Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher and the Division of Memories

"It looks like one of the best birthdays I have ever had. There's no sympathy from me for what she did to our community. She destroyed our community, our villages and our people. For the union this could not come soon enough and I'm pleased that I have outlived her. "It's a great day for all the miners, I imagine we will have a counter demonstration when they have her funeral."

- David Hopper, general secretary of the Durham Miners' Association, who turned 70 a day after Margaret Thatcher's death.

A few months ago, I came across a piece written by Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie, entitled "We Remember Differently". It was a sobering, beautifully delivered, well-balanced article, which to my mind brought some maturity to what was an increasingly puerile debate, on the back of Chinua Achebe's book, "There was a Country". In his book, Achebe had placed sole blame on Obafemi Awolowo, the then Nigerian Finance Minister and number two man, for the Igbo's starvation during the Civil War and went on to forward a theory that he did so, to grab political power and advance his own people, the Yorubas. He damned Awolowo with his own words:

"All is fair in War and starvation is a weapon of War...."

In the midst of the furore that greeted the great man's book, Adichie successfully addressed not only the reasoning behind the lifelong antipathy Igbos now held for Awolowo, but went on to also explain some of the ethnic pictures which Nigerians had painted based on their version of historical memories. For me, her towering moment in the article was when she reminded some, of how the 1966 coup was viewed by some Nigerians as an Igbo vanguard to eliminate leaders of the Northern and Western regions, whilst sparing the Eastern premier. In conclusion, she hoped we would allow our different memories to sit side by side, rather than attack each other for holding disparate views.

Fast-forward to the demise of Margaret Thatcher and the euphoric reaction in some quarters to the passing of the woman most are calling the greatest British peace-time Prime Minister. To dispute Thatcher's greatness would of course be futile, as the history books will always remember her as the individual whose bloody-mindedness and purpose of cause, literally pulled the United Kingdom back from the precipice. Anyone who witnessed the civil collapse of the 70's and the resulting litter, industrial malfunction and dead bodies lying everywhere, would attest to the need for such a leader.

Of course, the very same qualities which ensured the country was straightened up from its bended-knee position, also meant the appointed culprit of the time, the trade unions (especially the mining industry), had to be broken for any progress to be made. In the quest for that dragon-slaying, Thatcher relentlessly pursued and destroyed the unions with a hardness that had not been previously seen in a British PM. Inevitably, the societies which were inextricably linked to those unions, still bear the scars of that bloody war.....yes, make no mistakes, everything Thatcher did, she did like a warrior. 

And I am almost certain she also believed all is fair in War...

Some people, especially those who live abroad may be unaware of the tsunami of jubilation that has greeted Thatcher's demise. There are people actually working franctically to organise parties to celebrate her death, whilst the mainstream gathers to honour her with a more dignified exit. To qualify further for the avoidance of doubt, the celebrations are not to celebrate her life, but to celebrate the fact she has finally died! 

The pit closures she effected did ruin those mining communities and I guess unless you live in those areas, one may not be qualified to comment, but I must saying seeing placards saying; 'The Bitch is Dead,' may have just been a bit too tasteless for my liking. 

Such anticipated hatred is probably behind the Thatcher family's request to not have a state funeral. It would be undignifyingly sad if such an iconic figure were interred surrounded by protest.


On the other side of town, where Thatcher is revered, the story is unsurprisingly different. Her supporters, mostly from the south of the country, want her to have a full state funeral. Her popularity amongst this demographic is nothing short of immeasurable and they will be the people who inevitably line the streets to pay respect on her final journey. To call this group of people disciples may appear hyperbolic, but one can only ask observers to wait until the ceremonies begin to adjudge for themselves. 

As for the military tributes, they will definitely be full honours, but then only the very bitter would deny her that....her Falklands war adventures have more or less secured her position.

So how do I remember Margaret Thatcher?

Firstly, I think her greatest trick was to pass away whilst a Conservative PM was in Number 10. Aside from this, I remember her like a strong, old-fashioned Nigerian mother. An individual so concrete in their beliefs, the possibility of any wobble was a distant thought. I remember her the same way I remember my childhood neighbour who when her children became errant, would declare: "you either obey my rules or move out of my house" and actually meant it, as one of those kids was to find to their chagrin.

At the time, the woman's confidence, sure and unshaken, appeared unreasonable and wicked to some (especially moi), but a few days afterwards, the prodigal daughter returned home, tail between legs. It was an outcome the mother unwaveringly believed will occur...it was a warrior's decision, delivered with a warrior's instinct! This was the Thatcher instinct - a self-belief which had few fans, but 8 times out of 10, turned out to be correct.

Ironically, when one looked at a picture of Margaret Thatcher's cabinet, it was this lone woman in the centre of pompous public schoolboys, whose only exposure to female authority was probably when they were growing up at home. The manner in which she controlled, titillated, cajoled and ultimately put them all in their place, and the way in which they feebly reacted, but ultimately put her to the sword, would be my overall abiding memory of the most divisive British Prime Minister of all time.

Adieu Maggie....even in death, I am certain you would have wanted all these stories to be side by side, but then I cannot help but have this niggling suspicion you would not have really cared how your detractors remembered you. 

1 comment:

  1. I don't remember any "dead bodies lying everywhere" in the late 70's. Thatcher's policies are known to have pushed a good few living ones on their way though. I hear a lot about Thatcher's bloody minded self belief. Such arrogance is pathological when it comes at a price that sends innocent boys to war. Let us forget the woman and move on