The Blue Bishop?

Is Chartres a Thatcherite
of the Cloth?

Alan Morrison on


or, Margaret Thatcher Hagiography: the new revisionist version of the Thatcher era emerging in the wake of Margaret Thatcher's death, and the media, press and parliamentary augmentation of a highly selective 'Thatcher Mythology' (or 'Magthology'); and a polemical response to the "Not a State Funeral" State Funeral and the Right Rev Richard Chartres' funeral speech/Christianisation of Thatcherism

Thatcher’s Ashes: Our Nation

The Daily Mailthusian’s icily reactionary columnist Melanie Phillips apparently wrote today that she couldn’t help feeling that "Britain was being buried with Thatcher". There are those of us who would say that Britain ‘was buried’ when Thatcher first came into office in 1979, and fully cremated by the time she left it in 1990.

What Thatcherism left in its hawkish wake was a nation socially divided; an entire section of the population –mostly the mentally ill– left on the streets to fend for themselves and live in cardboard boxes ('Care in the Community' being a sort of prototype to the equally phantom 'Big Society'); the industrial Northern heartlands gutted and condemned to chronic unemployment; the unions demonised and emasculated; all core public utilities and services sold off to the profiteering private sector; a de-regulated financial sector and City triggering the ‘Big Bang’ of rogue capitalism (ultimately leading to the 2008 economic meltdown); the opening up of unlimited ‘competition’ for press ownership (which led to Murdoch taking over up to 40% of our major newspapers, all uniformly pro-Thatcher and right-wing, thus terminally unbalancing democratic representation through our press to a 90% right-wing hegemony); the mass corruption of many ordinary people into self-serving buy-to-let property speculators at the expense of millions of families’ own housing security (which led to the housing bubble which also contributed towards the 2008 crash); the atomisation of society into haves and have nots and landlords and tenants; the cynical buying-off of sections of the working class through the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme, in turn depleting council and social housing stock in the absence of building news ones to replace them with; the simply unconscionable abolition of private rent controls (which led to the housing benefit bubble); a whole country, bar pockets of the Home Counties and the South-East, irrevocably scarred for decades afterwards; and worst of all, a greedier, meaner and markedly less compassionate nation stripped of its social, moral and spiritual vitality –along with the post-war consensus which represented such traits– and replaced by a patched-over ‘Pottersville’ (see the film It's A Wonderful Life) of ‘animal spirits’ and atomised anti-values: materialism, avarice, property-worship, poverty-intolerance, venal individualism (though anti-individuality!), opportunism, hyper-consumerism, cultural philistinism, anti-socialism, anti-unionism, anti-welfarism and ‘scroungerology’.

And as that quixotic comedian of the Eighties, Jimmy Cricket used to say: “There’s more”.

But I’ll not depress readers any further than is necessary by detailing all the other prolific solecisms and ethical offences attributable to the Thatcher era. Suffice it to say, if today was marking the final burial of the poisonous and corrupting doctrine of Thatcherism, I’d be the first to put up a red flag outside my flat and hold a party. But, tragically, today simply sees the funeral ceremony and cremation of a latterly senile figurehead of the worst and most pernicious political ideology ever to blight this country, and not, unfortunately, the cremation of the ideology itself.

Because Thatcherism, having been kept alive through the New Labour era –its nastiest aspects merely put on ice for today’s Tories to revive in 2010– now infests every pore of the Tory-led Coalition’s policies; indeed, Cameron’s government goes far beyond even Thatcherism, by so transparently using the subterfuge of “deficit reduction” to finally dismantle the welfare state and fiscally cull and pauperise its perceived ‘client state’, that is, the unemployed, poor, sick and disabled, mass evict whole communities of impoverished –and in many cases, sick and disabled– families through the housing benefit caps and the bedroom tax, a national social cleansing all publicly ‘justified’ by three years of remorseless, hate-inciting “scrounger”, “shirker”, “workshy” and “shut curtains” rhetoric coming directly from the silver-spooned mouths of ministers and the porcine orifices of the filth-spewing right-wing red-tops.

