A world without Margaret Thatcher

In 1979 Margaret Thatcher, leader of the Conservative Party, became Prime Minister. Her vision was to restore Britain to free-market prosperity, and have as many citizens as possible become property owning share-holding capitalists. The early years of her leadership were marked by a revolt of the Left, chiefly in the form of strikes by the trade
unions – in particular the miners – in the course of which people were killed, and race riots in which also blood was spilt. She crushed the unions. She partly succeeded in arresting the long decline into which Britain had been thrust since the Second World War. But the battle was hard and had she been a little less strong and courageous, had her spine
been a little less steely, she might not have won. The elements of chaos and anarchy, the defeated ideologues of collectivism, were still there,lurking in the shadows.
In 1984 I began to write a fantasy of what might happen if Mrs Thatcher did not get re-elected, a radicalized Labour Party came back into power, and was too weak to resist the violent Left. Violence and public cruelty were in the air. Shaven-headed Neo-Nazis
marched in steel-studded black leather, and the “Anti-Nazi League”, combining numerous cranky groups, clashed with the skinheads in the streets. In the theatres, small animals – including puppies, if I remember rightly – were slaughtered on stage.
On the continent, cruelty in art was taken to even greater lengths. I was commissioned by the Sunday Times magazine to attend and write about a Festival of Performance Art taking place over ten days in Vienna. Although there were “Action Artists” from various European
countries and America, the Austrians and Germans were the most spectacularly bloody. They were obsessed with blood and mutilation and pain. They enacted rituals of human sacrifice stopping short only of actual slaughter. They simulated the tearing and cutting of flesh, and in some instances really did tear it with whips and knives. It was as if
the hellish blood-fest of the 1940s, of the war and the Holocaust, the soaking of Europe’s soil with the blood of millions, less than forty years earlier, had not been enough to slake the thirst for atrocity, ruin and death in middle Europe; and as if even more recently people had not suffered the worst that the Communist tyrants Mao and Pol Pot could
inflict on helpless multitudes. The artists claimed political justification for the spectacles they created, pleading that they were themselves victims forced to produce works of art that reflected a terrible reality, caused by “imperialism” – by which they meant America, capitalism, prosperity, freedom, choice, opportunity, rule of law, opposition to
Communism.
The illustrated article I turned in to the magazine was to be the cover story one Sunday, but at the last minute the editor-in-chief of the Sunday Times looked at the cover photograph of blood-soaked bodies and declared that he could not allow anything like that to be put on the Sunday breakfast tables of his readers. The whole story was spiked.
But what I had seen and learned in Vienna nourished the fantasy I was writing. It was apparent to me that sadism was an aesthetic rather than a moral issue for the artists, as it was for writers who had inspired the “New Left”, and for the affluent bourgeois terrorists I had written about in my book Hitler’s Children: The Story of the Baader-Meinhof
Terrorist Gang. For all their political excuses and pretexts, their actual aim was self-liberation, which they hoped to achieve by breaking through, outrageously, the limits set for them by the culture and custom of their Western, highly developed societies. And in the case of the Germans and Austrians, they wanted also not to be guilty; to separate themselves, by acts of defiance that would have been courageous thirty years earlier,
from their nation and – necessarily according to the Marxist “analysis” they parroted – also from their class. They liked to claim that they suffered for “the cause” (variously named as peace, anti-imperialism, anti-fascism, Third World liberation), and that their extreme deeds,
words, and performances were heroically self-sacrificial. But there was no missing the excitement, the emotional release, the rapture they were after. Whether or not they achieved the sensations they desired, and even if their own pain and fear were less than exhilarating when they actually occurred, the pleasure of hurting and terrifying others never
palled.

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