I guess anyone under the age of about twenty-five won't have any very strong personal recollections of Margaret Thatcher. Anyone between twenty-five and forty will maybe remember what their parents thought of her, but anyone over forty will have some strong views of their own, one way or another, about the time between 1979 and 1990 when she was the first and - to date ONLY - female prime minister of the United Kingdom.
It feels particularly telling that the Grim Reaper called on Baroness Thatcher to-day, the very day the present Conservative government began dismantling even more of the Welfare State (which Thatcher was famous for embarking on when she got rid of free school milk, even before the time she was party leader. Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher, was her first nickname, long before she was Maggie or The Iron Lady).
She said later that there was no such thing as society. A staggering assertion to emanate even from that always very sure of itself and neatly lipsticked mouth. She was so sure that individual ambition was what drove and motivated the British, and the idea that we look after our own first, ourselves and our families, that was a natural law, almost, to her, and only then do we look outwards to helping our neighbours and the disadvantaged and poor. So society doesn't exist. To Thatcher it was a myth.
A nation is instead, in her eyes and ideology, a loose affilliation of self-serving individuals and self-absorbed households taking care of number one and one's own with far more enthusiasm than they want to take care of anyone else, however needy or vulnerable, beyond their own front doors.
Altruism was an antiquated notion, with no place in modern life. It fell a little short of Gordon Gecko's Greed Is Good, but not by much. It was meant to shock, and it did.
Well, I guess that 2013. as well as being the end-date on a remarkable life, will also be a significant year to test whether she was right. The present government seems hellbent on demonising the unemployed, the disabled, the sick with catch-all root-and-branch "modernisations" put in place to reduce the nation's welfare bill and drive a wedge between claimants and the "hard-working". I am not sure that this harsh tactic will not backfire on the likes of Osborne and Ian Duncan-Smith, and the other vote-grabbing sound-bite merchants who feel so very sure that those able to work thoroughly resent paying to help support those who are not.
We still like fairplay in the UK. We don't allow name-calling in our playgrounds, and we don't like it in our chambers of parliament. Apart from one or two redtops, we don't support it in our newspapers, either.
The present cabinet is banking too much that "ordinary hard-working people" don't know, like or have any friendly dealings with anyone who is out of work, seriously unwell or disabled, and reliant on benefits to survive. But they are wrong. Most people do know and may even be related to a benefit claimant. Most people know how very few of them try to make fraudulent, inaccurate, or exaggerated claims in the forms they fill out to apply for those benefits when they need them.
So, I guess if there genuinely is no such thing as society this is the year we will find out.
Or at the next general election, for sure.