Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Last Big Lie of Thatcherism

It's probably apparent where I stand on Thatcherism to anyone who's read much of anything on this blog, so I'll not go into it in any great depth - I'm not a fan, basically. [This shouldn't of course be read to imply that I think Britain had it worse in the 1980s than Romania, for example - obviously we didn't, and compared to Ceausescu, Thatcher and her odious cabinet of scum, were not even in the same league. Nor should it be read to imply that I somehow think that war-criminal Tony Blair was somehow a beacon of positive change. He, after all, is a Thatcherist himself]

However, when one argues about Thatcherism with people who do think that it was all a good thing, there are a number of things which get raised as examples of what she did that was positive. One of the main ones of these was that she (and her team - it's not really all about her specifically) ushered in neo-liberal economic policies, which I personally never saw as "a good thing", but which now has been shown up to be a house of cards that has collapsed in spectacular fashion. That's one aspect of Thatcherism that has, at least, been shown up for its disastrous consequences rather than its supposed benefits (you'll note that, Nicolas Sarkozy, for example, who came to power preaching a Thatcherite economic revolution for France, has been very quiet on this issue since Lehman Brothers went down).

The second argument is that she crushed the unions and stripped them of their power. This required the idea of unions themselves to be demonised, which was accomplished (with the aid of a compliant media) very successfully. However, unions are (and always have been) a vehicle for organised labour, and the concept of the powerless joining together to give themselves a voice seems, to me, to be something that should be celebrated rather than demonised. Do unions have problems? yes. Are unions and the idea behind them problematic in themselves? No. So, yes, Thatcherism disempowered the already powerless. Difficult to see how this was a benefit to anyone, honestly - even "management", for whom organised labour ought to be a partner and something vaulable and helpful rather than an obstacle.

The third and last big lie of Thatcherism was that it ushered in a newly meritocratic Britain. A class-free Britain in which people could rise to success regardless of their position in society. This has been the one enduring "success story" of the Thatcherite ideology.

But look at Britain's next government:

Here they are in all their classless glory. Here we can see David "Dave" Cameron, George "real name something like Tarquin" Osborne, and other members of the shadow cabinet that will almost certainly be elected to lead Britain later this year. In the front row you can also see the cartoonishly bumbling upper-class-twit-of-the-year, and current Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Essentially a bunch of people educated at Britain's most expensive public schools and subsequently Oxford. And now we have a meritocracy? I hardly think so. [It should also be pointed out here that Blair also went to some massively expensive and exclusive private school, so this argument was blown out of the water some time ago, but because he was - in theory- a Labour politician, this was overlooked]

And now, "Dave" has come out with his latest statement (on teachers) revealing his understanding of the world and how things work. To summarise, teachers need to have gained high degrees from a "good university" (whatever that is, in Cameron speak). Teacher training in Dave's world is unimportant, and no-one who gets a lower degree or one from a not-so-good university ought to to be allowed in the classroom. Now I do have a professional opinion on this (as a teacher and a teacher trainer), which is that it's absolute fucking garbage, but putting that to one side, lets see what it reveals about this meritocratic society that we've apparently been living in since those heady days of the 80s.

The only people who talk like this, for a start, are those for whom the concept of meritocracy is sort of a nice thing to keep the plebs happy. I remember once overhearing one of my few incredibly snobbish private-school-and-oxbridge-educated acquaintances tell someone that a mutual friend had "a random degree from some mickey mouse university" (that's an exact quote, as despite the fact that this was over 20 years ago, it really stuck with me). That's how these people talk. Anyone not in their exalted coterie, is basically non-existent, and of no real value whatsoever. By revealing his (a) complete lack of understanding of how teaching actually works - and what works in teaching; and (b) "good university" biases, Dave also reveals that despite the attempts to portray himself as a man of the people, he is locked into his own little world characterised by that photo up there.

Does all this mean that he will be a bad Prime Minister? No, though he obviously needs an education adviser very badly. Does his background exclude him from government? No. Does he have any idea how normal people live, what their concerns are, how things could be improved for them? I very much think not.

One could even argue (not that I would, but one could) that he would be a good prime minister, based on the fact that he's been told from an early age that he ought to be in charge of things, and has been prepared for this throughout his education. And that we, those who didn't have his highly privileged background, have been subtly told all our lives that there are a class of people who are better than us and ought to be in charge. But please, let's forget all this shit about meritocracy. The last big lie of Thatcherism is just that - a complete and utter lie.

Finally, to sign off this angry rant, especially for Dave, who probably thinks this is a good song, though he's also probably never really understood it, is something for him to tap his feet to:

You'll never live like common people,
you'll never do what common people do,
you'll never fail like common people,
you'll never watch your life slide out of view

No comments: