Margaret Thatcher and Elvis Costello

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Margaret Thatcher’s daughter Carol has recently written movingly about her mother’s advancing Alzheimers Disease. THere was an interesting debate on the radio this evening concerning whether Carol should have revealed these intimate details of her mothers dementia, as her mother now lacks the ability to give her consent to this.

The spectre of old age infirmity and loss of faculties hangs over all of us. Author Terry Pratchett has been outspoken about his own dementia, and it seems to me that any publicity that raises the profile of the experience of this growing group of people is a good thing. Even better if this results in increased funding for research and development in treatment and care of older folks.

Anyone who has to visit the back wards of the oldest parts of our hospitals (where the ‘elderly acute’ wards are almost always to be found) will be aware that such places often appear to be nothing more than warehouses for amateur cadavers. Despite some wonderful staff, for most of the people who end their days there- after a referral of last resort- dignity has long gone.

But- Margaret Thatcher- vulnerable, human, just like the rest of us…

I grew up in Thatcher’s Britain. Communities I lived in where split apart by her calculated battle with the National Union of Miners, and now almost all the pits are gone. I write this sat in a car driving through Sheffield on out way down to Derbyshire to attend a family wedding. All the steel works are gone. The old industrial sites are covered with scrub, or been cleared back to make shrines to the great patron of retail parks, Margaret herself…

Were all those broken communities and broken lives necessary? Did economic reality make them inevitable, as Margaret always said? Did the Free Market really know best? History will decide, I suppose. But her status as an iconic epoch shifter is already cast in bronze.

But in the 1980’s, we knew who our enemy was. She was Satan in a twin-set. She personified everything that we rejected. It all came back to ideology- and hers was based on a selfish individualism, and an elevation of greed as an engine for social change. Or that is the way half of Britain saw it.

She inspired incredible idolatry from her followers. And generated genuine loathing from the other side of the spectrum, perhaps like no other democratic politician before or since. It is possible to understand the divisive effect she had more fully by remembering a song by Elvis Costello called ‘Tramp the dirt down.’ It included these lines;

I saw a newspaper picture from the political campaign
A woman was kissing a child, who was obviously in pain
She spills with compassion, as that young child’s
face in her hands she grips
Can you imagine all that greed and avarice
coming down on that child’s lips

Well I hope I don’t die too soon
I pray the Lord my soul to save
Oh I’ll be a good boy, I’m trying so hard to behave
Because there’s one thing I know, I’d like to live
long enough to savour
The day they finally put you in the ground

I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down

Words by Elvis Costello, from the album ‘Spike’, 1989

With the benefit of a few years family-raising and Brodski-quartet-consorting, the angry man of pop might regret these words now, but the point is, some of us sang along to these words with relish at the time.

So Margaret, may your end be kind.

And may those whose fate was once in your hands not wish upon your head the pain of poverty and powerlessness.

And may each one of us be worth so much more than a distant decimal point in an economist’s prediction…

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