The typical Aussie soldier?

Ten years have passed since the initial insurgence of allied troops into Afghanistan with the aim of dismantling Al-Qaeda. A decade of constant conflict, unrest and bloodshed has culminated this year in the death of Osama bin Laden and ongoing talk of peace initiatives and the gradual withdrawal of troops. On June 22nd, President Obama announced that 10,000 troops would be withdrawn by the end of 2011 and an additional 23,000 troops will leave the country by the summer of 2012. The UK has followed suit with a very gradual withdrawal, and likewise the Spanish Prime Minister has announced the withdrawal of troops beginning in 2012 with a complete withdrawal by 2014.  Back in June of this year Julia Gillard announced there would be no reduction of Australian troops in Afghanistan until 2014 as planned, stating that “Australia, a key coalition partner, will not change its strategy in the fight against terrorism. Australia will see the mission through.”  There are currently around 1,500 Australian troops deployed in Afghanistan.

Eleven-thousand, four-hundred and thirteen kilometres from the action, in the quiet little suburb of Tempe, NSW, I had acquired an interview with Private of the Second Commando Regiment, set for deployment in Afghanistan mid next year. Although I had met him on previous occasions, he consented to an interview on the condition that he could be kept anonymous.  On being asked why that was necessary he replied, “It would just piss off my commanding officers. They’re really funny about talking to the media.” Maybe this wasn’t such a drawback as I hoped it might make him appear more representative of the Australian soldier, (although just for purposes I will refer to him as Danny). Having just been granted his Commando status last month, a Fairbairn Sykes dagger and certificate confirming this ranking hangs pride of place on the wall of Danny’s swish apartment that he shares with his English girlfriend and her friend. Despite living with two girls, the walls of the apartment are adorned with predominantly his interests; photographs and paintings depicting military scenes. A three by three foot abstract piece of art of a soldier running in battle hangs in the kitchen, and above his study area a framed still of Operation Ulmarra, the cordon and search of Lang Phuoc Hai village, South Vietnam, 26th August 1967.

Being a hospitality working student, 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning was an unfamiliar sight for myself. As I slumped in my sleepy stupor on the sofa, Danny was a picture of dynamism, zipping about the kitchen topless, preparing us coffee from his own coffee machine, a 21st birthday present, which he hoped “didn’t taste like mud”. Anyone who had just met Danny might mistake his assured little smile and his tendency to walk around topless as arrogance or self-importance, but in truth it’s just reflective of a serene content in his own skin. His broad shoulders and muscular torso do nothing to reveal his humble and even slightly meek persona and his dark hairy chest reflects his Italian lineage. His head and face is in stark contrast, gentle and slightly out of proportion with his body, atop of which is sandy brown and naturally well-kept hair. He wears a pair of khaki shorts and at the end of the interview casually slips on a red t-shirt before he and his girlfriend set off to the beach for the day. Presenting me with a mug of delicious creamy coffee, we adjourn to the breakfast table and I ask him about the dagger.

It hangs on the wall of his living area, next to it a certificate stating:

“PTE D. A. Rowntree

Has qualified as an Australian Commando and has earned the right to wear the commando beret. The awarding of this beret comes with a responsibility to your nation, your regiment, your family and ultimately yourself. You have been assessed against well-known criteria for a steadfast character and have demonstrated both the physical and mental toughness required for service within this command.

“To whom much is given much is expected”

Along with this feature, at his graduation he was presented with a green beret, and at previous meetings I noticed he took to wearing it during routine occasions, making dinner or watching T.V. It reflects a quality in him that is almost endearing childlike, similar to a boy who insists on wearing his 50m backstroke medal around the house. The dagger itself however was not to be utilised, being more of a symbolic entity;

“Commandos used it in World War Two. It’s quite old now but still embodies the fighting spirit. When it’s issued it’s just as a symbolic thing rather than an actual fighting knife.” It takes a bit of questioning to understand what it’s actually for, and Danny has a quiet look of surprise, mostly due to my ignorance in the field of military training. It effectively indicates his graduation from a paratrooper and has been the result of five weeks of intense training as part of the Commando Selection Training Course, yet Danny gives out no air of egotism or self-congratulation that many would think typical of a soldier. Instead, he keeps the manner of his answers purely straightforward with a neutral face, presumably because he knows the extent of what he still has to achieve.

