Let's not be mawkish about Maggie Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher may be ill, but her legacy has never been healthier.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

On the eve of the greatest-ever attack on social democracy in this country, Baroness Thatcher has been admitted to hospital -- but her legacy has never been healthier.

Nobody should be fooled by her octogenarian frailty: Margaret Thatcher is more than mortal. The rhetoric of the spending review is no doubt being rewritten as we speak, to feature sycophantic imprecations for the Tory spiritual leader's swift recovery, but her brutally right-wing, union-breaking, worker-alienating agenda is looking remarkably robust.

Like any self-respecting tactless teenage reds, my friends and I long ago started a kitty with which to buy booze and party streamers in the event that the Iron Lady should suddenly shuffle off this mortal coil. How impish of us. Tonight, though, it seems that Mrs Thatcher is going to have the last laugh.

The party funds have long since been drained to finance years of soul-crushing unemployment and student debt, and tomorrow George Osborne will announce the revivification of the cruellest state-slashing policies of the 1980s. The Big Society is Thatcherism reanimated, with all of the cold horror and none of the subtlety; drooling and lurching and smelling slightly funky. She will never really die. She will return, like any good mythic leader, whenever the rich and powerful are in their hour of greatest need, pull the iron handbag out of the stone, and lead the neocons to bloody victory with a dash of sugary sentiment on the side.

Let's not get mawkish about Maggie. She may be a sick woman, but unlike hundreds of thousands of other sick women in the country, she's not about to be threatened with eviction and destitution as her disability benefits and housing allowance are wrenched away. She's not going to be affected by the decimation of the Welfare State, 30 years after she laid out her project to destroy the Attlee Settlement. Even in hospital, she enjoys wealth, power and the prayers of a grateful right-wing caucus, but the prayers for clemency of the young, the poor, the sick and the disenfranchised are currently falling on deaf ears in Whitehall.

Tell you what, though: let's dig out the party hats anyway. The protests of charities, the public sector, the unemployed, the unions, women's rights organisations and a sizeable chunk of the people haven't scared the coalition into reconsidering their cuts, but a big, menacing hoedown to remind them just how hatefully parts of the nation nurse the memory of Thatcherism just might. Cheap, yes -- but not as cheap as the Tories.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

Free trial CSS