In 1974, when Edward Heath had lost office, and there began to be talk of Thatcher taking over as Conservative Leader, my [very] English Aunt, Midlands family background of miners and factory workers, and memories fresh of Thatcher’s dirty work as Education minister, robbing poor school children of their milk, said to me “If that woman ever becomes Prime Minister I’m emigrating to Australia”.
Well, sadly Maggie did, but Ruby didn’t. People don’t of course, even though it is such a common reaction to approaching political storms (“if John Howard wins”, “if George Bush wins”). People like my Aunt don’t anyway, too emotionally rooted in family and community. Too costly to physically and economically uproot. Too loyal, I guess, right down to their bootstraps, to the country of their birth. So they stay, as the political storm clouds gather once more, and batten down what hatches they can.
Bit different when the Gucci Shoe is on the other foot. The mere whiff of what laughingly passes for a Blairite/Keatingesque/Obamacrat/Hollandaise “only-a-few-miles-right-of-centre-social-democrat-party” in the offing, and the Rich are, well, offing. Depardieuing to some less taxing place. And not just individuals – whole companies, corporations, faced with, say, a mining tax increase, threaten to dig up all the Australian iron ore, bury it again in, say, Myanmar, and dig it up again to sell to China, from a new head office in a tax haven.
But the poor stay behind, and watch as swine like Thatcher graduate from stealing milk from children to stealing mines from miners, factories from communities, houses and services from families, and set free the dogs of banks and financiers to ravage the economy. Oh, they try to fight back, some ding dong battles, but the power of the state, riot police on flying monkeys, is never so starkly on display as when it is being used by the rich, for the rich, against the poor.
Nor is the power of the media more starkly displayed than in these circumstances, when Rupert’s Unlimited News Bugles consolidate the gains made by the corporate and public order shock troops (while using some themselves to smash print unions), and convince the suddenly out of work and homeless that they will never have it so good again unless they vote the “bosses’ party” in again, or a “worker’s party” that has absolutely indistinguishable policies, because “socialism” is so nineteenth century. Like laissez-faire capitalism, I guess.
And then, when the Great Leader has trashed her (or his) own country, spread the disease to others, cosied up to even more obnoxious foreign dictators who stop at nothing until the jackboots are stamping on faces, and helicopters are flying out to sea, and, retired or been, finally too extreme even for his (or her) colleagues, shunted out, the Trumpets of the Free Press move in to start rewriting history even as the removalist vans are passing each other at the entrance to 10 Downing St.
And, when the Angel Gabriel’s trumpets sound to summon the old, cold, warrior to Valhalla, the Press write effusive, white-washed eulogies as if preparing for sainthood application, and any suggestion that history, real history, should be referred to, is shouted down with that old saviour of horrid right wing leaders (though not, apparently, those of the left), “Don’t speak ill of the dead”. And even the public broadcaster, in the face of widespread demand from people trying to fight back, refuse to play a very appropriate song from Wizard of Oz. Well, bugger that for a game of soldiers, a game of battleships – there’s a Class War going on all over the word, and it’s the Class of ’79 that’s winning it. Time to join the battle.
I wish my Aunt had come to Australia, unexpectedly turned up on my doorstep, rung my bell, ” Ding Dong”. Escaped from the stealer of milk, winner of battles, Boadicea risen again to fly in a Harrier Jump Jet. Mind you, with the advent of John Howard I think Ruby would have been packing her bags again in 1996 for Blighty, sure, and rightly, that Oz was also in for rule by a potential milk stealer and armchair warrior.
And with Tony Abbott now looming in Australia like a Wicked Wizard from the East, I think it might be time to pack my bags and join her. Well, except for David Cameron already at the other end stealing hospital services from old ladies, and old gentlemen, and taxing their homes, completing Thatcher’s work.
Where has that Yellow Brick Road gone?