Silence is Golden

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Thatcher has at last agreed to shut up, although Tony Blair has now continued her legacy.

It was not the foot of Beckham, the last breath of some old royal or even Kylie's bottom that was the cause of most interest in trivia corner over the last month. No, it was the Trappist vow of silence that we are being assured Margaret Thatcher will keep from now on that caught this columnist's imagination.

There was something about the shrill hectoring of that voice. Even the memory of it brings about a shudder of revulsion. It was the voice of a class warrior waging war against the working class on behalf of the rich, the businessman, the wage cutter, the job destroyer, the service cutter and where it suited, the dictator and the despot.

I can think of no British politician who inspired such sheer loathing as she did. Her fall brought joy to all of us who shared that loathing. Her promised silence, even now, in her drunken dotage, still brings a warm feeling of satisfaction.

There seemed to be only three groups of people in the country who had time for her--the rich, those who foolishly believed she could make them rich by tax cuts, sale of council houses and attacks on 'union power', and of course Tony Blair and his sorry bunch of acolytes.

It has never seemed to matter to Blair that he owed his two landslide election victories to the fact that the electorate had rejected everything she stood for. He openly admits his admiration for her, and has had her as a guest at Number 10. He has even, unimaginable as it would seem to any sane, rational human being, sought her advice on foreign policy.

What advice do you expect to get from a xenophobic Cold War warrior dripping in petty prejudices and half-baked homilies? Still, seek it he did, though now she will say no more.

Much of her legacy would seem to remain though. Blair shares her sycophantic admiration for the rich, her fondness for the private sector, her contempt for the unions (albeit in a slightly more polite form), her fondness for romping about in military two-step with the US, her loathing for 'scroungers', her disdain for the public sector, her belief in low tax and spending cuts. If Thatcher created a tax haven for the rich, Blair maintained it. If she created a demonology of people on benefits, Blair has built on it.

Throughout Thatcher's period in office we were told again and again that the unemployed were only unemployed due to factors of their own making, and that most people on benefits were at best feckless good for nothings, and at worst scroungers and fraudsters. Throughout her time in office the amount of money alleged to have been claimed dishonestly by 'benefit fraudsters' was mere peanuts compared to the vast amounts robbed from the Treasury by the rich tax evaders.

This didn't stop whole new departments being set up and whole recruiting programmes being put in place in order to 'stamp out benefit fraud'. At the same time no new money, no new departments and no new appointment of fraud officers were to be found to catch the tax evaders. This was entirely in keeping with Thatcherite prejudice. It was the great unwashed who did a little work on the side while signing on. It was men and women in suits who fiddled their taxes. They were all 'one of us'. We were all 'one of them'.

Tabloid editors were recruited to hysterical campaigns to find 'unemployed scroungers' with Volvos and video recorders having holidays in Majorca. They never seemed to have the resources to send the odd journalist to the Cayman Islands to find the Armani-suited Roller drivers who somehow paid no tax at all on their vast profits. No, they were all too busy reciting the Bible according to Thatcher. She was, as I've said, a class warrior, and all this fitted perfectly into a worldview instilled in her on her daddy's knee.

So what of Blair's Britain--has all that changed?

No, the same message has been very publicly, if marginally less stridently, retained. There was that nasty poster advertisement campaign that was run throughout the country urging us all to grass up a neighbour. Well, I say throughout the country, but I doubt you would have found it in the leafy suburbs. No, this was aimed at us oiks.

Then there is the television campaign that paints benefit fraudsters as common thieves living the good life at our expense. Strangely, there is no advert urging anyone to grass up the real goodtime Charlies living the great life while paying little or no tax. But then their class aren't expected to grass each other up. No, only we are urged to take up that nasty little sideline.

It is not just benefit fraud either. I was recently driving behind a London bus, and there was an advert on it from Southwark council boasting about how many people it had prosecuted for non-payment of council tax. Camden council, where I live, never tires of bragging of how it evicts people with rent arrears.

There used to be a time, many moons ago in the days when Jimmy Greaves's shin gash was catching the same sort of headlines as Beckham's foot is today, when these councils would have boasted about how many houses they'd built, how many families they'd housed, how many services they'd created. Now all they boast about is the level of prosecution, conviction and eviction.

Meanwhile tax evasion remains rampant but prosecutions remain negligible. Indeed, much of the evasion is entirely legal. The very rich can pay accountants up to £600 a day to find loopholes, tax havens, making everything deductible--even the so called generosity of giving to charity.

She may be silenced, but this part of her legacy still shouts at us, while in the background Blair can be heard humming softly, 'Let it be, let it be.'