Namely, Afghanistan. I turn our attention towards what drives his passion to go there as he picks up an AAA battery on the table and starts turning it between his fingers. Initially he starts to describe when he first joined the army and I feel he might be avoiding the question, before he suddenly remarks;

“There’s heaps of reasons eh. It’s basically for me just because I want to be a solider. I’m not going to say that I’m not patriotic, but it’s not really for patriotic reasons. Whether or not that’s similar to others I’m not sure.  It’s more for that sense of adventure and something that in today’s modern society you can’t really experience that.”

It seems to me like one of the more unique jobs you could do nowadays I observe and he agrees. “Also just to validate all the training I’ve done, it would seem a waste of time if I haven’t validated it overseas.” From this I observe his desire to go to Afghanistan may not be because a dedication to the cause; the upheaval of Al-Qaeda, and this is supported by his next comment: “I don’t want to go to Afghanistan as such, I want to go on active service. It doesn’t matter where I go.”

He drops the battery and it clunks on the wooden table. But then, how does he feel about war and conflict generally? Does he condone it or think it’s necessary? His speech becomes fragmented and it’s on occasions like this I see how he used to suffer from a slight stutter. Speaking with his housemate she speculates that it’s still a problem for him; “Sometimes, especially if he’s had a drink or two he’ll have problems getting the words out”. I can see him thinking through his answer carefully;

“Look, I definitely don’t condone it, and I think it’s a bit blunt to say it’s necessary. In certain instances, yes, it might be. But to generalise…it’s obviously quite tragic, the war in Iraq was just a massive tragedy. Being a soldier and wanting to go on active service…I don’t think it’s good…it’s just part of the job.”

What I still have trouble grasping is why he would want to do what he does. Never susceptible to bouts of anger and more likely to deal with a difficult situation with humour, he seems far too passive to do something as radical as firing a gun. “He never gets angry” his housemate comments. “At the most, when he gets annoyed with something, he’ll silently pull a face, you can see his jaw move.” Danny has the physique of a soldier, but the mind of a poet, more quirky than loutish, constantly coming out with whimsical observations and passé expressions; he has a habit of ironically referring to himself as a “big dummy.”  A few nights later, whilst discussing children’s television shows, he would go on to deconstruct the early 90’s classic “Biker Mice from Mars”; “There aren’t even any mice on Mars. It doesn’t have a suitable atmosphere or topography. And the bikes as well? It’s a ridiculous premise.” I have to say I agree.

Back at the breakfast table I tell him he seems too much of a pacifist to seem like a soldier. He smiles;

“Yeah, it’s funny this. I’ve just always had a massive fascination with everything to do with the military. I can look at photos, like that photo…” he points to the picture of the cordon of Lang Phuoc Hai “…I can look at for ages and keep noticing small things. And it’s exciting, doing things like parachuting and boating, and abseiling off buildings, it gives you a rush…and also a bit of fear. Not crippling fear but manageable fear, which is good, it makes you feel alive. And not many people get to feel like that these days.”

I ask him about the future. I can’t help but be concerned myself about the dangers he’ll face out in Afghanistan, but any fear or doubt he has stifled. Aren’t you scared, or at least nervous I press? He maintains an air in his answer more suited to discussing a skiing holiday. The downplaying of his own courage is a most endearing feature.

“I’m mainly excited. You can’t really be scared. Well, I say that now because I’m not there, once I’m there I’ll probably be really scared. But if you get scared, I don’t believe that you can go. Fear is a funny thing. They seem to do quite a good job of conditioning you not to fear things, even though reasonably you probably should.  It’s funny.”

