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Three days on from her death and the debates are still fiercely raging about Margaret Thatcher’s time as PM. They all seem to revolve around the same theme: that Thatcher’s spiteful policies ruined lives and divided the country.
In the twenty-year period since she left office the debate has become criminally over-simplified and certain myths persist, almost entirely unchallenged.
The most significant of which is that she destroyed the British coal mining industry.
This is simply not true.
The fact is that she inherited an industry already in precipitous decline, largely due to increasing global competition from places like Australia, America and even South Africa. See the chart below:
The majority of mine closures had already occurred under her two Labour predecessors, Harold Wilson and James Callaghan.
And the 1984 (UK) Monopolies and Mergers Commission found that 75% of British coal mines were losing money, costing the taxpayer an annual £1.3 billion in government subsidies.
The truth of which couldn’t be avoided: British coal was on life support and showing few signs of ever regaining consciousness.
All that was left to Thatcher and her Conservative government was to pull the plug –which they did.
It is perhaps here that one could take issue with the way in which Thatcher decided to handle it. She viewed it not only as laying to rest a dying industry but also an opportunity to completely crush the trade unions, who she believed were destroying Britain.
So she fought ideologically with ideologues. And won.
But what was lost amidst all the political grandstanding, were the genuine fears and concerns of the coal miners, who for generations had only ever known that type of work and that type of life, and for whom the prospect of retraining and having to begin again was daunting.
And that was why they fought as hard as they did. However misinformed they might have been about the future of British coal.
Maybe if she’d tried to reach them directly and explain the economic realities of their situation, they would have understood that if they didn’t take the pain now that one day their children would have to. That they could be part of a new Britain, that they’d be helped through this cruel time.
But the actions of their union leaders, in the past, had ensured the downfall of her predecessor and Thatcher was determined not to suffer the same fate. The miners were unfortunate collateral.
Could she be accused of coldness? Yes. Arrogance? Maybe.
But, deliberately destroying the coal mining industry and the lives of the coal miners? No.
Their lives were, by harsh circumstance, caught up in an elephantine battle between two competing visions for Britain; against the backdrop of a rapidly changing global economy, beyond the control of anyone, least of all Thatcher.
Season Six, Episode One: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
Death. It’s the first thing you thought of when Don Draper presented that ad with the rumpled pile of clothes lying on the beach and footsteps leading off from them into the unknown.
It was beautiful. It was art. But it was dark.
And so it went for the long anticipated premiere of Mad Men season six. It began with a voiceover from Don silently quoting from Inferno:
“Midway through our life’s journey I went astray from the straight road and awoke to find myself alone in a dark wood.”
This sober sentence seemed somewhat incongruous with its setting: Don, in Hawaii, on Waikiki beach, reading Dante; Megan, in a summery bikini drinking a blue cocktail.
Surely this is Heaven and not Hell?
Beautiful. Art. But it was dark
Don’s dissatisfaction, however, is evident. He seems somehow detached from this colourful scene. Megan is happy and chit chattering; Don is quiet (he has no dialogue for the first five minutes) and his smile strained. They have sex and Megan is giggling but it seems he’s only going through the motions. It’s a pensive, slightly unsure Don, not the confident, alpha male we’re used to, although he still quite convincingly wears that costume, even if it is starting to look a little anachronistic.
He’s played Don Draper for a long time, the lead role in a hit play. But the audiences are moving on, the supporting characters are starting to shift around him and the set is slowly being dismantled. The future has finally caught up with him.
Back at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce it’s clearly the late 1960’s, the men are starting to look shaggier and shabbier and are definitely turning on and tuning in. The ubiquitous liquor bottle has been replaced with the marijuana cigarette. And as generously as SCDP’s senior executives partake of the grain, so do the younger generation of the herb.
As in Hawaii, Don feels awkward in these surroundings. He’s still creatively brilliant but but…
One night at the hotel, whilst still on holiday in Waikiki Beach, he’d been sat having a solitary drink at the bar, when a drunken young soldier serving in Vietnam had engaged him in conversation. “Were you in Korea?” he asks.
“Briefly,” answers Don. Or was it Dick? Which one answered? Both served, both died and were then reborn.
This well-intentioned young man reminds him of that fraud, that stolen identity.
He is an impostor, not just Dick Whitman playing Don Draper, but for all his outward success he still feels like that hapless failure inside. “Noone loves Dick Whitman,” as Megan had jokingly cooed in the season premiere of season five.
In Dante’s tenth circle of Hell, the deceptive are punished. These are the alchemists, the counterfeiters, the perjurers and the impostors. As they afflicted mankind with their disease, they are afflicted with diseases in the afterlife.
Sinon suffers from a burning fever; Myrrha is mad.
And Don is himself and no more.
Image Credit: AMC. Artist: Brian Sanders