As part of Margaret Thatcher Memorial Week BULS has encouraged readers to share their experiences of the Thatcher years. One reader shares their parents experiences here.
Margaret Thatcher’s actions are regularly lauded as bold and beautiful by our Tory counterparts. But they were too young to remember those years; and frankly so was I. So I looked to my parents for a bit of enlightenment as to why she is so hated by so many. And this is what I got.
My parents were both twenty years old when Thatcher came to power, and back then the country was a very different place. My mother was to spend the Thatcher years as an NHS nurse, arguably underpaid in London working for a chronically underfunded health service. My father spent a number of years in lowly paid jobs before becoming a trainee nurse shortly before I was born. Their resentment of Thatcher runs deep.
For my father, picket lines were a regular feature of the decade. He joined in the miners’ pickets of the early eighties, and in reciprocation miners came to show solidarity with hospital cleaners over the privatisation of hospital cleaning. Neither group ever recovered; mining towns are still suffering from the death of the industry without replacement, while hospital are now having to be deep cleaned and have “Modern Matrons” imposed on them as a hangover from years of poorer service due to cutbacks and cleaning privatisation. As a result of the cleaning services going my parents no longer had their uniforms washed and sterilized at the hospital; they instead had to wear them to and from work, washing them at much lower temperatures, and picking up germs on buses and tube trains and streets. Any fool can see this is a recipe for disaster; and the rise in hospital acquired infections proved it to be so.
As a Londoner, my mother watched aghast as the Greater London Council was abolished. In one fell swoop the most effective opposition to Thatcher at the time was annulled, and the stunning County Hall was sold off. She felt the effects on the transport system over those years, which are still trying to recover from years of underinvestment. And she despaired as Britain’s first female prime minister failed to do anything noticeable to strengthen women’s rights and status in society.
Towards the end of the eighties I made an appearance in the world. At the time my parents lived in a one bedroom council flat, with drug dealers next door. On one occasion my dad arrived home to find the neighbours climbing out of the window of the downstairs flat below us. They appealed to the council, but due to the big Thatcher sell-off they were told that they could expect to remain there five years, with me sleeping in their room with them. The council stock had been sold and there was nothing to replace it for those who really needed it. It was only when my first brother came on the scene, coupled with a blind bit of luck, that we managed to get a two bedroom council house on another estate.
Major’s years as chancellor were dark times. He proclaimed to the nation that “if it isn’t hurting, it isn’t working” as interest rates crippled my family and we almost lost the part owned council house we had so recently acquired. My father took to working a full day clinic, followed by a bank night shift, followed by another half days clinic once a week, while my mother looked after what were then two tiny babies. I believe she worked some nights at the time too. My father, exhausted, eventually had to stop this gruelling regime over his own fears for patient safety. My parents stopped buying the Guardian to save money and instead a colleague lent them a day old copy of the Independent.
Why were the people who made their living saving lives and giving care to others so under paid? Why were the council houses sold off with no replacements provided? Why were massive cuts to public services made at the expense of ordinary people who used them? It was all part of the Conservative culture of me, me, me. There was no such thing as society, so what did it matter that people were stepping over each other to get that better house, to get a nice white collar job, to save a little bit on their tax money at the expense of lower earners using public services?
These are just some of the memories of the Thatcher years that my parents had; millions of other people have similarly pained stories. It’s not meant to be a bleeding heart tale, or to be an analysis of the merits and otherwise of the Thatcher administration, but its meant to provide a snapshot of how her policies affected ordinary people; and just a few of the reasons why millions of people spent the eighties dreamed of nothing more than “Maggie Maggie Maggie, out out out”.