the one before. Yet for every generation of government since Thatcher’s, to be in need of the support and assistance of “society” is a reflection of personal failure and private weakness: all that’s needed is a kick up the arse and the will to work – no help is needed, none should be asked for and none, if they can help it, will be given.

Yes, the grocer’s daughter can be prime minister, and the scouse kid from the estate CEO of Tesco but only if they’re exceptional, whereas any idiot can be Mayor of London if they went to the right school. As long as the deck is stacked in favour of some over others then a helping hand and a unifying force, in the form only government can deliver, is required. Thatcher and her progeny believed that government that provides for people was a force for evil: then and now, they could not be more wrong.

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Libya, Qaddafi and the End of Humanitarian Intervention

Posted in Foreign Policy, Politics by nickchristian on October 23, 2011

In the wake of Qaddafi’s violent demise there has been much handwringing over the decision of the major media outlets to publish on their front pages, either online or in print, the images graphically confirming it. The first of these subjects is simply not our concern while the second is a relatively insignificant point of media responsibility, societal values and what constitutes “news”. Neither is, in my opinion, worthy of the attention it’s been given.

We cannot account, or take responsibility, for the actions of a ragtag militia who, in their jubilant discovery, brought a violent end to an era of despotism. That Qaddafi should not have been executed is my view on the subject but irrelevant, for I never suffered under his tyrannical rule and nor was I present at his death, and therefore able to meaningfully appreciate the circumstances surrounding it. It cannot be undone.

My concern, and where I feel more attention should be focussed, is with the role of NATO forces in the death of the dictatorship. While Western leaders have been keen to credit the Libyan rebels with the overthrow of the regime there can be no doubt that that NATO planes, having carried out more than 30,000 sorties since UN Resolution 1973 was passed, played a significant role, beyond its original mandate.

Article 4 of UN Resolution 1973

Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi,”

The explicit purpose of UN Resolution 1973 was therefore to prevent a massacre of the people of Benghazi, as Qaddafi appeared to be threatening; while several international figures had decried the Libyan government as illegitimate nowhere in the resolution is there mention of a secondary aim of regime change, or even of assisting the rebels in their ultimate goal of its overthrow. Whether or not the key instigators and authors of the resolution meant for the mission to mutate in such a way we do not know, but what we do know is that had they included such language in the document, the Resolution could not have passed the Security Council vote.

Even as it was, the resolution which authorized NATO action in Libya only passed the Security Council with the slimmest of margins: while neither Russia nor China blocked its passage as they could have, neither explicitly supported it either. We must assume that concerns over mission creep had already been raised and allayed in order to achieve abstentions of Russia and China as well as Arab League support. These concerns would appear to have been justified as, only a few weeks into the mission, China criticised the NATO operation for overreach while Russia called for NATO to bring an “end to the indiscriminate use of force”. These calls went unheeded.

It has been suggested that, with the Libyan operation ostensibly a success, such interventions may be more likely to take place in the future. My view is that the manner in which the mission was extended, far beyond the parameters of the mandate outlined above, makes any future crises far less likely to be dealt with militarily, regardless of the extent to which the situation calls for force. As we’ve recently seen in Syria it doesn’t take much to turn an abstention into a veto.

Of course mission creep in Libya does not explain why we have seen no action against Assad in Syria. It has, however, made it easier to understand. If Western countries, in assisting a people under threat, cannot be trusted to wield their military power responsibly, then next time they will not be trusted to wield it at all. As significantly, if not moreso, support for engagement will be weaker.

Accusations that, by actively picking a winner in a civil dispute, Britain and chums engaged in behaviour that was paternalistic to the point of pseudo-colonial are, in my view, completely fair. Seven months ago I supported an intervention that was limited in scope but I did support it. Take me back seven months, today, and I wouldn’t.

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