Posts Tagged ‘Margaret Thatcher’

Listen and watch Tony Harrison’s filmed poem, V

‘My father still reads the dictionary every day./He says your life depends on your power to master words.’ — Arthur Scargill,
Sunday Times, 10 January 1982

V stands for Victory, Victim, Versus

Dear friends and readers,

She was a blight on us all — but unfortunately only an extreme version of the kind of people ruling most countries today. Like Reagan, she had a facility for saying something that seemed true, but was specious, that would be quoted and people would say “yes,” not realizing what she was endorsing was the worst and most rotten aspects of our experiences of life.

An important article by Andrew O’Hagan (“Maggie,” New York Review of Books, 60:9 [May 2013]:18-20). What O’Hagan does is show continually how in specific individual human terms Margaret Thatcher’s acts either destroyed some specific person’s hope, daily useful activity, job, opportunity or were responsible for killing literal people, destroying the houses or communities they lived in, e.g., the night she had the Belgrano sunk — outside the acknowledged waters of war (then there were limits to war’s purview) — 323 people died.


It appears to be open to all, non-subscribers as well as paper and on-line subscribers, but lest you cannot reach it or do not feel inclined to click, some key paragraphs:

It was an impressive work of social engineering but ultimately a dreadful one. She created a population that is more dependent and less productive. She made us more individual but less cooperative. It must have looked heroic on paper or in the essays of Milton Friedman. But what she did was incredibly coarse in practice: she ground the unions down but left workers with no alternative form of self-esteem or protection, and the result, today, is a workforce of the alienated. She boasted of setting people free but British working people have never been more enslaved to the whims of fashion, corporate greed, and agism than they are now. A young person from a former mining community where there might have been classes in the evenings and a sense of propriety, decency, modesty, and community can now only hope for a place in “the zone”—the world of the “haves”—by winning a celebrity contest or by thriving on the black market …

All the kids in my class were given a small bottle of milk every day at mid-morning. It was nice to drink the milk, but nicer, in some larger way, to learn that you lived in a country where the government your parents paid their taxes to cared about you that minutely. Thatcher stopped the milk. It seemed new, the thought—promulgated by Keith Joseph, Norman Tebbit, and, chiefly, Margaret Thatcher—that people who didn’t want to strive and become better than their neighbors were totally lacking in spirit.

At first it seemed like a small philosophical problem: older people, hard-working people, contented people, sick people would argue that they didn’t have to be winners. They didn’t want to do better: they were quite happy to do fine. They liked being like other people. It squared with their sense of belonging and with their idea of what made British life stable. My mother worked in a youth club and Thatcher closed it down …

The summer before going to university I got a job with the Manpower Services Commission, at the Job Centre, working the front-line desk with the unemployed. It was 1986 and I’ll never forget those lines of men coming up to the desk to inquire about their suitability for work. There were no jobs. They could try for something in a bar or a hairdresser’s, but fifty-year-old men weren’t going to get those jobs and I was instructed not to send them for interviews. Norman Tebbit, one of Mrs. Thatcher’s proudest and crudest lieutenants, told them to “get on your bike and get a job.” And here they were, skilled tradesmen with thirty-five years’ experience, asking if I could put them forward for a job they weren’t going to get collecting glasses in a bar. Mrs. Thatcher came up with various schemes, such as Restart, where the unemployed would be called in and interrogated about what they were “actively” doing to seek work. And I was told to talk to each of the men about the Enterprise Allowance Scheme, by which the government would give them a grant to start up their own business. The notion that some people are simply not entrepreneurial was lost …

Most important for US readers:

She couldn’t hold the nation together, indeed she drove it apart, and that is because she didn’t really believe in the nation except as a sentimental or martial entity. That’s the strangest legacy of all about Maggie: if you listen to those who loved her and thought she was manifestly right, you find, after a while, that you are with people who don’t know their own country and don’t like it either. They think they like it because they don’t like Europe, but in fact, they abjure both. They like their own lives, of course, and their own kind, but they imagine the rest of Britain is mainly an unspeakable place of aliens and scroungers

When Romney and his ilk talk of the 47% they are saying that to them most of the US are scrounges and aliends. When the Republicans and their allies try to limit the vote, they are acting out of the conviction only a tiny percentage of people who live in the US are of their kind (well-to-do, white) and all the rest not quite human. Obama is an illegitimate president because his skin color is wrong.


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Ford Madox Brown (1821-95), Hampstead from my Window (1857)

Dear friends and readers,

A brief note for Americans like myself who are not aware of the birthdays or birthplaces of British politicians who have become symbolic figures after they exercised power in an ostentatiously as well as felt way politically.

I did not know that Grantham was the name of the place Margaret Thatcher came from (as it’s put). Her father was “a local worthy” who ran a small business. That it’s a compliment to Mrs Thatcher and at the same time an allusion meant explicitly to alert us to the political allegiance of its author.

Jim not only said, oh yes, but immediately went on to suggest that the mood and atmosphere of the mini-series as described to him (he does not watch TV) brought to mind some lines from Rupert Brooke‘s 1912 poem “The Old Vicarage, Granchester,” which ends with these lines:

Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies and truth and pain? …. oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

The whole poem is online.

If the whole poem were like that, it’d indeed capture a central motif of Fellowes’s Downton Abbey, only Brooke’s poem is a kind of pastoral as satire on male muscular Christianity with some misogynistic lines thrown in here and there (“And Ditton girls are mean and dirty”) with scorn for lower class people so egregious (“folks in Shelford and those parts/Have twisted lips and twisted hearts”), that I’m tempted to say it’s ironic with the poet keeping his distance from his narrator, but I think the escape into a deep meadow and landscape world before industrialization, pre-Capitalist is at times serious, and then again mocking: “And when they get to feeling old,/They up and and shoot themselves I’m told) …

John Betjeman, Brooke is not (to be explained on my Sylvia blog this Sunday).

I don’t know if I’ve emphasized how surprising it is that there is so little filmic intertextuality in Downton Abbey. It does not imitate, borrow, allude to other mini-series; this is unusual nowadays as well as it’s rare use of montage and almost complete lack of flashbacks, voice-overs, filmic epistolarity (letters ready by characters using voice-over). What intertextuality there is (confirmed in the second volume on the series, The Chronicles of DA) is textual: Bates’s story was suggested to Fellowes by a news article and an Agatha Christie story.

So I suggest he may also have remembered or had in Brooke’s Grantchester in mind when he chose the name Grantham. I’ve chosen a couple of mid-Victorian idealizing watercolors for this blog whose typology is behind what we see of landscape (not a lot, again surprisingly for a mini-series of this type) in DA.

Perhaps the reader will recall the shot of Lady Sybil plotting Gwen Dawson, the maid who escaped to an office job in the first season, where they are in an old-fashioned wagon riding together and pass under a half-ruined arch in a vast green landscape:

Alfred Wm Hunt (1830-96), Finchale Priory (exhibited 1862)


P.S. I’m not really surprised by the lack of filmic intertextuality, filmic sophistication and/or dream landscapes. These are part of the ways in which Fellowes has carefully kept this mini-series broad and popular in its approach & therefore appeal.

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