Always trying to have their cakes and scoff them, the Tories gush on in their syrupy ‘Maggiegoraphy’ throughout this ‘mourning’ period as to how far-reaching and indelible Thatcher’s legacy is, still today; how, in Cameron’s own words, her doctrine reshaped the fundamental nature of politics and parliamentary consensus which is still so evident now: “We are all Thatcherites now”, as he put it, disrespectfully to the original phrase from the Edwardian era, and, I think, spoken by King Edward VII: “We are all socialists now” (if only we still were!). But, conveniently, when it comes to tracing the aetiology of the current economic meltdown of our bitterly atomised and divided society in 2013, all of a sudden these same Tories cry, ‘How absurd to put the blame of today’s problems at the door of a woman who left office over 20 years ago!’ Is it just me, is there just a bit of dialectical contradiction, or just plain wilful blindness, there?

Osborne's Crocodile Tears

Unsurprisingly, it takes the funeral of the chief architect of the doctrine which now so glaringly influences the very fiscal policies of the Chancellery of 2013 to thaw a tear from the icy eye of George Osborne. But what a pity that –just as Thatcher herself as she tearfully left No. 10 Downing Street in 1990, after 11 years of wreaking social devastation– this isn’t a tear shed for those millions of impoverished families throughout this country who are now being plunged into chronic destitution due to his destruction of the welfare state; for those hundreds of thousands of children now trapped into a stigmatising poverty cycle of free school meal tickets and disrupted home lives; for those hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people trolleyed through the bureaucratic brutalism of the Atos regimen, those thousands among them who have died prematurely due to stress-accelerated chronic health conditions on losing their benefits, and those scores of claimants who have taken their own lives due to the stress of the work capability assessments; for the hundreds of thousands of unemployed claimants devalued and dispirited through the naked exploitation of the Workfare Scheme; for those scores of unemployed claimants humiliated by being dumped under a dripping London Bridge the night before they were herded out to steward the Ruritanian Jubilee in whose spirit of jubilation they must have felt explicitly excluded from; for the thousands on thousands of street homeless abandoned by the ‘Big’ Society and, in many cases, condemned to malnutrition, illness, even death due to overexposure to extreme temperatures (both cold and hot: hyperthermia and dehydration can both be fatal) as a direct result both of the benefits cap and the criminalisation of squatting in empty properties (or “Weatherley’s Law”).

Osborne can keep his crocodile tears for when the history books rightly damn him for the cynical, malicious and inhumane social destruction he is inflicting on the poorest and most defenceless of this nation. He is the man who mugged the beggar on behalf of the man who made the beggar.

Osborne apart, the long scroll call of ‘the greedy and the made-it-good’ who turned out in their mourning suits and posh frocks and hats for this occasion serves as an iconic list of some of the most self-serving and/or unscrupulous and/or mediocre public figures and celebrities of recent history, the veritable ‘Thatcher’s children’, whose own legacies serve as an aggregate indictment of some of the most unattractive traits of Thatcherism: the present Cabinet and party leaders, Tony Blair, Jeffrey ‘Going Straight now’ Archer, Mark ‘failed Equatorial Guinea coup planner and arms dealer’ Thatcher, Jeremy “Strikers should be shot in front of their families” Clarkson, Tim Rice, Joan Collins, Lord Saatchi… the list goes on, like an unbearably nauseating, rutting soundtrack played on a tinny Eighties cassette-player.

Chartres’ Chapter-Turning Christianisation of Thatcherism

The £10m of public money lavished on the funeral ceremony of the most divisive prime minister in modern history is, of course, unjustifiable, not to say, deeply insulting to all those millions whose lives were blighted and even completely ruined under Thatcher’s rule, as well as all those millions who are currently suffering under the swingeing Damocles of the austerity cuts for the crimes of a banking sector first deregulated by Thatcher. But what is particularly unpalatable, not to say, quite appalling, is to make such a public spectacle of Thatcher’s funeral by holding the service in St Paul’s Cathedral (hugely symbolic too given the still fairly recent Occupy camp pitched there), and thus Christianising what is a distinctly un-Christian –even anti-Christian– legacy. In this respect,

The Recusant wishes to assert its view that it finds the funeral speech made by Bishop of the City of London (Corporation), the Right Rev Richard Chartres, deeply inappropriate, distastefully partisan and bluntly insulting to the fundamental tenets of Christianity which, in our view, Thatcherism implicitly –and explicitly– stood in contradistinction to (even though its architect was apparently incapable of seeing this herself at the time).

