Saturday, 13 April 2013

Death-Cult Britain: Thatcher, Nostalgia and Indulgences

After recent heavy snow, Britain is again paralysed: this time by a Westminster wonkfest, a new Zombie Britain horror in which the political commentariat have risen en masse for an orgy of fat-chewing...

For some, Margaret Thatcher (recently deceased) legitimises a worldview in which power self-evidently belongs to a certain type of person: the commercial entrepreneur; the chauvinist; the monetarist. This iconification of Thatcher goes along with a denial that the energies unleashed by monetarism have been narrowly focused by those seeking to increase the socio-economic differential between themselves and "the rest".

Monetarism could never be universally beneficial.  A couple of decades on, the wave of privatisations begun under Thatcher looks like a masquerade; a cover for those already assured enough to play the markets to  own a little more of what everyone needs. The interests of a few new players may have been more closely aligned with those of the most ambitious capitalists, but how many citizens today part-own a gas company, an electricity company, a water company? How many have greater control over the capital entities which constrain their every move?

Much is made of Thatcher's shopkeeper roots, as if it were a given that society is best organised according to the logic of the bean counter. The shopkeeper's way has been supercharged via new communications technologies, which are ever-more closely interwoven with everyone's personal stake in the financial system. This plays out as an all-pervasive tyranny, in which the consumer-citizen is kept in perpetually reactive mode: poked, nudged and prompted at every possible juncture. Some may own houses who wouldn't have were it not for Thatcher. But the house - like the car, the iPad or the mobile phone - has been transformed into a capital device which ties its possessor in to paying never-endingly for all the things that make possessing it worthwhile. It's a reductive, banal and frustrating way to live.

In today's neo-liberal Britain neither the labour nor the intelligence of a citizen seem to be of value. People are "free" to work and think if they want to; but their most vital function is to provide a constant stream of cash payments to private agents, for things they can't do without (and some they can do without). Trickle-down capitalism has become trickle-up capitalism. Those with the greatest financial heft have inherited the freedom to prompt social changes, for profit, shielded by a mythos which infers an incontrovertible normalcy and - yes - morality, in the logic of markets.

This, in my view, is a significant part of the legacy of Thatcherism.

...Jagger to release blue butterflies from Hyde Park stage in memory of ex-PM...'Thatcher death premium' pushes ticket prices past two hundred pounds...Watts, Richards 'not bothered' about 'hijacking of counter-culture'...footwear website crashes as Elvis Costello attempts massive "tramping boots" order...I my dream news-stream...

Did Thatcherism 'make Britain great (again)'? Is it even a good idea to want to be great as Britain was, say, in the nineteeth century?

If Thatcherism is to be credited for the society we now enjoy in Britain, it must also bear some responsibility for the ongoing, stupefying struggles between citizen, state and markets. Britain today is part of a great global capital churn, in which the economically disempowered are churned up. And you become disempowered, in effect, just for not being interested enough in being an active capitalist. All other values are in abeyance.

Thatcherism led in time to the topsy-turvy era of financial crisis and serial recession. In this, the state has been cornered into upholding the freedom to privatise any and all economic gain, whilst subsidising the losses of the most voracious capitalists when their schemes fail. It's a wonderland in which "debt" is transformed into "credit" for anyone seeking to become a more active capitalist; yet the resources required by the state to keep society on an even keel are still called "debt" or "deficit", and deemed a national shame.

I believe it's foolish for any political faction to claim Thatcher's legacy as an unambiguous triumph, or to assume that Thatcher's favoured ideology marks a "year zero" after which every other way of being is forgotten. To date, the era of financial crisis has been one of stasis and delusion. But from it, hopefully, future changes will be impelled. It seems as though none of Britain's current political leaders want to speculate publicly about such changes. Like rival kids in a playground, they have to appear sure of themselves if they are to inspire their respective gangs. Their old gangs.

All the posturing is a little silly, and insulting to the intelligence of anyone not belonging to any particular gang; any free thinker. Democratic representation via the old political camps is in crisis anyway, to the extent that in 2010 coalition was the nearest-to-honest settlement available. At that time Britain was repeatedly told that this was a good thing: 'the end of yah-boo politics'. I wonder now if this was just to hide the gang leaders' embarrassment at not winning an election outright.

David Cameron's sudden valorisation of Thatcher's life and personal qualities, his espousal of an otherwise contentious British greatness, certainly suggests a mind easily overwhelmed by any opportunity to acquire outright power.

...Arthur Scargill to launch comeback via guest spot on new Chumbawamba release...Mark E. Smith unimpressed...

Whilst some monotonously trumpet the defeat of socialism, opposition to privately monetised power has become personalised, vicious and intellectually ad-hoc. Leftish vitriol aimed at Thatcher goes along with attempts to personify certain socio-economic values in Thatcher herself, and sanctify them via a Thatcher death cult. It also shows how impoverished the left's project is. It reveals a nostalgia for a time when all that was required to guarantee block votes was to invoke ironclad ideological constructs from the early twentieth century, and shout about the wronged worker and the privileges of the rich.

What a task Blair (Thatcherite-in-effect) and the ineffectual Brown have bequethed to their successors, by leaving so much unchallenged in the name of their own moment of power. Who will represent the citizen who is  interested less in the homilies and simplistic oppositions of the past, more in wanting to follow their times and make the complex present a more livable one?

...artist Jeremy Deller plans 'inflatable state funeral'...

Thatched out. Over and out.

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