The IRA bomb that went off in the Grand Hotel, Brighton in the early hours of 12 October 1984 blew half the building to bits, killed five Tory high-ups, including an MP, and seriously injured 34 others. The security forces really should have sniffed it out before Margaret Thatcher and most of her Cabinet moved in. It had been set up, with a timer, several days in advance. As an assassination attempt directed against Thatcher, however, it failed, having been placed in the wrong room. ‘The cry went up: “Maggie’s safe!”’ Jonathan Aitken remembered afterwards. ‘Such was the relief that strangers shook hands, and clasped each other’s shoulders.’ (How ‘British’! No hugging or kissing!) It also failed as an act of terrorism. Terrorism is supposed to terrify. The Brighton bomb didn’t. If anything, it had the opposite effect.
Earlier this year the first volume of Charles Moore’s ‘authorised’ biography of Margaret Thatcher appeared. Now it’s the turn of Jonathan Aitken’s Margaret Thatcher: Power and Personality. Aitken’s fond of these plosive alliterative titles: his back catalogue includes Pride and Perjury and Porridge and Passion. An alumnus of Eton and Belmarsh – withstanding the rigours of the one doubtless good prep for the other – Aitken went down for perjury and perverting the course of justice in 1999, having lied when suing the Guardian for libel.
There was a funeral today. I'm really very bad at ceremony. I giggled at both my marriage ceremonies, and for grief I much prefer to be alone than in a crowd. But there wasn't much grief at this funeral. For one thing Margaret Thatcher had been felled long ago by strokes. She lingered. And it's not sad when people in that condition die; if they are old, it's a relief. Funerals are a time for memories. I cherish the memory of Thatcher ousted by her own party, leaving Number Ten. The miners will remember her making sure that the strikers' families didn't get any benefits. We are all beholden to her for beginning the boom in private greed and the rampant capitalism that has got us where we are today.
Fences kept the protesters in place on Farringdon Road, separating them from the mourners. Photographers and TV crews hovered, waiting to get their shots. A military band warmed up across the road, where ex-servicemen held flags and banners. A man selling the Socialist Worker with a ‘Thatcher’s Dead Special Pull-out’ dropped some leaflets and was told to pick them up. He refused. A line of soldiers marched and shuffled themselves into place beside the fences. A woman called Alicia gave a full-throated rendition of Billy Bragg’s ‘Between the Wars’. ‘Up the miners!’ she said as she finished. ‘Up the National Health Service!’ ‘Oh do fuck off,’ said a passing woman in a suit.
1. Britain became ‘great again’ by leaping up the international output table. In fact, the IMF table of economies listed by nominal GDP put Britain sixth in 1979, where it still was in 1990 – it had overtaken the Soviet Union but also been leapfrogged by Italy. 2. Thatcher presided over a dramatic contraction of the state. Despite the privatisations, industrial policy led to a countervailing increase in the welfare bill. 3. She cut taxes. In fact, as a proportion of GDP tax receipts went up between 1979 and 1990, from 33.7 to 34.6 per cent. This had to happen to avoid drastic budget deficits caused by unemployment and associated ills. Thatcher did cut taxes for the well-off, but financed them with regressive indirect tax rises, notably the VAT hike of 1979.
Margaret Thatcher once said that her greatest political achievement was New Labour. Tony Blair said today she was a 'towering figure', 'genuine leader' and 'generous-spirited' person who was 'rightly admired' and will be 'sadly missed'; and though they disagreed on 'certain issues' he thought his 'job was to build on some of the things she had done rather than reverse them'. Twenty-five years ago he wrote in the LRB: What makes things even worse for radical, progressive spirits is that the Ultra-Right appears to be even more in control of the Conservative Party this year than it has been previously. Mrs Thatcher clearly regards herself as a dea ex machina, sent down from on high to ‘knock Britain into shape’. She will wield her power over the next few years dictatorially and without compunction. On the other hand, there is a tremendous danger – to which Dr Owen has succumbed – in believing that ‘Thatcherism’ is somehow now invincible, that it has established a new consensus and that all the rest of us can do is debate alternatives within its framework. It is essential to demythologise ‘Thatcherism’.
Among the many very interesting Russian documents published in today's Times is a conversation between Thatcher and Gorbachev on 23 September 1989, when Thatcher declared she and George Bush were against the reunification of Germany.
Short-term profiteering is one explanation for the banking crisis. Who was among those who warned of the dangers of short-term economic and financial thinking? Gordon Brown, who has begun to resemble Richard Nixon in the way he is clinging to power because that's all there is left to cling to. Twenty years ago, in two pieces he wrote for the LRB, Brown attacked Thatcher for promoting short-term gain at the expense of long-term investment and research. In fact, Brown equated the entire Thatcher project with short-term thinking, blind as he also believed it was to long-term growth.