Indeed, the almost atavistic anti-Christian values of acquisitiveness and avarice that Thatcherism augmented to an almost frenzied degree in society was the main thrust of Glenda Jackson’s spirited and brilliant impeachment of Thatcher’s legacy, which she bravely and poetically evoked in her speech in Parliament this week, valiantly navigated through almost continual boos and shouts from the Tory goblins opposite (and The Recusant also pays high tribute to the equally passionate and valiant oppositional speeches of George Galloway and that indefatigable socialist and bane of the Tories, Dennis Skinner, whose speech opposing the mass ‘Maggieography’, suspension of PMQs and frankly absurd decision to silence Big Ben during the following day’s funeral procession, will, we predict, go down in parliamentary history as one of the greatest epithets to the travesty of Thatcherism ever made).

But to return to RR Chartres’ obsequy –The Recusant takes much issue with the way he has framed Thatcher’s memory and legacy within an almost antithetical Christian –not to say, Eliotonian– context:

After the storm of a life lived in the heat of political controversy, there is a great calm.

The storm of conflicting opinions centres on the Mrs Thatcher who became a symbolic figure – even an "ism". Today the remains of the real Margaret Hilda Thatcher are here at her funeral service. Lying here, she is one of us, subject to the common destiny of all human beings.

There is an important place for debating policies and legacy; for assessing the impact of political decisions on the everyday lives of individuals and communities. Parliament held a frank debate last week – but here and today is neither the time nor the place. This, at Lady Thatcher's personal request, is a funeral service, not a memorial service with the customary eulogies.

Then why is both the hyperbolic funeral procession and speech itself, in St Paul’s Cathedral, all choreographed precisely in the tone of memorial, even hagiography?

And at such a time, the parson should not aspire to the judgments which are proper to the politician; instead, this is a place for ordinary human compassion of the kind that is reconciling.

And which was completely denied the victims of Thatcherism!

It is also the place for the simple truths which transcend political debate. And above all it is the place for hope.

Something which Thatcherism denied millions, and still does today.

It must be very difficult for those members of her family and those closely associated with her to recognise the wife, the mother and the grandmother in the mythological figure.

It is good Chartres recognises the ‘mythological’ aura surrounding the ‘figure’, but less good that he does not seem to see his oratorical part in contributing to this mythologizing.

One thing that everyone has noted is the courtesy and personal kindness which she showed to those who worked for her, as well as her capacity to reach out to the young, and often also to those who were not, in the world's eyes, "important".

A pity she didn’t ‘reach out’ to those millions who her own doctrine deemed of no importance, or to those millions of young people dumped on the dole or on unpaid YTS schemes throughout the Eighties.

The letter from a young boy early on in her time as prime minister is a typical example. Nine-year-old David wrote to say: "Last night when we were saying prayers, my daddy said everyone has done wrong things except Jesus and I said I don't think you have done bad things because you are the prime minister. Am I right or is my daddy?"

Now perhaps the most remarkable thing is that the prime minister replied in her own hand in a very straightforward letter which took the question seriously. She said: "However good we try to be, we can never be as kind, gentle and wise as Jesus. There will be times when we do or say something we wish we hadn't done and we shall be sorry and try not to do it again."

Well that was certainly right in Thatcher’s case! ‘Know thyself’ and all that.

She was always reaching out, she was trying to help in characteristically un-coded terms. I was once sitting next to her at some City function and in the midst of describing how Hayek's Road to Serfdom had influenced her thinking, she suddenly grasped my wrist and said very emphatically, "Don't touch the duck paté, bishop – it's very fattening."

Chortle, chortle –so she was human after all!

She described her own religious upbringing in a lecture she gave in the nearby church of St Lawrence Jewry. She said: "We often went to church twice on a Sunday, as well as on other occasions during the week. We were taught there always to make up our own minds and never take the easy way of following the crowd."

Well she certainly did that: she ‘made up’ her own mind by grossly misinterpreting/ reinterpreting most of the basic principles of the New Testament to justify her future policies which promoted the opposite to said book’s message. Going to church a lot is all very well, but it’s not much good if you go with closed ears is it?

