— Stephen Newton (@stephennewton) April 15, 2013
All being well, my train should be pulling in to London Euston around now, just a couple of hours before Thatcher’s coffin is due to arrive at St Paul’s cathedral. As the Daily Mirror’s Kevin Maguire has says, lavishing taxpayers’ money on a no expense spared funeral is the final insult. It also compounds the sense of shame many of us felt when she was in power.
This highly elaborate ceremonial funeral with military honours, places Thatcher at the same status as Princess Diana. If it had been allowed to go ahead as Thatcher supporters planned, with a massive public outpouring of grief, they would have used that to claim that we are all Thatcherites now. This funeral is a provocation and becomes more provocative by the day. It’s Falklands theme not only made an Argentinian boycott inevitable, but plays to that country’s charge that Britain is a nation of imperialists.
Nevertheless, this is not about allowing ourselves to be distracted by old battles, as some have have suggested, and so allowing present days fights to be lost. Just the opposite.
Thatcherism still has meaning in British, and to a lesser extent US, politics. My battle with Liam Fox’s Atlantic Bridge exposed me to the Thatcherites of today. As that organisation’s American CEO said, the Atlantic Bridge was ‘a confidence trick’, diverting money that should have been collected as tax into a slush fund for senior Tories who wished to network with their US allies. It’s stated aim to remodel the ‘special relationship’ on the lines of the Thatcher-Reagan partnership. Thatcher herself called for the Atlantic Bridge to be ‘bulwark against the good — and not so good — people on the Left’.
The Tory right is as inspired by Thatcher today as they were when she was in power, after all they joined the party as spotty adolescents in the 1980s. Today the Conservative Party has finally thrown off the last of its pragmatism to become a movement of ideologues, particularly committed to shrinking the state, especially the NHS which they believe leads to state dependency. To Thatcherites the welfare state forces business to compete with the dole queues and damages our ability to compete with deregulated, low-wage economies elsewhere in the world. Rather than raise standards for all, they would race to the bottom. They are already ‘gearing up for action on the minimum wage’ and still hope to opt out of EU legislation that enhances workplace rights in order to finally realise Thatcher’s vision for Britain in Europe: a deregulated, low-wage economy that sucks in rubbish jobs continental Europeans don’t want.
If the pomp and ceremony around Thatcher’s funeral were to go unchallenged, they would be greatly emboldened, ever more radical and Britain would become a much darker place.