Beyond his active service, I’m interested to know whether he feels this is something he could do for life. Scratch deep and it’s clear he would excel in a number of professions. The innate flair he displays in his interaction with other humans is one of his greatest talents and could be utilised in other jobs. Sensitivity and considerate thought processes are traits that form the basis of his interaction with what seems to be every person he comes across, and I wonder whether he realises this. I ask of his plans when he comes back from Afghanistan, would that spell an end to his stint in the army?

“I do think about this. Because with the army you can’t do it forever… well, you can but I’ve seen people who do it man, they’re so caught up in it and it’s the only thing they have in their life. It sends chills down my spine, I really hope I’m not that person in 20 years. I mean, how you can do 20 years in the army, I don’t know. But I definitely plan at this stage to go to University. And study Psychology maybe. Human beings really interest me. Conventions and human interactions, reasons for why people do what they do.”

Sitting back in my chair I try to imagine him in a suit; a professional with a 9-5 and a briefcase, although he refutes the idea of working in an office. Danny was not an individual designed for accounting or selling insurance, but I get a sense of excitement on his behalf envisaging him as a Psychologist or a Doctor. The most solicitous and considerate Psychologist in NSW. I slurp back the cold dregs of my coffee and bring the interview to a close, thanking him. “That’s alright”, he says. “Anytime of the week Jon.” And what a nice way to put it, I thought.

Days later and sets of unasked questions drifted around my mind. I couldn’t help thinking during the interview the atmosphere was too tranquil and care-free to get into a really deep discussion. Casting my mind back to a previous encounter with Danny disclosed more about his own personal desire. Back in August I met him at a fancy dress party, attired as a Mexican complete with his poncho and sombrero. It wasn’t until we paired up on the walk home that I had the opportunity to chat with him properly. A night of heavy cocktail drinking left him slightly vulnerable to difficult questions, and it was then in the small hours of that icy August morning he told me he would be going to Afghanistan next year. Isn’t that dangerous I naively asked? Why would you want to go so badly?”

“Because that’s what it’s all about man! You saw those guys at the Argyle on ANZAC Day with their medals. That’s what it’s all about! All the guys talk about Afghanistan, and I want to be part of it. I can’t wait to go. That’s the whole point!”

I was having trouble grasping why someone would put their life at risk just for fulfilment. What happens if he was fatally injured?

“At the end of the day that wouldn’t matter as much as everyone seems to think! I would’ve done my bit, and that’s part of the point in being a commando. Obviously I would rather come back home in one piece than be hit with a bullet out there… but if it does happen…some people think it’s quite a selfish thing. Is it Jon? Do you think it’s selfish?”

Looking at him with his false curly moustache, I didn’t really know what to say, but I couldn’t help being fascinated by him and his mentality. I didn’t necessarily agree with his beliefs, but I was beginning to understand them at least.

In the days following the interview at Danny’s apartment, I messaged him one final question; what he thought of Julia Gillard’s decision not to start withdrawing troops, unlike many of the other nations;

“It was always going to be that way. Until the US significantly reduces their numbers we won’t start withdrawing, and that won’t be until 2014 or 2015. I personally don’t think Australia will have success in Afghanistan.”

At the time of writing Julia Gillard had just paid a flying visit to Afghanistan, where she opened a new Australian embassy building in the capital Kabul, indicative of “Australia’s long-term commitment to the country.”

In the new year Danny and myself will go our separate ways, him to Afghanistan and myself back home to the U.K. Whether he is representative of the Australian soldier I am unsure. Parts of his dogma are surely felt in every soldiers desire to go to war, but perhaps he stands apart from the rest through his atypical docility. With this he will surely go far, and I wish him the best of luck.


An essay on football

Last month saw the start of the new football season, soccer if you will. Perhaps there’s nothing particularly newsworthy about that in itself, besides like Christmas or Australia Day it happens every year. And OK, maybe Ashley Young scoring a goal from outside the box doesn’t justify the same number of column inches as the recent riots in London or March’s disaster in Japan. But for many it’s just as important, especially in England.  From August to May every year it governs our weekends, that slice of entertainment and drama propelling our life forward, bit by bit, match by match. Every dreary working week pays for that match at the weekend. It’s important because fans put so much of their lives into it.

I adore football for being the most compelling spectacle on television. But it seems like the game is entering a new age. There are now a few problems with the footballing world and the English Premier League to be touched upon.

Firstly, isn’t it becoming more of a business? This was reflected during the summer transfer window madness we’ve just experienced, chaotic bids of nonsensical proportions flying back and forth like a feverish trading floor. The most notable deal of the European summer saw F.C. Barcelona finally seal the services of midfielder Cesc Fàbregas for £33 million amid intense media frenzy. But it slips the minds of those key dealers at the top of the financial ladder that players are people. It seems odd how the owners of football clubs spend money like this…on purchasing a human. To what extent do they own them? Wouldn’t they rather have spent that money on a nice new Rolex? They would own that forever certainly.  Anyway, football as a business simply shifts the focus away from the heart of the beautiful game.

Another problem concerns the major issue of the introduction of video technology and replays to aid the officials and their decisions. This is a matter that the international governing body FIFA have largely ignored, glossing over it by claiming that “it would ruin the flow of the game”. A fair objection you might think, but week after week a goal is erroneously chalked off (England vs. Germany at last year’s World Cup anyone? The pain is as raw now as it was then and probably forever will be), a player is unfairly ruled offside, penalties are mistakenly awarded, a sly centre back is still on the pitch despite sending Didier Drogba to the ground with a subtle elbow jab. I would love to work out the results of last season’s Premier League table had all the correct decisions been made by the referees and their cronies. Maybe poor lowly Blackpool wouldn’t have been relegated to the Championship, who knows. But without the aid of video technology FIFA and the officials are playing by their own rules. (I know Drogba falls over too much but that’s not the point.)

For my third issue, we need to take a team like Arsenal. For their last match Arsène Wenger fielded a starting eleven consisting of not a single Englishman. Even I can admit Arsenal are a fine club with South-East England roots and a lavish history, but in the era of Wenger the emphasis on home-grown footballing talent has been expunged. And doesn’t this miss the point of a football club being to do with its location? In Sydney I see so many people attired in their Manchester United shirts, but what does Manchester really mean to them? It’s the same (but not quite to that extent) with other big clubs, including my dear Chelsea F.C. If Sydneysiders gave more of their support to Sydney F.C by attending their matches the future of A-League would look more promising. Now Manchester United is just a massive worldwide brand, the club badge like ADIDAS or SONY blaring down at you. Globalisation and all those other words. What a shame.

Finally, there is one criticism towards football that I have heard and eventually consented to consider, which is that it’s not much of a competition any more. Always the same teams at the top of the league, the same players with their hands on the silverware, champagne drenched on the podium. Obviously it’s because the best players are at the clubs with the richest owners, history, prestige. It’s the same story with A-League football. But wouldn’t part of you just bloody love it (and remember this is coming from a Chelsea fan), if Norwich City came along and trounced them all to the ground this season, Grant Holt lifting that four stone solid sterling silver trophy come May, tears in his eyes, hardly believing himself. For the people of Norwich this would be a bigger deal than most of us can even imagine.

In a sense the main problem with football is one that will never be remedied: the possibility of your team losing. That’s just not fair. Imagine how the Arsenal fans felt a couple of weeks ago after making the substantial journey to Old Trafford and witnessing United’s 8-2 drubbing of their team. What a way to spend your weekend. And then back to work the next day! Even worse than this, the nil-nil draws. To be fair, some are entertaining, but others; £50 a ticket and you trudge out of the turnstiles feeling like you’ve spent  it on a fancy ribbon-ornamented box, opening it up to find there’s nothing inside.

Incidentally, every time I’ve seen Chelsea play a competitive match it’s been a draw. The first of these occasions was at Stamford Bridge versus Blackburn Rovers, 17th February 1999. Probably not the most eventful match in Chelsea’s history although we did start brightly, Jody Morris (of all players) scoring in the first half. As he reeled off, the 34,000 odd crowd roared and ascended from their seats all around me. My dad turned to me and said, “Well, they’ve scored”.

