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Wednesday, April 17, 2013 

We are all bourgeois now.

As unhappy coincidences go, today's announced rise in unemployment seems as fitting a tribute to Maggie as anything else.  We all Thatcherites now, says David Cameron, and while you can't level the accusation against him that he believes unemployment an acceptable price to pay for his overall reforms, especially considering no government since has believed in full employment, his government is going way beyond Thatcher's obstinacy on economics.  She after all did relent to an extent when monetarism sent the economy into free fall; Cameron and Osborne seem likely to ignore the advice of the highest priests of neoliberalism, the IMF, to scale back on austerity, such is the way they've made it impossible to do so without humiliating themselves.

Just as I didn't watch the royal wedding (and why on earth would anyone, for that matter?), I somehow managed to avoid the funeral.  Quite why so many find something to admire in our ability to put on pageantry when required equally escapes me; authoritarian nations also tend to be pretty good at putting on a show, and yet with the exception of the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics, we usually make fun of them precisely on that basis.  Just as the only reasonable reaction to goose-stepping soldiers is to laugh at them, so the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the monarchy and also now the chosen few regarded as being the equivalent of royalty ought to be mocked.  It is utterly ridiculous, almost everyone except for the dewy-eyed few know it to be ridiculous, and so undoubtedly this ridiculous tradition will continue to be rolled out for every major state event, such are our ways.

If nothing else, today has at least been revealing of how politicians regard each other in private.  Both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were first elected to parliament in 1983 on "the longest suicide note in history" manifesto, but neither it seems had any objection to Thatcher being given a quasi-state funeral.  Indeed, it seems the only major thing the Tories added to the plans drawn up under the last government was the military aspect.  They might not have known that the right would take the opportunity of her death to attempt to portray her as second only to Churchill in the great national figure stakes, yet if they've had any such concerns since they certainly weren't on display today.  Nor has the week of hype and eulogising left the Mail drained; if anything, it's reached such a peak that you doubt they'll be able to top it when Liz pops her clogs.  "A journey's end", the front page read, while below they claim up to 250,000 were lining the route of the procession (since changed to a more realistic 50,000).  Just as you have to multiple the figures given by the police for any demonstration other than one by the Countryside Alliance by the power of 4, so it now seems you have to divide the numbers given by the Mail by the same amount.

Nor was the ceremony itself beyond critique.  Today wasn't the time and place to discuss her politics, said the Bishop of London, Richard Chatres, who then decided at the end that it actually was as he defended her over the infamous "no such thing as society" comments.  She did believe in society, and the interdependence of people, he said, which is almost certainly true; what went unsaid was that however you read her remarks, she clearly said people shouldn't even expect to be housed by the state. I don't think anyone disputes that first and foremost our responsibility is to look after ourselves; it's that a majority of us still believe that the state should provide an adequate safety net, whether that be in housing or benefits. Society is not the state, as the Tories said at the last election, but Thatcher's government did more to fray the threads that tie communities together and make up society than any since the war.

The real irony of today is that for all their tributes to her, not to forget George Osborne's solitary tear, Cameron spent his first years as Conservative leader trying to repair the damage her overthrow did to the party. Arguable as his overall success has been, the last week has been a reminder to everyone that her legacy is still inescapable.  To suggest this is unlikely to go down well in those places that the Tories need to win to get a majority next time out is to put it too lightly.  The overwhelming mood might be apathy rather than anger, such as that in Leeds and Edinburgh rather than Goldthorpe, yet you shouldn't bet against Labour using a few of the images of the past week come in 2015, hypocritical in the extreme or not.

This said, Cameron was right in saying we are all Thatcherites now.  At least he was if he was meant the political class, as they clearly are all Thatcherite in one sense or another.  A significant number of the population by contrast remain in favour of an alternative, it's just they aren't so much as offered one. Nor are they likely to be. And eventually, something is going to break.

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