April 10th, 2013


In Contempt

As I noted a couple of days ago, Mrs Thatcher's death didn't produce in me the delight it did in some, delight that I would undoubtedly have felt had it occurred fifteen years ago, and twenty-five years a fortiori. I don't know whether that's a loss to be regretted: I certainly don't begrudge others their pleasure - and if it's seasoned with vindictiveness, why so was the 11 year tyranny her premiership. What do people expect?

I think I spent much of my euphoria on that day in November 1990. I learned of her resignation when I was on top of a bus in Bristol city centre, from which vantage point I saw it blazoned on a newspaper hoarding. I was on my way to have lunch with a man from the Open University, that excellent Wilsonian institution, being on a half-time contract at that point and hoping to get some extra tutoring. It was a very happy lunch, even if no work resulted from it, and I floated round the covered market in the afternoon, thinking, "This must be what VE day was like." People couldn't stop smiling.

I hated Mrs Thatcher in a way I've never hated any other person I didn't know personally. With contempt, however, I am much more liberal, and these days there are many worthy candidates. Ed Miliband's insistence that Labour MPs attend today's session in Parliament devoted to "tributes", and his further insistence that they follow his "respectful" tone, qualifies him amply. Tony Blair, standing on the steps of St Albion's Parish Church to wag his blood-stained finger at those of his fellow citizens who had the "bad taste" to hold parties, perhaps escapes contempt by dint of being beneath it; but I'll certainly welcome all those mealy-mouthed politicians who hid their opinions beneath neutral phrases about Thatcher's "impact" and how she "shaped a generation" - the way the Luftwaffe shaped Coventry city centre. They're probably congratulating themselves on being "statesmanlike", but I think (as so often) of Henry Fielding:

This excellent method of conveying a falsehood with the heart only, without making the tongue guilty of an untruth, by the means of equivocation and imposture, hath quieted the conscience of many a notable deceiver; and yet, when we consider that it is Omniscience on which these endeavour to impose, it may possibly seem capable of affording only a very superficial comfort; and that this artful and refined distinction between communicating a lie, and telling one, is hardly worth the pains it costs them.

And so the work continues of airbrushing her victims from the picture, or obscuring them behind a swag of military cloth.