I am, I suppose, one of Thatcher’s children.
I came of age during the Thatcher years. I had just turned ten when she was elected in 1979, and by the time she left Downing Street in tears in 1990 I was in my final year at university. Those eleven years changed Britain and British politics, probably forever: Falklands, unions, IRA bombs, miners’ strike, Gorbachev, city deregulation, Section 28, Poll Tax.
But I’m not going to rehearse all that messy business. That road is well travelled and sprinkled with pot holes.
All of us who grew up during those tumultuous years are still affected by them — whichever side of her policies you were on. We remember the rise of what was then called alternative comedy, and is now called comedy: Not the Nine O’Clock News, Ben Elton, Alexei Sayle, Rik Mayall, French and Saunders, and the rest. We remember teachers’ strikes and bonus days off. We remember endless TV adverts for about-to-be-privatised businesses (“If you see Sid, tell him”) and the rise of the city boys flashing their cash and hefting their mobile phone bricks. We remember the god-awful fashion.
But this is nothing new. Every generation is shaped by its predecessor: vowing not to repeat its mistakes, vowing to preserve its legacy, and then becoming crippled by the tawdry compromises of reality.
Those born ten years before me were children of the seventies: flower power, power cuts, flared trousers, Ted Heath, Who Governs Britain?, two elections in a year, Harold Wilson’s surprise retirement, the Winter of Discontent. They became, more or less, in charge when Labour swept to power in 1997. Just as David Cameron and the Bullingdon club now run the country, recreating the eighties in their own Oxford image with one arm tied behind their backs by the Lib Dems. And just as those born in the late seventies whose politics are stamped by Major’s Britain, Back to Basics, sleaze, the first Gulf War, and then the inevitable Labour landslide and the death of Diana, will take power in another half-generation.
And so it goes.
I remember vividly when then-Mrs Thatcher resigned, finally. I was in my college room — less than a mile from where I’m writing this — sitting at my desk, my TV keeping me company. It was about 9.30am. There was a newsflash.
I felt a strange exhilaration: after months of commas and semi-colons there was at last a full stop. A new sentence.
Major, Hurd or Heseltine? What would it be like having a male prime minister?
I told the only person I could find: the bedder (Cambridge-speak for cleaner) hoovering outside my room. I wanted to watch the rolling news — a novelty then — but had an errand to run: I had to pay my poll tax.
I queued along with two dozen others in a sterile council office, snakes shuffling toward glass screens to pay obeisance. Inside, I buzzed. I wanted to shout it out: everything has changed! Back then there was no Twitter, no text messaging, few mobile phones, and I suspected only a small minority had heard the news. At least, they didn’t look like they’d heard the news. I said nothing.
I paid, knowing that whoever replaced Mrs Thatcher would replace the poll tax too.
Everything changed, but nothing changed.
And so it goes.