Six minutes from time however, Blackburn scored and the home fans lost it. A respectable looking man next to me who had been quiet and unobtrusive up to this point suddenly shouted, “WANKER!!!” at the top of his lungs. I wasn’t familiar with that word. At whom it was directed I wasn’t sure, either the referee or the Blackburn centre forward with the audacity to score against us. Another kid a few rows behind me yelped, “C’mon Chels, you’ve got five minutes to score one more”.  I was scared, and confused. Chelsea weren’t losing were they? What was wrong with everyone, why were they so upset?  During that first match the overriding sense in me was fear. Fear of the boisterous fans, the noise, the overcrowded tube on the way home. Additionally, I couldn’t quite grasp how the supporters cared so much.

But gradually I learnt that for some fans football is all they have- that sense of belonging, almost the same reason so many young men joined those right-wing groups after the First World War; to wear a badge on your chest and feel like you’re really part of something important. Although for some it really is just an excuse to shout and swear loudly for two hours.

But now back to the present day. However much fun it is to moan about football and your club, we are lucky that when played well, it is the most blissful and celestial of sports to witness. Four weeks into the new season and it’s clear that we have a new contender for the Premier League title- Manchester City who are looking magical, although Man United are back to their invincible best. Norwich aren’t playing too badly either. And Chelsea’s chances? Silverware would be nice, and it’s a strong possibility under our charismatic new manager. But I would be happy to see Oxford boy Josh McEachran cement a place in the starting line-up. That and for Fernando Torres to score a few more goals.

How about the footballing future I hear you ask? Here are my predictions. Firstly, players become dehumanised from all the buying and selling to the point that they evolve into plastic figurines with half spheres stuck to their feet. Secondly, the referee and his officials become so corrupt with power that the original rulebook manuscript gets crossed out with marker pen and rewritten, the one sole rule now stating “THE OFFICIALS ARE ALWAYS RIGHT”. But most of all, fans scrimp and save every week as the cost of match tickets reaches several hundred for one tiny fifteen minute match, the chairmen cackling insanely with power, rubbing themselves with wads of our fifty-pound notes. I admit I am a cynic. You’d probably say I shouldn’t get so worked up about such problems, football is just a game after all. But I hope you’d understand when I tell you yes, it is a game, but not ‘just’ a game.

Better beer suggests end to Australian binge drinking

If there were one thing that evoked the sense of Aussie lifestyle and spirit, even more effectively than sunshine, surfboards and shrimps on the barbie it’s surely the drink referred to as “grain, which any fool can eat, but for which the Lord intended a more divine means of consumption… “.

Friar Tuck was of course speaking of the enigma that is beer, and in the wake of last month’s Australian International Beer Awards in Melbourne, Aussie brews went away with the majority of the 15 Championship trophies awarded. But what makes such a drink so compatible with the Australian way of life? And what does the future have in store for beer?

As an Englishman totally immersed in the world of this Australian icon, questions such as these have fascinated me for some time. More than any other aspect of Australian life, their obsession with beer was something I wanted to unearth. Back home beer had been part of my lifestyle certainly, but until I by chance landed myself a job at Red Oak Boutique Beer Café; Australia’s most awarded brewery, I had not realised the importance of fine beer.

Australia is beginning to thrive with microbreweries, with beers a world away from what I had been exposed to in the UK: the tasteless European exports such as Carlsberg and Becks. Needless to say however that many Australians are still getting to grips with the concept of good beer over bad; the following conversation typical of many I have had with customers all in the name of our wide range of brews:

‘G’day mate, just a schooner of VB please’
‘Sorry sir, we don’t sell VB, all of our beers are brewed by us’
‘Oh OK mate…erm…just a Carlton Draught then please’
‘No Carlton Draught either I’m afraid. We’re a Boutique Beer Café, all of the beers we sell are brewed by our own brewer.’ I hand him our beer menu.
‘Oh I get you now! Right, Ok…I’ll just take a pint of Red Oak’
‘Well…which one?’
‘This Special Reserve stuff…do you sell it by the litre?’

