Monday, July 17, 2006


Yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/) had an article claiming author Irvine Welsh, the author of 90s bestseller Trainspotting, as a convert to the Conservative cause. It was based on an interview in the paper’s arts section, during which Welsh described himself as a personal beneficiary of many of the things he detested about Thatcherism.

‘I’ve had to come to terms with it,’ he said. ‘My whole family background was a socialist one. I didn’t consciously embrace those changes in the 1980s, but they did help me personally.

‘My dislike of Thatcherism is very much a class-based thing’, he goes on. ‘I really had a problem with the middle and upper class. Basically I thought, how can a Tory be nice? Now, some of the nicest people I’ve met have been middle and upper-class, and some of them, I suppose, must be Tories.’

A couple of things strike one about Welsh’s statements. First, it’s remarkable – and a bit depressing - that one of the country’s most prominent and feted young novelists should have based his antipathy to the Conservatives, and his supposed subsequent turn-around, on such unsophisticated, almost infantile grounds. Secondly, it’s interesting and telling to see how Welsh sees Thatcherism as an instrument of the middle and upper classes. In fact the voters who gave Thatcher power at three general elections were, in large part, the working- and lower middle-classes. Most commentators, from the left and right, are agreed that it was this development which changed the political landscape utterly.

Furthermore, opposition to Thatcher - who anyway held no great cause with the so-called upper-class – was usually at its most virulent amongst solidly middle-class sections of British society. By the end of her premiership, the hatred of her amongst the soi-disant intelligentsia and the cultural establishment bordered on the pathological, with much of the personal criticism of her being based on good old-fashioned social snobbery. She was not, after all, one of them, and she didn’t particularly care what they thought. Who can forget Baroness Warnock’s condemnation of her ‘low’ M&S blouses, or Jonathan Miller’s complaint about her ‘nauseating suburban gentility’?

Whether or not you were a Thatcherite, it’s now obvious that it’s this same cultural establishment which is getting its own back. They hold the power to shape the Thatcher narrative and are taking every opportunity to portray her as mad, bad or just drunkenly sad. For a more original take, it’s worth looking at Julie Burchill’s paean of praise in the Times a couple of years ago, at: www.margaretthatcher.org/commentary/displaydocument.asap?docid=10576

1 comment:

David S. Taylor said...

Margaret Thatcher is a cultural phenomenon in her own right. A trope, I suppose.

Where / how did she acquire this status? Why do some of us love her - and others hate her with such intensity? What is she tapping into?

Wouldn't it be interesting to get a head-to-head between a passionate Thatcherist and an arch-sceptic? Perhaps Billy Bragg versus Giles Brandreth. With a media-friendly psychiatrist in between to adjudicate / provide a commentary on what dark forces are driving these men?