Monday, April 15, 2013

Margaret Thatcher

I've been staying out of the whole what-was-the-Thatcher-legacy? discussions, but it occurs to me that I have an anecdote to add if anybody is interested.

It's 1988 and my parents and I are visiting the Glasgow Garden Festival. We are all quite keen on this bit of urban regeneration and have bought season tickets. One day (I think it was a Sunday) we form a resolution to go up the Clydesdale Bank tower. We've noticed that it tends to have long queues and so decide to go immediately after the site opens in the morning. We are therefore in Anderston ready for the opening, but something seems to be wrong, as gates are not being opened.  Clearly, something is happening. The something seems to involve a helicopter that appears and lands on the site. We are let in (a bit later than advertised) and hurry to the tower, along with quite a few others with the same idea. However there is a discrete yet determined security presence, and we are held back. Something has not finished happening. Then, yes, there she was. Our Prime Minister appeared, only a few meters away. I think Denis was with her, though I may have added that fact. As I remember, she waved, or at least acknowledged us somehow. The reply was stony to say the least. After a silence you could have cut with a knife, she got her wee trip up the tower. I hope she liked the view.

After the famous people had gone, there was a squabble among the various people who had been held back by security over who was now first. I did get my trip to the viewing platform just after, about which I remember nothing.

I wasn't jubilant at her death, because I'm not like that. Despite being brought up in Glasgow in the 70s and early 80s and my dad losing his job as the market for textile machinery collapsed, and the family having a generally shitty time for much of the 80s, I find that I can still find things to approve of in Margaret Thatcher. (And if I told my 12-year-old self that, I wouldn't believe me.) There was something very wrong, not in trade unionism generally, but in British trade unionism. And, in that rather scary single-minded way of hers, she took it out. She probably did us all a massive favour there.

Her other main legacy was, ironically, on the Labour party, which had to pull itself apart and reinvent itself as New Labour (with a hefty dose of her policies thrown in) before it could be elected again.

PS: Google suggests to me that this took place on Saturday, May 14th 1988. So not a Sunday.
PPS: According to this blog (which I find fairly persuasive because of its nice use of statistics), Thatcher had less to do with the decline of unions than you might think.