I close my eyes in frustration. He refers to our speciality barley wine, a thrice fermented English style ale, matured on various types of oak for two years and only sold in a 250ml measurement for $75. Evidently for many, there is still much to discover beyond ten dollar jugs on Tuesday nights.

In fact, it is this side of Australian beer drinking culture that venues like Red Oak are distancing themselves from. It focuses on the finer detail of beer, putting it “on the pedestal it deserves” and adding a touch of class with its wooden floorboards, marble bar top and plush burgundy hangings.

Speaking to Red Oak’s beer sommelier Simon Beveridge, he commented: ‘In seven years as a venue, we have never had a reportable incident. This is because there are better attitudes to drinking now and the new beer culture of micro brews has been embraced.’

It seems a beer where so much flavour and complexity can be taken from every sip is slowing down the process of drinking. Could it be this that heralds the end of the Australia’s binge drinking issue?

Beveridge also highlighted the main reason for why so many of the world biggest and most accessible brands of beer are not of the best quality: ‘The smaller breweries produce a higher quality beer because they have the time to make every batch they produce magnificent. They are able to focus on the detail that goes into brewing a fine beer. As a brand gets more popular and the production gets larger the quality gets worse; production has to be quicker for the purpose of consumption.’

It seems the best breweries are the ones able to keep their beer to a high standard whilst achieving an impressive scale of distribution. One of my later discoveries whilst living in Sydney, Darlinghurst’s the Local Taphouse is a perfect foundation of this wonderful achievement; around 20 taps out of which come the most incredible and delicious beers from all around the world, some highly unusual.

It was there that I recently I sampled the Rex Attitude from New Zealand’s Yeastie Boys, a Peat Smoked Strong Ale with an intense smoky aroma and slightly sour flavour. (My favourite I’ve had there was True South’s Cherry Bomb: a Porter infused with cherry and coconut).

Accompanying their ever changing beer taps are a huge range of bottled beers and all can be enjoyed in comfy old armchairs in a brooding ambiance. Venues like this seem to be discreetly dotted around Sydney’s suburbs, and personally I anticipate this cult scene growing into an unmistakeable part of Australian culture.

Unlike yesteryears Red Oak didn’t take any Championship trophies at the AIBA’s this time. Along with other local breweries including 4 Pines in Manly and Lord Nelson at the Rocks we did however take a handful of runners-up medals: Silver for our Special Strong Bitter in the Ale Draught class and Bronze for both the Porter and Bitter in the Porter Draught and Reduced Alcohol Draught categories respectively .

But I think I’ve learnt that it’s not all about winning every year. Competitions such as the AIBA’s are simply an opportunity for brewers and experts alike to come together and discover some of the most astonishing brews.

Our head brewer once commented back in 2004 ‘I’ve always loved beer and loved brewing beer…every step is exciting. It is both an art and a mystery.’ And beer is mysterious; little is known about its origins thousands of years ago. In essence it is just grainy water with the addition of yeast and hops: an unlikely combination. But we should feel indulged that in modern day Australia good beer is plentiful and beneficial to us physically and spiritually.

The revolution is here, and beer has a bright future.

Creating your very own ‘ism’: Thatcher’s unique ideology

To see how the culture of popular music was affected by Thatcherism it is crucial to look at what Thatcherism actually was, and which particular aspects of it would have created a backlash in the form of musical protest. Numerous accounts give different views as to what it actually was, for example that it was identifiable by the policies that Thatcher was trying to implement. Others argue that it was more to do with the cult of personality- and that she showed a stark contrast to previous post war leaders in her conviction to restore British values. It is these two sides of the Thatcherism movement that I will look at, both of which are worthy explanations in the feelings of dissatisfaction and disillusionment felt amongst society in the 1980’s, including those groups who expressed their feelings through the form of music.

