Thatcher, Reagan and cults of personality

The Daily Mail and Sun were outraged to learn this week, that those bedwetters in the the Football Association refused to have a minutes silence during this weekend’s matches to honour Thatcher. How dare they!

…or maybe its because the FA realise that you can split people in the UK into 4 groups when it comes to Thatcher. The Daily Mail/Sun worshippers who feel that we should all don black (which some zealot in the foreign office suggested embassy staff around the world should do) and mourn her passing, by crying and wailing in mass formation, like they did in North Korea when Kim Jung il popped his clogs. Then there’s those who are really bothered either way. Group three are the people who upon hearing the news immediately googled “who is Margaret Thatcher?“. And finally you have those, as I discussed in a prior post, who regard Thatcher as the wicked witch of Finckley. Naturally the FA’s fear is that this last group will begin singing “ding dong the witch is dead” (currently heading for number one in the charts) with half of the other two groups (peeved at the match they’ve paid good money to come see being delayed) joining in.

In short we’re seeing a repeat of what happened in the US when Reagan died. After this mediocre B-movie actor died, the GOP went on a massive frenzied campaign to name everything in the country after Reagan. Thousands of streets, schools, airports, bus stops and landmarks were promptly named after him (including a mountain!). If a hobo laid down on a park bench for too long he could find himself staying at the “Ronald Reagan Restorium” by the time he sobers up. They even tried to get his face carved into the side of Mt Rushmore.

No doubt they will do the same for Thatcher (a more reasoned analysis of her legacy can be found at Red Pepper here). Already they’re proposing that Port Stanley be renamed Port Thatcher. No doubt they’ll soon be proposing Ben Nevis become “Ben Maggie”, Piccadilly circus becomes “Scab strike Breakers walk” and Milton Keynes becomes “Thatcherville“. The empty plint in Trafalgar square will no doubt have a statue 100ft high gold statue of her, where her supporters can worship at her feet.

The Sun even when to the stage of suggesting this week that Thatcher was the best PM in UK history…ignoring Blair (longest serving PM), Churchill (well, he only won the 2nd world war! what’s that next to a miners strike), Gladstone (introduced a host of important democratic, financial and social reforms), Lloyd George (the 1st world war, the so-called “Welsh wizard“) or Atlee (NHS? welfare state? member of Churchill’s war cabinet?)

Cults of Personality

If there’s one thing I’ve always despised about the Murdoch press its the way their rampant uncritical propaganda has led to cults of personality to build up surrounding the leaders they favour, such as Thatcher, Reagan or G. W. Bush. As events in Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany and Communist China have shown us, such cults of personality are extremely dangerous.

Furthermore, unlike in Soviet Russia, there’s little to stop those genuinely aggrieved by these leaders from pushing back against such propaganda. this leads to the creation of a sort of cult of anti-personality (which is where the people planning street parties on Wednesday to “celebrate” Thatcher’s passing come in).

BBC Censorship

Should anyone feel I’m exaggerating a bit with my “cult of personality” claim. Consider the Beeb (who quite happliy broadcast “Jerry Springer the Opera” in full against the objections of millions of Christians) seem likely to censor the “ding dong the witch is dead” song, no doubt due to significant pressure from Downing Street.

That the government would go to these lengths to protect the legacy of Thatcher should give you an idea of how deep her cult of personality goes (it sort of implies that the government regards her reputation as more important that that of “the Late JC of Bethlehem“!). Consider that this will be one of the few occasions (that we know about) where government has leaned on a Broadcaster to censor something….in this case a harmless song (as opposed to a state secret or something…like the Wikileaks stuff they had no problem broadcasting a few years back!).

Meanwhile on the left…

Indeed its worth contrasting the cult of personality around these right wing leaders and their contemporaries on the left. One doesn’t see many in labour hero worshipping Tony Blair (quite the opposite!). He’s the longest serving UK PM, won more elections with bigger majorities than any labour PM (or indeed Thatcher), repaired alot of the damage made by Thatcher and Major, brought peace to Northern Ireland. Of course he made a number of mistakes, notably being too chickshit scared of the “old labour” label to reverse Thatcher’s free market reforms and becoming G. W. Bush’s poodle over Iraq.

Bill Clinton is, I would argue, America best post-war president. While the Tea party types and the Sarah Palin’s or Mitt Romney’s of this world will talk the talk about bringing down the US government deficit, Clinton is the only president in recent years whose actually walked the walk. He turned a country in recession around, present a balanced federal budget and cut the deficit, even despite introducing a number of important social reforms. He helped bring peace to the Balkans, Northern Ireland and even got the Israeli’s and PLO to actually talk to one another.

Of course he had a few weaknesses. Notably being a serial womaniser and a poor understanding of the English language (in that he didn’t seem to understand the meaning of the word’s “did not” and “have sex“).

Its also worth noting that Clinton had the good fortune for his reign to occur at a time of low oil prices (as I mentioned in my prior post, a good deal of the “growth” during Thatcher’s time was due to North Sea oil and nothing to do with her policies) and the peak of the IT boom. But either way, nobody in the democratic party is crawling around with cigars for him.

Of course Clinton got impeached for that “shared cigar“….which seems a bit harsh when you consider what Reagan and G. W. Bush got away with, such as Iran-Contra (Reagan getting involved in the transshipment of drugs and arms smuggling, a nice tongue-in-cheek summary from America Dad of Iran-Contra here) or all those lies told about WMD’s, Black sites & torture, that energy committee (its hard to know where to stop with Bush!). If the bench mark for impeachment in the US is shagging an intern and lying about it, Reagan should have gotten prison time (as what he did technically counts as high treason!) and Bush waterboarded (well he claims its not a form of torture!).

Of course the reason why Bush and Reagan got away with their crimes, was due to this cult of personality that Fox News has built up around them. This is, as I’ve pointed out, an extremely dangerous development in any democracy. They allow such politicians to bypass the very checks and balances put in place specifically to prevent abuse of power. They have created the situation where, despite all the hand-wringing a few weeks ago over Leveson, the government has seemingly gone “sod that” and is now essentially forcing a broadcaster to censor a song from a 1959 kid’s movie.

It is the role of the public in a democracy to hold the feet of politicians to the flames, which is difficult to do in the face of 24hr propaganda which will hear no wrong and tolerate no criticism of a leader.

So if there’s one thing the Tory’s need to learn from these last few days its the need to acknowledge that Thatcher wasn’t perfect, she had a few faults. For, as the saying goes, those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat past mistakes. I fear the Osborne and Cameron are in the process right now of repeating a number of Thatcher’s mistakes as we speak.


6 thoughts on “Thatcher, Reagan and cults of personality

  1. And just to show the accuracy of my analysis above, I came across the video of one of liverpool’s “chants” over the weekend.

    Warning! not suitable for readers of the Daily Mail/Telegraph/Express or Sun.


  2. Pingback: Debunking the Great Reagan myth | daryanblog

  3. Pingback: The future of work | daryanblog

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