Burchill on Thatcher

I have always loved Julie Burchill. There is nothing remotely like her mix of sentimental Bolshevism, working class cultural nostalgia, British patriotism and militarism, Judaeophilia, loathing of Germany and (usually) America, detestation of the British upper classes, personal libertinism combined with a hardnosed understanding of the consequences of such behavior, and her devotion to sixties-era British hipness and seventies punk rock. She is often wildly wrong, but always entertaining.

This recent piece on the upcoming UK election is nicely done. Ms. Burchill offers this beautiful passage about the impact of Margaret Thatcher, whom she depicts as a one-woman whirlwind of pent-up creative destruction:

[A]s some smart-aleck said, we must change or perish. And who should break our long postwar consensual slumber — not with a snog but with a short sharp smack around the head with a handbag and a cry of “Look smart!” — but the Iron Lady herself.

Mrs Thatcher meant, and still means, many things — some of which she is not yet aware of herself, as we are not. Only death brings proper perspective to the triumphs and failures of a political career; it is only with the blank look and full stop of death that that old truism “all political careers end in failure” stops being true. Only a terminally smug liberal would still write her off as an uptight bundle of Little Englandisms, seeking to preserve the old order, however hard she worked that look at first; voting for her was something akin to buying what one thought was a Vera Lynn record, getting it home and finding a Sex Pistols single inside.

She was just as much about revolution as reaction, and part of any revolution is destruction. Some of the things she destroyed seemed like a shame at the time, such as the old industries — though on balance, isn’t there anything good about the fact that thousands of young men who once simply because of who their fathers were would have been condemned to a life spent underground in the darkness, and an early death coughing up bits of lung, now won’t be? It’s interesting to note that while some middle and even upper-class people choose to go into “low” jobs — journalist, actor, sportsman, plumber — which pay well and/or are a good laugh, no one ever went out of their way to become a miner. “Dogs are bred to retrieve birds and Welshman to go down mines,” said some vile old-school Tory; not any more they’re not, thanks to Mrs T.

Her appetite for destruction was more often than not spot-on. Mrs Thatcher was hated by the old Tory establishment because she, more than any Labour leader, brought down the culture of deference, of knowing one’s place. This led to the very British cultural social comedy of left-wing poshos such as the Foots being outraged by the upstart, while outsiders who should on paper have been Labour voters recognised her as one of them.

One of my younger friends, a very angry, talented, Anglo-Punjabi man of profoundly working-class origin, remembers as a child crying inconsolably for days when Mrs Thatcher was unseated by her own party. It says it all that the Queen far preferred the company of the Labour Prime Ministers Wilson and Callaghan than she did the Conservative Thatcher; the Queen could smell the lack of respect on Mrs T, and it put her back up no end.

As to the current election, Ms. B. sees no hope of a “Mad Outsider” candidate akin to Thatcher. It won’t be Blair:

How weird is Blair? Not weird enough for me, though obviously too weird for some. I shall vote for him because he has banned foxhunting, and because he took us into a just war against a vile dictatorship; I’d be hoping for a few more of those during the next term, which I suppose makes me one weird woman voter, obsessed as we are meant to be with peace, childcare and fluffy bunnies. On the other hand, I find the current Labour cultural cringe towards Islam — to “make up” for the war, as if Saddam Hussein hadn’t single-handedly been responsible for the deaths of more Muslim people than the entire British and American armed forces put together! — extremely offensive, as a woman.

Hoping for a few more of those! I doubt it. Tony has had a political near-death experience as it is. But the sentiment is appreciated.

2 thoughts on “Burchill on Thatcher”

  1. Lex, thanks for bringing Ms. Burchill into my home. After reading your post, I could fall in love with her, too.

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