Her upbringing of course was in the Methodism to which this country owes a huge debt. When it was time to challenge the political and economic status quo in nineteenth century Britain, it was so often the Methodists who took the lead. The Tolpuddle Martyrs, for example, were led not by proto-Marxists but by Methodist lay preachers.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs were the 19thc. equivalent of the Trades Unions of the Eighties, crushed ruthlessly by Thatcher! Not so much Methodism in action as Malthusianism and the ‘strong arm’ of Adam Smith.

In a setting like this, in the presence of the leaders of the nations, or any representatives of nations and countries throughout the world, it is easy to forget the immense hurdles she had to climb. Beginning in the upper floors of her father's grocer's shop in Grantham, through Oxford as a scientist and, later, as part of the team that invented Mr Whippy ice cream, she embarked upon a political career. By the time she entered parliament in 1959 she was part of a cohort of only 4% of women in the House of Commons. She had experienced many rebuffs along the way, often on the shortlist for candidates only to be disqualified by prejudice against a woman – and, worse, a woman with children.

But she applied herself to her work with formidable energy and passion and continued to reflect on how faith and politics related to one another.

Or in her case, didn’t relate at all!

In the Lawrence Jewry lecture she said that: "Christianity offers no easy solutions to political and economic issues. It teaches us that we cannot achieve a compassionate society simply by passing new laws and appointing more staff to administer them."

No, but it hardly said you could create a ‘compassionate society’ by imposing policies and laws to do precisely the opposite, such as promoting greed and avarice and canonising greed as ‘respectable’.

She was very aware that there are prior dispositions which are needed to make market economics and democratic institutions function well: the habits of truth-telling, mutual sympathy, and the capacity to co-operate. These decisions and dispositions are incubated and given power by our relationships. In her words: "The basic ties of the family are at the heart of our society and are the nursery of civic virtue." Such moral and spiritual capital is accumulated over many generations but can be easily eroded.

Thatcher corroded them, and while few would doubt her ‘truth-telling’ –she was a brutally direct ideologue in her rhetoric– very few could seriously claim she demonstrated any obvious traits of ‘sympathy’ and ‘capacity to co-operate’. Was her crushing of the miners indicative of someone with a ‘capacity to co-operate’?

Life is a struggle to make the right choices and to achieve liberation from dependence, whether material or psychological.

This passage, to my mind, reads a little too Thatcheritically for my tastes.

This genuine independence is the essential pre-condition for living in an other-centred way, beyond ourselves.

But it had the opposite effect: Thatcherism turned individuals away from caring about society and others and in on themselves and their own families and their own aspirations; not beyond themselves but actually beyond others and far into themselves. The bizarre phrase 'other-centred' seems at complete odds with the distinctly self-centred, Me-first 'ethic' of Thatcherism.

She referred to the Christian doctrine, "that we are all members one of another, expressed in the concept of the Church on earth as the Body of Christ. From this we learn our interdependence and the great truth that we do not achieve happiness or salvation in isolation from each other but as members of society."

Thatcher also said: “There is no such thing as society” –and managed to prove it too. Slight contradiction there?

Her later remark about there being no such thing as "society" has been misunderstood and refers in her mind to some impersonal entity to which we are tempted to surrender our independence.

Ah! Eh? Can anyone make any actual sense out of this apologism for Thatcher’s notorious trope? This seems a deeply inappropriate political intervention from Chartres, not to say a highly arrogant and patronising one: in his 'supreme' opinion, millions of us simply ‘misunderstood’ this trope, while he apparently understood its true meaning –or rather ‘phantom’ meaning he alone is projecting into it– which is, according Chartres, some sort of subtext against the ‘Nanny State’ and ‘welfare-dependency’, as seems to be implied in his reference to ‘some impersonal entity to which we are tempted to surrender our independence’.

