Anyone of a certain age could be forgiven this past week for feeling as though they had been transported back in time – to the eighties to be precise.
Football hooliganism, Everton competing for a place in Europe, Ant and Dec top of the charts, and an army of political figures from that era who have been wheeled out to comment, judge and reminisce about the country’s first and so far only female Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
What has been most striking for me has been the number of politicians from thirty years ago who we remember instantly, and who all had the personality, charisma and force of political conviction to be able to genuinely claim to be political giants.
Love them or loathe them you cannot deny that, in their own way, Heseltine, Clarke, Parkinson, Tebbitt, Hattersley, Kinnock, Prescott and Shirley Williams all helped to shape the Britain we live in today.
More strikingly perhaps, the number of eighties local government leaders who have been expressing their opinion through various media outlets, most notably Blunkett, Livingstone and Hatton were household names.
Their peers at the time included Margaret Hodge, ‘Red’ Ted Knight, Graham Stringer and Louise Ellman; as well as the Tory local authority leader who styled herself on Mrs T, Dame Shirley Porter, who infamously led Westminster council for a time.
Clearly, the polarisation of political views back then meant that conflict and controversy was never far away. Nonetheless, we did have political leaders who were serious in stature and influence.
That one of Mrs Thatcher’s legacies is a dearth of such local government leadership and talent nowadays can be in no doubt. Her government’s decision to abolish the Greater London Council and the other Metropolitan county council’s; rate capping; a stripping away of a whole range of powers and a general lack of interest in local democracy has often left political parties scrabbling around for candidates of any calibre to contest council seats in recent times.
Where we do have strong leadership, it is difficult to look beyond the leading individual or occasionally their small team of trusted lieutenants, to find anyone who you would put in charge of a paper round, let alone a council budget.
Shamefully local government has been undermined by successive governments since the Thatcher era to the extent that most sane folk view a stint in Strangeways as preferable to a seat on a local council.
More worryingly though is the fact that one can almost say the same about politicians at a national level. Outside of the most senior half a dozen ministers and shadow ministers how many front bench MP’s can you name? How many do you recognise when they appear on TV or radio?
The constant media haranguing, sex and financial scandals that have surrounded a relatively tiny number of MP’s but have managed to scar all of them, and a blatant lack of respect towards politicians from journalists and commentators has led to many highly skilled people who would once have saw parliament as a good and noble option as just too hard.
This has led to the public getting the politicians it deserves – and could in the future disastrously lead to a serious boost in support for fringe parties who hide their true beliefs behind a tirade of populist platitudes that somehow impress the average Sun reader.
Lady Thatcher’s passing reminded us of a more divided Britain. But it also reminded me of how fortunate we were back then to have ‘giants’ debating the big issues of the time.
Footnote: I was, like most people this side of the Watford Gap I guess, against the costly funeral that was held for the former PM this week. Nonetheless, I could not help but laugh at a ‘tweet’ from a Tory supporter reflecting on the estimated £10million cost of the ceremony ‘At last we have found something the Left thinks the government shouldn’t pay for...’