Published On: Mon, Apr 15th, 2013

The Thatcher Counter Culture.


Since Margaret Thatcher’s death we have seen people express a variety of emotion concerning her: abhorrence, respect, bitterness, indifference and of course confusion (The RIP Cilia Black meme being a personal favourite meme).


The vitriol was inspired by the fear and loathing that Thatcher instilled into millions during her time in office through her perceived indifference to the suffering her policies caused and her apparent revelling in the image of the Iron Lady. The fear still burns brightly for many and it was all on display on social media, the right wing press got to act shocked at this, at the putrid hatred, like it was unexpected. I can imagine the editorial meeting in response to her death, the editor; belly, bald, tie loosened and a baggy outdated three button suit: “Get Trevor or Grant or Kevin. Get our best man, on social media, just have them monitoring it, some shit is gonna go down! It’s inevitable!”


George Galloway, Respect MP for Bradford took centre stage in the coverage, he took utter delight in her passing as he tweeted “Tramp the dirt down”, which is taken from the name and lyric of an Elvis Costello song (Shipbuilding is another example of a Costello Thatcher critique). The right wing press reported this widely, shocked at the insensitivity of the tweet, condemning the timing of it as insensitive.


The lyric that Galloway tweeted is the impetus of this article. It was retweeted and favourited by many, and tellingly it also sprung up independently from Galloway. The lyrics read,


“Well I hope I don’t die too soon
I pray the lord my soul to save
Oh I’ll be a good boy, I’m trying so hard to behave
Because there’s one thing I know, I’d like to live
Long enough to savour
That’s when they finally put you in the ground
I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down”


Pretty vicious and personally nasty imagery, but it was all inspired by her actions during her time in office which could be summarized by a line from the 2011 film, “Yes, the medicine is harsh, but the patient requires it in order to live.” That authoritarian tone, like a strict school teacher wagging her finger and looking down at you over her sharp features instilled anger in so many but it also turned her into a strange sex symbol, the high pitched voice, the over done hair, the elaborate pearls, erotic for some in the 80’s apparently. The anger might contribute to the sex symbol status; it’s the hats for me though.


We have The Jam’s Town called Malice, taken from 1982 the album, The Gift. It was written by Paul Weller and concerns his small hometown of Woking and the frustrations felt there due to the town’s decline, the recreational drinking that has taken hold, the unhappy lonely housewives and the better days of years gone by,


“Rows and rows of disused milk floats
Stand dying in the dairy yard
And a hundred lonely housewives clutch empty milk
Bottles to their hearts
Hanging out their old love letters on the line to dry
It’s enough to make you stop believing when tears come
Fast and furious
In a town called malice”


When Thatcher shut down mines, it wasn’t just one specific industry that suffered it was also the businesses that rely on their custom: poof! Gone!  The milkman, the landlord, the barman, and the corner shop owner who were they going to serve now that people had left for work?  It’s not towns vanishing in the abstract, these factories built livelihoods, children grew up knowing that they had a job down the road, communities and livelihoods were sustained by that one industry, economies are interrelated like and ecosystem but like drinking sambuca in an instant it and your dignity are gone: Ghost Town by the Specials, bleak, disillusioned ska from Coventry.


And then the Manchester band The Smiths, where front man, Morrissey, has never been one to shirk from expressing his political views, he wrote a song for his debut solo album, Viva Hate, entitled “Margaret on the Guillotine” which as you can guess is not favourable depiction. After her death he penned an open letter that finished with “Thatcher was a terror without an atom of humanity.”


Thatcher wasn’t a politician like David ‘Call Me Dave’ Cameron and Tony Blair (American comedian Bill Burr once said the only reason he could remember his name was because it reminded him of a jazz musician: “Ladies and Gentleman trumpet sensation Tony Blair!) she was a conviction politician, as I keep being told, which basically means you think you know the problem and you go about fixing it your way. They don’t placate people, they don’t want to be liked, they want to win, but that is problematic because it isn’t compassionate it doesn’t try to even present an understanding of other peoples’ situations, she often looked like a bully when people were suffering. She unintentionally inspired a counter-culture movement in the arts, particularly in music, that acted as a protest against her.


What Galloway and others must consider when they tweet these tweets is that no Thatcher means no Billy Elliot. That means no frustrated 12 year old stealing the show by dancing to Town Called Malice and no Elton John stage adaptation. Are Galloway etc really prepared to accept that? Can they really tell me that the UK would be in a better place if Jamie Bell hadn’t had the chance to star in that role? Where would the UK film industry be if Mike Leigh wasn’t able to make bleak films about hard hit Northern English towns? It would be a lot less depressing, but less successful.



by Richard Jackson