Firstly, if it is the state Chartres is referring to, people having to claim benefits out of poverty and desperation is hardly the same as having been ‘tempted’ into surrendering one’s independence, but more a case of being trapped into the situation by material circumstances which, in the context of the Thatcher era, were in the main imposed by government on the majority through the destruction of industries resulting in rapidly rising unemployment. Otherwise, Chartres’ rhetoric here almost reads like a McCarthyite incantation against the ‘Red Peril’. It seems to me that Chartres’ own closet Thatcherite sympathies are coming inappropriately to the fore in this speech and in that he has both assumed a rhetorical mantle which it is not his position to do, and has thereby also oratorically oiled the very mythologising and ‘memorialising’ of Thatcher’s political legacy which he claimed at the beginning of his speech was not the point of the ceremony.

But to talk of being ‘tempted’ –that really is the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back! What else was Thatcherism but the ultimate in political ‘temptation’ to ordinary people to grasp the carrots of money and property and surrender themselves, or their spiritual ‘independence’, to greed, self-gain and material things; to money-worship? That ain't Christianity, it's Mollochism -it seems as if Chartres is implying in his speech that it's okay to be greedy and self-serving in life as we all end up the same in the end and all will be forgiven in the next life. That is the very kind of church apologism for the status quo that has converted more people to Marxism than it has to Christianity, and, going by such misrepresentative rhetoric, understandably so.

Is not it better to ‘surrender independence’ to a benevolent State than to Moloch? The fact that RR Chartres was at best quiescent, at worst, acquiescent to the final eviction of the Occupy camp outside St Paul’s, which led in turn to the principled resignation of Rev Giles Frazer, perhaps means we shouldn’t be entirely surprised by what appears to be more an encomium to Thatcherism than a simple sermon on the "one of us" person of Thatcher. Perhaps we should begin to consider Chartres more as the very Right Reverend? He continued:

The natural cycle leads inevitably to decay, but the dominant note of any Christian funeral service, after the sorrow and after the memories, is hope.

Hope? Who for? Not for the millions suffering under the knife of austerity cuts! Not for the unemployed, the sick, disabled or homeless! No hope offered any of them.

What unites Margaret Roberts of Grantham with Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, what constitutes her identity? The complex pattern of memories, aspirations and actions which make up a character were carried for a time by the atoms of her body, but we believe they are also stored up in the Cloud of God's being.

Is this not just hagiography? Or is Chartres of the old ‘Tory Party at Prayer’ school of the CofE?

First there is the struggle for freedom and independence and then there is the self-giving and the acceptance of inter-dependence.

But the trouble is, Thatcherism was entirely about ‘freedom and independence’, for those who had enough money or who were sharp-elbowed enough to grab enough money, while it said and did absolutely nothing for ‘inter-dependence’, but simply atomised all common bonds and social ties.

In the gospel passage read by the prime minister, Jesus says "I am the way, the truth, and the life". That "I am" is the voice of the divine being.

We can only be surprised that Cameron was able to read from the good book for all the vapours of sulphur coming off from his hands as they made contact with it. Was it just me, or did he seem genuinely uncomfortable reading from The Bible?

Jesus Christ does not bring information or mere advice but embodies the reality of divine love. God so loved the world that he was generous: he did not intervene from the outside but gave himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ, and became one of us.

Is this trying to imply that so did Margaret Thatcher? Was she no mere mortal but some form of divine entity? Or a meddling demiurge? Not so much ‘divide-and-rule’ as ‘divine-in-rule’ seemingly.

What, in the end, makes our lives seem valuable after the storm and the stress has passed away and there is a great calm? The questions most frequently asked at such a time concern us all. How loving have I been? How faithful in personal relationships? Have I discovered joy within myself, or am I still looking for it in externals outside myself?

Again, there is this leitmotiv of something outside ourselves, something ‘external’, some ‘impersonal entity’ to which we surrender our ‘independence’; this is a strange theology, since surely one could rightly argue that ‘God’ itself, as a concept, constitutes a form of ‘impersonal entity’ outside oneself, one we can neither see, hear or touch? And in that sense, is not the State, the body politic, a kind of secular equivalent to 'God'?

Margaret Thatcher had a sense of this, which she expressed in her address to the general assembly of the Church of Scotland when she said: "I leave you with the earnest hope that may we all come nearer to that other country whose 'ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace'."

