Thatcher dying has stirred up a rage in me so deep and personal I am weeping, shaking and feeling physically sick. Quietly despite the protestations publicly I know I am not alone. I do not know what to do with this right now so for now I am writing my thoughts down.
I always describe myself as a Working class girl made good. I am my father’s daughter and I miss my Dad who gave me my working class values – work hard for a honest day’s work .
Born in 1930 my father came from the poorest of poor backgrounds. Family was a working class generation of book reading. His grandfather James had books and interestingly there was a need a thirst for knowledge. When he was 11 my father passed the 11 + and entrance exam to the poshest grammar school in town. This at the time was and still is a fee paying school so one can only suppose he was offered a full scholarship. He couldn’t go. His parents couldn’t afford the uniform. Last year my son told me about his friend who got all A*s for her GCSES. She too was offered a part scholarship at the posh fee paying school. She has not gone. Her parents could not afford to send her.
At sixteen getting highest marks possible for his school certificate he went with his father for his last interview with the Head teacher who told his father he should be “kicked around the parish” for letting his son leave school. How many conversations I have had regarding those folk who never quite had the opportunity to meet their true potential. Many of these folk live below minimum wage topping up hard work and low incomes with benefits.
Like the 1000s of young men before him my father joined is father in working in the local dockyard. Working his way through apprenticeships and night school he ended up being a well-respected member of the Chartered Institute of Engineers. A few years ago I attempted to apply to night school to undertake a GCSE. I found out that in the cuts to education there was no “night school” in my area to achieve basic qualifications such as GCSES.
In 1956 my parents put their deposit down on a house. A brand new 3 bedroom semi in the suburbs. A home for a family. I am not convinced that there was an offer of social housing. My parents had been homeless when they married. The first generation to own a home. At 83 my mum still lives there. Ah yes Thatcher’s legacy the right for working class man to own his castle. My friend reminisced last night that interest ran at 14% in the 80s and that choice had to be made between food and paying the mortgage. How many homes like now were being repossessed as folk could not repay the mortgage?
I live in in an ex council house. As a working single Mum I receive no benefits and over half my wages go on putting a roof over my head. I do not own my house the bank does or indeed any other financial institution that may have the power to make me sell my house. Single parent next door had to claim housing benefit and be a benefit scrounger to pay her high rent to her private landlord only to be evicted as landlord wanted the property back so becoming homeless with her family. Before Thatcher we would have been living in these houses with affordable rent, safe in the knowledge that we did not have to scrounge off the state. Having so little social housing has pushed the prices and rent of housing up. The “haves” landlords and banks get richer at the cost of a generation not having the basic human right to have a roof over their head.
I don’t remember my grandfather. He died in his sixties an old man before his time with a nasty lung condition. Exposed to dust, toxic fumes and asbestos that was just the way it was. The nature of my work and other areas of my life is that I talk a lot about health and safety. A country that has gone “health and safety” mad! How much of being healthy and safe do we take for granted? The working class generation before us fought hard so we do not end up dying young like my Grandfather and so many with him.
My father was not extraordinary. He was no angel or martyr. He was an ordinary working class man. My father was a paid up member of the union all his working life. For many years he was a paid up member of the Labour party too. He believed in fairness justice and equality of opportunity for all. He believed that with hard work, working together and supporting your community and those less able than yourself we could all participate and make our society a better place to be.
At work they tell me I am lucky for having a decent living wage, for having sick pay. I am not lucky others fought hard for these basic benefits. There were no big greedy bonuses for me in the eighties and nineties. No massive wage increases and Christmas pay outs. All most folk wanted in a fair society is the right to work for a decent wage and for society to support you in a time of need.
There are many Dads and Mothers who upheld these beliefs. In the past week many of us have mourned their passing. These were the men and women who fought for the right to vote, for decent healthy safe working conditions, a living wage, a free health service and a right to education and a welfare state to support those in need . For many of us posting posters and words of others on social networking sites is the only way to express our feelings about a woman who destroyed communities and lives. To be told we are disrespectful and for the media to misrepresent our “truth and voice” is in itself hypocritical and offensive. I cannot have respect for a woman just because she is dead. This is illogical especially with the rhetoric to support this view. If this was the case should we then support Hitler for his strong minded beliefs? What of Bin Laden? Should we have shown more respect to his family for not expressing a view of the terrorists views and deeds he committed?
Thatcher divided a nation into the have and have not’s. She was not a working class woman made good. She married a man with money and means. She did not get to where she was with hard work. On the radio this week (do not start me off on a rant about the BBC) they talked about her achieving her degree and being the first feminist to participate in a career and working life! She achieved this with privilege and by marrying one of the “haves”. You know what? My mother of the same generation was kicked out of school at fourteen, written off intellectually and worked in a shop on below minimum wage. Marrying my father they were homeless as post war Britain had a shortage of housing. Going to college and becoming a politician was not an option.
I believe it was the aspiration of my father’s generation that by 2013 the class struggle would be over and in 2013 we would be living in a society that upheld fairness and equality of opportunity. This generation would hope by now that child poverty in a so called developed country would be eradicated and everyone would have the right to a free education. This generation were proud to be British with a health and welfare state.
To be in the situation we are now in as a society is a tragedy and one that starts with Thatcher. The dark shadow of inequality that she cast in 1980s still remains today. I can only hope that this opportunity to reflect on all that has been lost will rekindle our sense of humanity and the beginnings of new communities and societies based on fairness, equality that communities will begin to support and help each other. God knows with little no health or welfare system, little or no opportunity to work for a living wage, a shortage of affordable housing we are going to need it.
Quietly in this last week I have had quiet conversations and read thoughtful reflective words. Tales of ordinary folk whose lives were fundamentally destroyed and damaged by that woman’s refusal to “not be turned”.
I and many others sit and weep for these folk, our lost communities and our once fairer society that our mothers and fathers worked so hard for us and the next generation. But also their is a rage burning deep inside me at the injustice and tragedy of it all…