What do the following five people have in common?
Aung San Suu Kyi
Well, they were voted the top 5 'Heroes of our Time' by readers of The New Statesman published this week.
The Top 3 are no surprise, No. 4 John Pilger I guess gets honourable mention because of his long standing relationship with the magazine and it's readers and this recognition is justly deserved for his pursuit of what he sees as the truth. Personally I find Pilger too dogmatic for his own good sometimes and he appears to suffer from a form of selective blindness on certain issues, however he has a great integrity in his reporting and has uncovered things, that some would dare not to. So congratulations are in order.
However, reading the 5 it reads more like an 'Odd One Out' than a 'What have they got in Common?' list. The inclusion at No. 5 of Maggie Thatcher I find extraordinary, but on reflection I guess it just proves what the passage of time can do for a reputation.
It's 16 years since she left office. Nearly a generation has passed since she bestrode the political landscape. I guess if the New Statesman had asked it's readers to vote for the top 50 villains of our time she probably would have featured very near the top as well. However, if you'd done a similar poll in 1990 you may have a had a severe case of flying pigs before she'd been deemed a hero.
My own opinion of Thatcher has changed over the passage of time. She came to office when I was 6 years old, when she left I was 17, thereafter it took another 7 years before Labour came to power. She dominated my early life. She and the tories were all I knew about British politics.
My mother was a real old school socialist. One of my strongest childhood memories was of playing in the playroom with my mother watching the labour party conference in full on the telly every year.
My father on the other hand is a born and bred entrepeneur from a long line of small businessmen, he's worked for himself in the music business since he left school. He was a roadie for a while, did a little bit of production and then became a publisher, something he still does today.
I'd like to say he worked hard, but during the 70s he got to work around 10ish, knocked off for lunch at around 12.30 and went to Locatellis in Marylebone and got pissed all afternoon. This basically went on until my brother was born, at which point he decided he ought to concentrate a little bit more and see if he could make a bob or two. The final nail was an order from my mother, following his arrival home from Midem the annual music business conference in Cannes. He and his business partners had picked up their annual royalties from the whole of Europe while he was down there. Normally this would have arrived as a cheque. For some inexplicable reason they were given it in cash, which between the 4 of them they managed to blow in 2 days. By all accounts they had a very good time, however there are obvious drawbacks. Like not being able to pay yourself for example.
By the time he hit the 80s he'd done the excess to death, so when the yuppies appeared and were blowing their paychecks on Champagne he hated them (probably because he wasn't really doing it himself anymore). He both hated and loved Thatcher, but it was mainly the hate that came through, as my Mother growled, whenever her face popped on to a screen. I guess all that hate rubs off on you, so that, combined with my age, translated in to a hatred of her.
In recent years however, I've altered my opinion.
On reflection I've come to thinking that economically she was the best thing that could possibly have happened to the country. You only have to look at France today to understand where we may be as an economic force had things carried on the way they were going in 1979. She pulled us up by our bootstraps and made us a world force again, she instilled some pride and we moved on through the stratosphere.
On the other hand however, socially she's left the country in a vacuum. Her economic reforms came at the direct expense of a very small underclass. She always knew that was the case. 5% had to be the casualty for 95% of the country getting up and stable on their feet. My opinion is she didn't spend enough time thinking how she could ensure that 5% were treated with the care they needed. She effectively just cut them off and sent them in to a spiral of long term poverty that would effect them for generations.
Why? Well my opinion is it's simply because the solutions were too much hard work. Easier to concentrate on the economic reforms and the 95% than worry about the 5%. I strongly believe the breakdown in respect and behaviour can be put down to the policy, when you consider the way this combined with her greater emphasis on the individual.
So, is she a 'Hero of our Time'?
If she hadn't come to power we'd be in the doldrums as a nation financially, the fact she did come to power has left the country a poorer place socially, but then how would we be had she not been around.
I'm undecided, maybe 16 years isn't enough time for me decide, I'll come back to you in 10 years or so