Ironic she said this when she was singularly the most successful architect of the very opposite to ‘that other country’ whose ‘ways are ways of gentleness and… peace’: during the Eighties, ‘gentleness’ was singularly lacking from the politically approved and promoted ‘feral’ behaviours of speculation, opportunism and the despicable ‘yuppy’ cults –it was an aggressive era, more and more people became acquisitively aggressive, and a decade which was book-ended by the Brixton/Toxteth and Poll Tax riots, which saw the North of the country driven to pitched battles for the first time in centuries, not to mention the Falklands War and the sinking of the Belgrano, and the decision (made by Thatcher) to let the Irish hunger strikers carry on until they died of malnutrition, was hardly by any definitions an example of ‘paths’ to ‘peace’.

TS Eliot, in the poem quoted in this service sheet, says: "The communication/Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living."

But not beyond the fire of Maggie’s tongue!

In this Easter season death is revealed, not as a full stop but as the way into another dimension of life. As Eliot puts it: "What we call the beginning is often the end/And to make an end is to make a beginning./The end is where we start from."

It certainly was in Thatcher’s Britain, and it certainly still is in Cameron’s, in the same week that the welfare caps and bedroom taxes descend on innocent millions to pay the price for the crimes of the bankers and the rich.

Rest eternal grant unto her O Lord and let light perpetual shine upon her.

With the greatest respect, is this a credible and likely blessing to be fulfilled, that is, unless there really is no redemptive and rehabilitative aspect to post-Thatcherite soteriology…? But if ‘light perpetual’ does ‘shine upon’ Thatcher in the next life –and this writer for one, being a semi-Christian, who does not believe in damnation but more in purgatorial rehabilitation through coming to understand the effects of the wrong one has done in life and then, once experienced, perhaps pass on to heavenly pastures, and certainly does not wish anything different for Thatcher as anyone else –may we all mark the fact that down here on earth only the ‘dark perpetual’ promises to descend on today’s living victims of her deeply divisive, socially destructive, even immoral and anti-Christian doctrinal legacy. And yet this appears to be a legacy RR Chartres sees deserving of memorialising and Christianisation –and in that, Thatcher departs this life having seemingly also reconstructed, in certain quarters, the hoary old ‘Tory Party at prayer’.

Thankfully, I say, ‘in certain quarters’, for the oppositely principled and oppositional stances towards this present Thatcherite government’s all-out war on the poor of this country of Rev Giles Frazer, various bishops, and both the ex- and current Archbishops of Canterbury, Rowan Williams and Justin Welby, are to be seen as ringing testimony to the fact that the main body of the CofE and indeed the Christian community throughout the UK today are far from as treacle-tongued towards Thatcher’s legacy as the RR R Chartres appears to be. And thank God for that! Indeed, on the same afternoon following Chartres’ Thatcher eulogy, his ex-employee, the Rev Giles Fraser, had this to say on the London CofE’s part in the political symbolism and pomp of the procession and funeral service:

…the church ought to make an uncomfortable partner in all of this, and not allow itself to be conscripted into the spiritual arm of the Tory party. Especially as the church was one of the most vocal sources of opposition to Thatcherism during the 1980s. Indeed, it was in St Paul's that Thatcher fell out with Robert Runcie because he prayed for the Argentinians. Singing I Vow to Thee my Country – despite the second verse's qualification that nationalism is subject to a higher authority – is a poor guide to Christian reflection on her flag-waving patriotism. And He who Would Valiant Be can too easily be read as a theological defence of her stubborn "not for turning" defiance of dissent. All this jarred…

The bishop of London did his bit in the name of balance to slip in a reference to the Tolpuddle Martyrs – they were Methodists not proto-Marxists, he said. But it was no more than a gesture. His jest about discussing Hayek over the duck pâté was the real giveaway. It is at such dinners that the establishment recognises each other as "one of us". Moreover, it felt strange to hear of that the great champion of the individual was apparently in favour of interdependence. This from the woman who actively disliked the whole idea of society and sought to free the individual from its apparently oppressive power.

But by saying, completely unnecessarily, that the Toldpuddle Martyrs were “Methodists not proto-Marxists” was an emphatically political, therefore inappropriate and un-liturgical statement to make, as were thinly veiled references to the state and to state-dependency. Fraser continued:

That "we are all members, one of another" and that "we do not achieve happiness or salvation in isolation from each other but as members of society" will not sound like Thatcher to the Durham miners, for instance.

