Unheeded Legislators: The Writers vs Margaret Thatcher

A reader’s guide to Thatcherism from Standpoint

MODERN LAMENTS about the decline of deference notwithstanding, the English have always regarded their leaders as idiots or crooks, and nowhere more so than in their literature. Today’s politicians do not feel the need to pretend that they read books. But in the 20th century, they had to put on a show of sophistication. When interviewers asked them to name their favourite novelist, they invariably picked Trollope — the only great writer to respect their trade. Despite the long tradition of insubordination, however, this scene from Jonathan Coe’s What a Carve Up! could only have been written at a particular time about a group of politicians the literary intelligentsia hated more than any other before or since. Thomas Winshaw, a creepy banker whose aim in life is to keep wealth and power in the hands of men like himself, is wondering how his equally repellent brother, Henry, a venal, backstabbing political fixer, got away with cutting the health-care budget.

“Well it’s quite simple, really.” Henry leaned forward and threw another log on the fire. It was a cold, dark afternoon, and they were enjoying tea and muffins in one of the Heartland Club’s private rooms. “The trick is to keep doing outrageous things. There’s no point in passing some scandalous piece of legislation and then giving everyone time to get worked up about it. You have to get right in there and top it with something even worse, before the public has had the chance to work out what’s hit them. The thing about the British conscience, you see, is that it really has no more capacity than…a primitive home computer, if you like. It can only hold two or three things in its memory at the same time.”

Thomas nodded and bit eagerly into his muffin.

“Unemployment, for instance,” Henry continued. “When was the last time you saw a newspaper headline about unemployment? Nobody gives a hoot anymore.”

No one of my age and political leanings needs to be told that we are in the Eighties. Like the first bars of a Clash song on the radio, a stroke of Coe’s pen takes you back to the grim, furious and still misunderstood left-wing reaction to Margaret Thatcher.

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2 thoughts on “Unheeded Legislators: The Writers vs Margaret Thatcher

  1. As far as I am concerned, the enemies of Meg Thug were right then and they are right now. The amount of evil committed upon this country by the poisonous alliance of Thug and Murdoch – can anyone look at the impoverished and chavized culture of today’s Britain without seeing the Dirty Digger’s fingerprints everywhere? – will take decades to be fully comprehended, let alone undone. To begin with, it was she who started the process of spending on debt made on overpriced housing stock, which has led to the current situation. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown only went on applying her magic cure, and we are only beginning to pay for the results.

  2. It’s worth noting that when the streets were full of cries of murder, Salman Rushdie turned to the much despised Thatcher government for protection, his irresponsible horseshit notwithstanding – he used to have a rhetorical trick of claiming that there was nothing to choose between Hitler’s Germany and Thatcher’s Britain, and, when people pointed out that there was no Ausschwitz, he’d triumphantly claim that was the only difference they could cite. It took the fatwa for him to realize that there was something worth “conserving”.

    I notice that you shall be visiting my University soon, and I hope to get your autograph, and possibly a fruitful discussion.

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