Monday, April 15, 2013

Council Meeting Update Pt 1 - Margaret Thatcher

I note from the local and national press that somebody has decided to be offended by the decision of most Labour councillors not to join in Tuesday's minute's silence for the death of Margaret Thatcher. It was a personal choice by many councillors and not a collective Group decision and we were actually joined by three Liberal Democrat councillors, although I suspect that only one was joining our abstention. Some Labour councillors remained in the chamber and I respect their decisions to do so.

Some points to make - we did not 'flounce' out of the meeting, as some of the press have put it. The Lord Mayor put the silence at the very start of the meeting and we didn't enter the chamber until the silence had finished. It is rather hard to flounce out when you haven't even been in the room.

As one of the first filing quietly back into the chamber, I was disappointed that some of those present decided to hiss at us. Nobody had made a scene or staged a walkout and the decision to mark Baroness Thatcher's passing was respected - people just chose not to take part in it. Enforced public demonstrations of sorrow are not worthy of my country and are demeaning to those grieving.

I don't speak for anyone but myself on this - this blog has always been my personal voice and is not the mouthpiece of the Labour Group. As I have said since the news was announced on Monday, I don't find joy in the death of another human being - she had friends, family and close employees who should be allowed to grieve for their loss. I separate the politics from the personal and her politics were, on balance, bad for Britain and bad for the people of Birmingham. Britain became more selfish, more profit orientated and more socially divided. We are still paying the price for that today and Birmingham continues to suffer from the children of Thatcher who dominate the government - from both the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat parties - and who have taken her policies further than she ever dreamed possible, keeping the flame alive.

As for the flag not flying at half mast? It wasn't lowered for the deaths of Edward Heath, Jim Callaghan, Harold Wilson, Alec Douglas Home or Harold Macmillan. It was lowered for both Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee, but because they had been honoured with the freedom of the city. In this, we join Ealing, Wakefield, Eastbourne, Bradford, Bury, Camden, Islington and Slough, to name but a few.

There is also something particularly hypocritical in those eulogising her now, so many of whom gathered to force her from office in 1990. Cameron may well come to regret being so much to the fore of the public mourning - he will not come off well in comparison. Whatever you may think of Thatcher, she had a clear direction of travel and broad command of her party. Cameron is a sapling, twisted by every change in the wind direction and barely tolerated by many of his party. These days, the nearest the government gets to a conviction politician is Chris Huhne.

Margaret Thatcher was the first prime minister to really impinge on my consciousness - I was at secondary school and then university for most of her time in office. Lucy Mangan puts it really well in this weekend's column and like her, I remember.

I can remember the leaking school roofs, the lack of books, the dole queues and the rising waiting lists. I can remember that when the Tories were thrown out in 1997, their big idea on health was to promise treatment within eighteen months of diagnosis. By the end of Labour's time, we were confidently delivering treatment within eighteen weeks. When the Tories accuse Labour of not fixing the roof when the sun was shining, I can remember the schools and hospitals rebuilt after decades of neglect, where the roofs fixed were not merely metaphors. I can remember the rise in crime under the Thatcher years. I can remember her and her acolytes creating a culture that celebrated the individual and denied the reality that we achieve more together as a society. I remember that families, children and whole communities were left behind by an ideologically-driven economic shift, all just so much collateral damage.

Those memories are why I didn't stand on Tuesday and I make no apology for my choice.

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