Of course, the service wasn't political if by political we mean the promotion of some particular policy. But it was deeply political in the wider sense, in so far as it celebrated some apparently deep connection between the various institutions of power – military, religious, royal, political, even conscripting the generally obsequious media.

It is a bit of an irony really. She spent her political life calling for a smaller state. And yet, in the end, it was the state in all its glamour and grandeur that was the star of her own funeral.

And also its primary subsidiser, without the public’s consultation!

But once again, there is the sense in Chartres’ Thatcher pulpit-speech, as there is in the parliamentary and media hagiography of recent days -and, of course, the over-arching 'not the bankers but the welfare state and its dependents caused our recession' Tory narrative- of history being frantically rewritten, of narratives being rewired to suit the occasion, of ‘the dark days of Thatcherism’ suddenly being readjusted in collective memory to fit a new Thatcher mythology; so while RR Chartres claims to be working against that tendency at the start of his speech, the actual speech itself does precisely the opposite. Is it entirely a coincidence, too, that Chartres is a long-standing friend of the Thatcher family?

It seems those who eulogise on Thatcher are perfectly happy to construct a pro-Thatcher mythology, but when it comes to oppositional attitudes to her legacy, to those who think of her almost as a Gorgon-like demigod or demonic force, to an anti-Thatcher mythology, all of a sudden we are told to be cautious of over-simplifications and shadow-projecting all our grievances into one figure. I for one do believe in the Christian virtue of forgiveness –but I still find it too difficult to forgive at this point, especially at a time of such mass misery in austerity and the dismantlement of the welfare state, and amid all the gushing eulogies pouring out for a person whose doctrine has caused incalculable suffering to the lives of millions in this country.

What I might be able to say is that I can just about find it in myself to forgive Thatcher the person, who I believe was deeply misguided in her ‘values’ and ruthless in their germination; who was quite possibly also in some senses deranged –and one only needs to watch some of the old footage of her in full dogmatic throttle, glaring with those hard eyes, enunciating regally and using the Royal “We”, to see what I mean; but I can never and will never forgive Thatcherism for the social, moral and spiritual devastation it wreaked on our nation, and which it still wreaks today. And no amount of shoe-horning Christianity into her deeply unethical and, to my mind, anti-Christian rhetoric and doctrine will alter my feelings in that regard.

Thatcher herself, of course, was always very athletic at attempting to use parables from the New Testament to tenuously Christianise her monetarist and anti-society doctrine –but not only were such tactics deeply disingenuous and cynical, they were also, almost uniformly, ludicrous and desperately Byzantian in their interpretations. They were also pernicious: Thatcher’s scriptural rhetoric, in some instances, so warped some of Christ’s sayings and teachings as to effectively denigrate then by mere association. Thatcher said of the tale of the Good Samaritan: “No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he'd only had good intentions – he had money too”. Was she trying to make some ironic point? One suspects not: her emphasis was, as always, on one’s material worth as as important, if not more so, than one’s spiritual worth. She’d be the first to draw on the “Render unto Caesar” trope as a bizarre way of trying to justify capitalism, when the saying was actually talking about tax and the citizen’s responsibility to society through paying tax –if anything, Christ was supporting the notion of tax contribution, and tax, let us not forget, was something which Thatcher constitutionally resented and did her very best to continually lower throughout her reign.

Today’s Thatcherite inheritors, such as Osborne and Liam Fox, and Iain Duncan Smith too, who no doubt all regard themselves as good church-going ‘Christians’ (certainly IDS does all the time), would be precisely the type of people who would spoil the mood of the feeding of the 5,000 by branding it the promotion of a “something for nothing culture”; and they, along with Mike ‘squatter-buster’ Weatherly, represent precisely the kind of mindset which would have not only turned the homeless Joseph and Mary away at the Inn door, but would also have turfed them out of the stable for “squatting”.

