I remember the school bus driver telling me that Margaret Thatcher had won the election.
I was only 12, and fairly unimpressed by her achievement in becoming the first woman PM. Politics wasn’t widely debated in my house as it was considered bad manners. Therefore I had no real political allegiance to speak of yet.
Fast forward three years to 1982 and I was now politicised. I had met people who had different views to the ones in my home, I had discovered Billy Bragg, The Redskins, The Jam & The Clash.
I started to learn about ‘The Left’ side of politics. The debates, the theories and I felt at home with the values I was uncovering.
Fast forward again to 1984. The Miners Strike is in full flow and Nottinghamshire is hit hard. A division between the NUM and the NCB meant that Nottingham was torn apart.
It was my first real introduction to hard core Left politics. I’d been to Greenham Common the year before and been threatened by soldiers and verbally abused but I was with women so it felt safer.
This was different.
As a 17 year old supporter of the Militant Left I was angry, fuelled by Marxism and the righteous fury that comes from being a politicised teenager. I had the political fervour and passion of the newly initiated, the newly recruited and I shouted the words of the just.
I stood on picket lines, secondary picketing, embroiled in disputes with the police, shouting at Scabs. I collected money in a bucket, and food donations. Families were starving and needed support.
The strike ended, leaving the worst scars imaginable on both the county and the country.
But there were other battles still to be fought.
This was the era of the Cold War and membership of CND was a pre-requisite for any self respecting Leftie.
More strikes followed. I was union steward at 18, on every demo and march possible, Rock Against Racism, Anti-Nazi League, fighting injustice at every corner, fighting to right the wrongs of the government.
Thatcher loomed large all through the 80’s.
As a woman, I struggled. How could I be a feminist and not support her? How could I be a woman AND support her? I was surrounded by men who despised her, mainly for her policies but also because she was a woman. Nevertheless, I accepted this because I didn’t understand misogyny in those days. I had rejected what I considered to be ‘feminine’ wearing only jeans, t shirts and boots. Shaved head and badges; the stereotypical Lefty activist.
And I fought. Physically and verbally. With anyone who disagreed with me. If I happened upon a Tory I couldn’t stop myself. I hated them with a passion that hasn’t much dimmed.
The Left was my first home. The space where I first felt a sense of belonging and freedom. In hindsight, of course it wasn’t freedom. I was bound by doctrine and the views of men came first. I knew my place and it was to agitate, educate but not really organise.
But we were united against the enemy. We knew who we hated and we knew why. We knew what we wanted and we knew (we thought) how to get it. The Left could mobilise well. The working class were under attack as Right Realism took hold. The age of the Individual was upon us and we fought to unite.
I lay in a hospital bed clutching my newborn son as I heard the news, ‘Margaret Thatcher has resigned.’ I had waited for this day but, with a new baby, nowhere to live and no idea how to change a nappy, I had more pressing issues at hand.
The last gasp of the Left came with the death of John Smith. We knew Kinnock would never make it, he didn’t have what it took and expelling us from the party meant that he divided the working class for nothing. The 1992 election was one of the most depressing, sad days of my life. I remember my husband coming up to bed at 4am and waking me up to say, “we’ve lost again. It’s over.”
And he was right. The brief burst of hope provided by John Smith was snuffed out as quickly as it arrived, and we followed the rise of Tony Blair with trepidation and rising fear.
1st May 1997 – the Left breathed its last and slipped quietly away.
Margaret is dead. But her legacy will live longer than I will. The damage is too serious to ever reverse now and we are caught in an ever expanding loop of welfare reforms, pushing the divide between rich and poor ever wider.
Would a hard Left leadership been better? I would like to think so although the ability of the different factions on the Left to actually communicate and work together would not leave you with much optimism. To this day the SWP and the SA will not support one another in Nottingham.
April 8th 2013 is a day I’ve waited for. I’ve placed illegal bets most years on whether this year will be the year and never won. I thought she would never go, that she would live forever and we would never get the opportunity to celebrate and unite again. But she has and strangely, I feel abit lost. Thirty years of hatred, and now she’s gone I don’t quite know what to do.
So I’ll just say thank you. You gave me a home. You gave me values. You gave me a sense of unity with comrades. You gave me political debate and experiences and made my life take a very different path.
Goodbye Margaret. Thanks for the memories. May your soul forever be in torment.