One week on...

I'm in London today. I was actually supposed to be here this time last week, but put it off due to a friend's wedding that sadly turned into a funeral... As a result I missed being in London for another funeral... that of Margaret Thatcher. 
I largely avoided facebook and news/current affairs shows between her death and funeral mostly because I was surprised at how much her demise raised old emotions in me, and I really did not want to get sucked into the "ding-dong" response to the death of  a confused old lady. I've actually spent a fair part of the past fortnight trying to process the effect that she had on my political awareness and orientation, never mind the wider question of what she, her -ism and acolytes did for/to the country, indeed are still doing... It is complex. And part of that is that she herself was not solely responsible for anything... either in terms of me or the nation... but she was a lightning rod for it all... 
Others have offered analyses of her legacy that express where I am coming from in a more coherent and nuanced way than I possibly could, especially Russell Brand (I never thought I would ever say that) and Paul Vallely (here and here), so I have no intention of trying to offer some sort of comprehensive comment... But having been sucked in to watching her funeral I was struck by a number of elements within the service... 
First was the repeated references to her Methodist upbringing, which was echoed in the choice of "Love Divine" as one of the hymns. Like Mrs. Thatcher, Methodism is full of different strands, contradictions and counterbalances, but I suspect that as Margaret Hilda Roberts grew up she absorbed more of the "puritanical" personal holiness strand of Methodism, than the strand of social holiness/justice teaching in Methodism that produced the Tolpuddle Martyrs, as lauded by the Bishop of London... Indeed when he mentioned them I half expected the deceased to rise from the dead in protest! He made great play of the misunderstanding of her "no such thing as society" statement, and there is no doubt that it was misunderstood, but it has been misunderstood not only by her enemies, but also her allies. Her emphasis on individual responsibility quickly became advocacy for individualism, which mutated into naked self interest, and ultimately the sheer selfishness that characterised the new economy of the later 1980s and has shaped the financial industry that has created the current economic mess. Wesley, in his teaching on money memorably said that we should  "earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can". One friend suggested that Mrs Thatcher advocated the first too but not the last, however, Labour MP Frank Field in a recent interview said that he once asked Mrs Thatcher what was her greatest regret, to which she responded that it was that when she lessened taxes on the wealthy that the did not give more to good causes. So perhaps the problem was not that she hadn't learned that element of Methodist teaching, but that she saw it as so fundamental that she couldn't see that everyone else would too.
The second element was the spiritual machismo on display in the service, completely in keeping with the military escort of the funeral cortege, the artillery salute etc (I'm still uncertain as to what differentiated this "ceremonial funeral" from a state one). It was present in the other two hymns, "To be a pilgrim" ("Though he with giants fight") and "I vow to thee my country" (I always refuse to sing that idolatrous first verse - the last time it was sung at a funeral I attended was at the funeral of a loyalist paramilitary leader - 'nuff said), and the armour of God passage from Ephesians 6. These were not exactly typical for the funeral of a woman, but Margaret Thatcher was not a typical woman (I love Russell Brand's reference to her "coiffured masculinity". It chimed well with the myth of Margaret Thatcher as a modern day Boudicca, draped in a Union flag... Liberator of the Falklands, implacable enemy of Irish republicans (at least on the public stage) and Iron Lady standing staunchly with her bellicose bosom buddy Ronnie Reagan against the evil empire of the Soviet Union...
Many of her supporters have lauded her as Britain's greatest peacetime Prime Minister. There are many ways in which I might dispute that and nominate Clement Atlee for that title... But I think that at a fundamental level, Margaret Thatcher was NOT a peacetime prime minister at all... Most commentators agree that the Falklands War prevented her from being a one term Prime Minister booted out because of disastrous unemployment figures, with Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins suggesting that the Falklands revealed her to be "a highly capable and committed war leader". She, like her hero Winston Churchill, revelled in a fight... so much so that she seemed to go out of her way to find or make enemies... Be it the unions in general, or the miners in particular, of whom she famously said:
"We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty."
The established churches in England and Scotland periodically found themselves in her firing line when they dared to disagree with her on social policy or regarding reconciliation with Argentina after the Falklands war. Whilst her attitude to the European Union seemed to be founded not only on a suspicion of  Jaques Delors' socialism, but also on a wariness over domination by our erstwhile enemies, Germany and France...
She seemed to approach every situation as a battle, and did not seem to understand the concept of consensus politics... In one recent interview Sir Malcolm Rifkind said:
“I recall she was asked, ‘Do you believe in consensus?’ and to our surprise we heard her say, ‘Yes I do believe in consensus, there should be a consensus behind my convictions’.”
This, for me, always stood sharply in contrast with her avowed intention on entering Downing Street when she said:
"Her Majesty The Queen has asked me to form a new administration and I have accepted. It is, of course, the greatest honour that can come to any citizen in a democracy. I know full well the responsibilities that await me as I enter the door of No. 10 and I'll strive unceasingly to try to fulfil the trust and confidence that the British people have placed in me and the things in which I believe. And I would just like to remember some words of St. Francis of Assisi which I think are really just particularly apt at the moment. ‘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’... and to all the British people—howsoever they voted—may I say this. Now that the Election is over, may we get together and strive to serve and strengthen the country of which we're so proud to be a part."
Yet the country she left behind was more divided than when she came to power, between north and south, rich and poor, England and Scotland... And those divides have continued to widen with the subsequent years, including those under Blair and his version of Thatcherism-lite. But look again at the section of the Franciscan prayer that she quoted and look at the prayer in full to see what she omitted. Here is the version widely quoted in the AA movement:
Lord, make me a channel of thy peace;that where there is hatred, I may bring love;that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;that where there is discord, I may bring harmony;that where there is error, I may bring truth;that where there is doubt, I may bring faith;that where there is despair, I may bring hope;that where there are shadows, I may bring light;that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted;to understand, than to be understood;to love, than to be loved.For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.Amen.
Within her quote and seemingly in her mindset is no reference to peace or to forgiveness... She famously said she would not forgive those who had ousted her from power, and there are those who suggest that her implacable enmity to the Labour party was due to her inability to forgive the labour councillors who ousted her father as Alderman in Grantham... I don't know the truth of that but it certainly fits... Yet without forgiveness there can be no real reconciliation or peace... personally or nationally... And I have to take that on board when it comes to my own attitude to Mrs. Thatcher.Yet throughout the funeral service were repeated references to peace... It's normal and appropriate to pray that the deceased will not only rest in peace but that those who remain will know God's peace. But that peace or shalom is not simply peace and quiet -  the peace of the graveyard... but peace with justice...
Which brings me to the final element of the service - that in many ways was the most disquieting for me - the use of the passage in John 14 where Jesus refers to leaving his peace, after promising that in his Father's house were many mansions... The next day I heard a discussion on radio between Richard Bacon and Matthew Paris, where Bacon clearly didn't understand what the reading was about... But it made me wonder whether the irony of a reading involving houses and mansions was lost on Margaret Thatcher when she drafted her own funeral service, given that the sale of council houses was one of the lasting legacies of her term in office, bearing fruit in the bedroom tax of today. The whole idea of "allowing people to own their own homes" seems, on the face of it, to be a noble endeavour, in tune with the idea that "an Englishman's home is his castle", but the fact that local councils and housing authorities could not then reinvest the meagre income from the sales in new builds, effectively pulled the drawbridge up on such castles for later generations, especially given the subsequent exponential and unsustainable rise is house prices. But then the sale of council housing and selling shares in newly privatised industries and utilities (a work of genius encouraging people to pay for companies they already owned as taxpayers), was a two pronged political move. It was not only an attempt to reduce any kind of public ownership of assets and central planning, a fundamental element of the Friedman/Hayek free market thinking that inspired Margaret Thatcher, but it was also an unashamed attempt to buy a new sector of Conservative voters. A piece I read recently referred to Margaret Thatcher's time as Education Secretary when she famously snatched away the right of older primary pupils to free milk. It caused such negative publicity that apparently she vowed she would never make any political decision that did not bring immediate personal political benefit. The sale of public housing and shares in other public assets brought that... it allowed her to divide and conquer the former working class, producing lots of little capitalists. But it was ultimately a glorified ponzi scheme... It was impossible for everyone to benefit... after the initial financial feeding frenzy the British economy, shorn of heavy industry, ultimately settled down on to the insubstantial foundation of the financial and service sectors endlessly recycling money, with less and less actually being produced, apart from the North Sea Oil that bankrolled this madness. This did bring short-term political gain to Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives, but long term... well, we're still living that experience.
She may be dead and buried but her -ism is alive and sick...

Shalom

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