The sheer hypocrisy, contradiction and nonsensicalness of that Cartesian breed who call themselves both ‘Christians’ and ‘Tories’ something approaching an entire psychopathology in its own right: the two belief systems are simply incompatible; dialectically antithetical. Thatcher was of course one of this type, a church-going Methodist, yet, apart from the ‘self-help’ element to Methodism, it is otherwise impossible to understand how she could have interpreted the mostly community-oriented ethics of Methodism, the very practical Christian aspects (very similar to Baptism, both being distinctly socialistic denominations in their beliefs in ‘good acts’) of helping others as promoting the almost opposite ‘values’ of individualism, self-enrichment and “no such thing as society”, is beyond the scope of recognised hermeneutics. I'm not sure whether she ever chose to add Thatcherite spin to Christ's throwing over the tables of the moneylenders in the temple -but one suspects this was one particular biblical scene she tactically circumlocuted.

But as ever, Thatcher was as seemingly blind to the avaricious pervasiveness and individualistic permissiveness of the creed she unleashed on the nation; she once said, “It is not the creation of wealth that is wrong, but the love of money for its own sake” –and yet this was the person rhetorically and fiscally responsible for the attitudinal deregulation of greed, for the rapacious money-worship of the ‘yuppies’, for the mantras of “enterprise”, “capitalise”, for the all-encompassing ethical decadence and rampant materialism of the Eighties and beyond. This self-blindness seems to be a typical Tory trait –though most politicians are guilty of it– as we see in Cameron’s latest slice of hypocrisy and denial of his own political legacy by saying this today:

What we have needed to do is take that great inheritance and then add to it. As well as an economic renewal there has been a need for a great social renewal. That side of Conservatism needs to have a big boost and that is what I have tried to do over the last seven years.

Anyone would think Cameron had come into power and constructed the equivalent of a Second Attlee Settlement -rather than an Attlee De-Settlement! He has, in reality, spent the first three years of his premiership remorselessly swinging the fiscal wrecking-ball through what remains of the Attlee Settlement, dismantling the vestiges of the welfare state, and replacing them with absolutely nothing! His ‘Big’ Society has to be the biggest misnomer in modern history, since what his policies are actually doing is shrinking society down to its most rudimentary components. Social destruction, mass eviction of impoverished families, escalation of unemployment and homelessness, decimation of work, social and human rights, “gentrification” of inner cities by social cleansing, ghettoisation of the poorest, stigmatisation of the unemployed, sick and disabled, benefit cuts for the poorest but tax cuts for the richest –all these despicable policies explicitly preclude any hope of a remotely tolerable and humane “social renewal”.

Cameron’s legacy so far is the antithesis to social renewal; it is actually its nemesis. Cameron’s “social renewal” is simply a Tory euphemism for ‘social cleansing’, for a ‘gentrification’ of the welfare state. Just as with Thatcherism, Cameronism promotes, incontrovertibly, the worst and lowest common-denominator human traits: greed, selfishness, love of money and property, contempt for the poor and vulnerable, empty patriotism, sycophantic Royalism, anti-Europeanism, anti-immigration, and cultural philistinism. And this is the true legacy of Thatcherism: the Anti-Society –one in which individual human worth has a price-tag attached to it by which it is weighed and measured; one in which those lacking capital, property or employment are in turn devalued as sub-humans, ‘undeserving’ of sympathy or even basic social, employment and human rights (such as the right to shelter), and berated for their poverty, stigmatised for claiming state assistance in order to stay alive, and blamed for their circumstances as if they are the result of profligacy, laziness or some other Calvinistic paradigm or innate quantum of ‘sin’ and ‘moral defectiveness’; one in which those with wealth and property are deemed as ‘deserving’ greater rights, entitlements and privileges in terms of how they are treated by the law, and where the moneyed and propertied show far more sympathy towards those who need it the least –as in the ridiculous Tory argument that a Mansion Tax would hit those who are “asset rich but cash poor” while having no compunction simultaneously in stripping benefits and roofs away from those who cash-poor and asset-poor!– than they do to those who need the most.


And so, as Thatcher’s ashes are scattered, they have, in the last, turned to the same composition as the gentler, kinder, more moral and compassionate society which her spiritually corrosive doctrine cast into dust. But, tragically, Thatcherism itself has yet to go the way of all flesh, and if today marks anything at all, it is the symbolic prompt for all of us who oppose the politics of greed, property-worship and persecution of the poor and vulnerable, to ensure that in our lifetimes Thatcherism is once and for all laid to rest. If it is not, then this nation faces a future not worth having.

Alan Morrison © 17 April 2013