I wasn’t in the UK when Margaret Thatcher’s policies wrecked this country and sowed the seeds of many of the problems we are facing today; which is not to say that the Iron Lady’s reach did not extend beyond the Iron Curtain. I was slightly taken aback by Angela Merkel’s praise for Thatcher who, in Merkel’s words, “recognised the power of the freedom movements of Eastern Europe early on and lent them her support”; until of course I remembered that as an East German Merkel’s experience of the fall of the Iron Curtain would have been very different to mine.
West Germans to this day pay the Solidaritaetszuschlag – a tax earmarked for the economic development of East Germany. Where East Germany saw a rise in unemployment, Bulgaria and other countries of the Eastern Bloc saw complete economic collapse. State assets were stolen by those in power or sold off to the highest bidder. As a nine-year-old I fought grown-ups in the supermarket over a bar of soap. I did my homework by candle light or scheduled it around the timetabled blackouts. I stood in endless queues for bread and meat, only to watch as they ran out before I got to the front. Even after we left I watched friends and relatives have to make choices between heating their homes and eating, as their money got so devalued it was only good for burning anyway.
No, the fall of the Iron Curtain wasn’t all velvet revolutions, sunshine and rainbows. While in the long run even countries like Bulgaria may find true democracy and prosperity, it’s been over 20 years now, and we’re still not there. The supremacy of the market advocated by the likes of Margaret Thatcher is maybe not the sole cause of Bulgaria’s continued misery, but it’s certainly a factor.
So while I wasn’t here when Thatcher was in power, I am hardly untouched by her policies. And more to the point, I am here now, and her legacy is still very much alive. I am not celebrating Thatcher’s death, nor am I passing judgment on those who are. But I am hoping to make a small contribution to the death of her legacy. Prompted by this, I am therefore going to donate money to four charities tomorrow, in memory of Margaret Thatcher.
Newcastle Women’s Aid
I live in the Northeast, an area with a proud mining heritage brought to its knees by Thatcher’s policies. The current government’s cuts are also hitting the region disproportionately, and a worsening of economic conditions often brings with it an increase in domestic violence and abuse. At the same time, the government is cutting funding for domestic violence services, putting thousands of women and children and risk. My first donation is therefore going to Newcastle Women’s Aid in the hope of easing the suffering of some of those affected by the cuts locally.
Terrence Higgins Trust
Given Thatcher’s treatment of the LGBT community, it is important to me that some of the money donated in her memory should go towards some of the damage done to that community. The Terrence Higgins Trust is not an LGBT-specific charity; but given the disproportionate impact of HIV on the LGBT community, vastly exacerbated by policies like Section 28, I feel it is a cause worthy of support.
Silencing the LGBT community has unfortunately also exacerbated domestic abuse issues within it. When teachers are not allowed to talk about the kind of relationship you might be in, when service providers refuse to acknowledge that the person who beat you black and blue was of the same sex as you, when an opposite-sex partner has the power to out you as bisexual in a society that won’t accept you, when as late as the early 2000s you had no legal way of getting your gender recognised and even today you can only do so with your spouse’s consent, the whole community suffers. Broken Rainbow, of which I am a trustee, does vital work as the only national LGBT domestic abuse helpline and will also be receiving a donation in memory of Margaret Thatcher tomorrow.
Finally, Brook, the young people’s sexual health charity, will also be receiving some of my money. This government is trying to take sex and relationships education back to the 1950s, trying to do to the young people of today what Section 28 did to the young LGBT people of the 1980s and 1990s, all while Michael Gove sniggers like a 12-year-old behind the bike sheds. Not on my watch.
While our government spends £10 million on the woman who thought there was no such thing as society, let’s all show them what society looks like; and let’s remember, come 2015, what they chose to spend our money on, and what we would choose to spend it on.