Once Thatcher got into government in 1979 there was a highly noticeable change in policies. This was not only due to the switch from a Labour to a Conservative government but also because of Thatcher’s own distinct ideology. Her party predecessor Edward Heath had a noticeably different approach and after Heath left office he himself admitted to the shift in the Conservative identity between 1974 and 1979, warning the party of moving further to the right.[1] This rethinking of the Conservative brand was seemingly a key instigator for what would later become “Thatcherism”.[2]

One of the main concerns within the Thatcher Government was with the apparent decline of Britain. Prior to the 1979 election, Thatcher called for “greatness in our country again…the need for renewal at every level…”[3]  A big part of this was to do with social values, and so one area of her policies that became a huge part of the Conservative ideology was based on social reform. Thatcher was undoubtedly one of the most prominent politicians in the post war period in terms of altering social structure and values.

The welfare state which had been established after the war was still in operation after 30 years and by this time it was of the opinion of the Conservative government that it had achieved what it originally set out to establish. Not only did Thatcher see it as superfluous, but the Conservatives saw it as being detrimental to the general public- most pressingly it contributed to a limited sense of responsibility.

At the start of the post war period the welfare system was seen as effective as it helped many out of poverty. However after decades of this system, poverty had decreased dramatically. By the 1950’s Britain saw sudden prosperity which was steadily maintained in the following years. As the Conservative government now saw it there was not much of a case for the welfare state. All that it appeared to accomplish now was inclining thousands not to work for their own money.

In Thatcher’s eradication of welfare in the following years there were inevitably many working citizens whose living standards plummeted, and between 1979- 1985 the number of those with an income below the poverty line rose by 55%.[4] Those who had been unemployed but receiving support from welfare now had virtually no source of income.

In addition to this, unemployment was bolstered through Thatcher’s major economic reforms. Her government had ideals of a tight economic composition, and saw reductions to public expenditure and increases in indirect taxes. As a result of this unemployment reached 2 million by November 1979,[5] and nearly 3 million in 1981 with public spending cuts falling hardest on the poor.[6]

The 1981 riots in Brixton and Chapelton in Leeds were so extreme partly because of this high unemployment, citizens rioting out of both frustration and the feeling there was nothing else to be part of. And yet Thatcher remained adamant that unemployment was not an underlying cause. In August 1982 the Spectator reported that 584,000 teenagers having left school would be without employment that autumn.[7] Job opportunities were scarce, and the reality was that the social situation of Britain could only decline further.

Decreasing the power of the Trade Unions and the specific reform of Trade Union law was another key area of Thatcher’s focus once getting into office in 1979, and it embodied her desire to significantly decrease the power of any smaller independent organisations, especially ones with a left wing motivation. Most trade unions were of a highly socialist emphasis, touching on areas of providing support for the unemployed, making improvements in the workplace and advocating strikes.

Most of the trade unions protested against the government’s plans to cut public expenditure, but the Conservatives held the argument that failure to reduce public expenditure increased government borrowing, thus increasing the interest rates.[8] Thatcher wanted to establish a power greater than any smaller organisation and to set the Conservative government out as the sole power, something her predecessors failed to do.

Edward Heath notoriously had a lack of control when it came to the trade unions, and his second defeat to the miner’s union resulted in the ill-fated February 1974 election debacle.[9] Since, the Trade Unions had increasingly gained power and influence and were seen as the main obstacle to British management, there becoming the question of who was ruling the British industry.[10]

This was something that Thatcher was dedicated to quash, and during Thatcher’s first government a series of acts were introduced in attempts to achieve this. The 1980 and 1982 employment acts saw the trade union legal immunities significantly reduced, and the 1984 Trade Union Act removed the union’s immunity to prosecution.[11]

By the start of Thatcher’s second term the three pillars of trade union power built up from the period of 1945- 1979 had in effect been demolished.[12]  A policy that followed on from this theme of taking away power from the smaller organisations is reflected even more in the electoral system that Thatcher favoured. The idea of any electoral reform was rejected on Thatcher’s arrival, instead preferring the First Past the Post system. In doing this it ensured that the two main parties were favoured whilst discriminating against any smaller parties that represented a particular sample of society. As a result, throughout the 1980’s there were numbers of smaller parties that were representative of race and creed that found it hard to make their voices heard or gain electoral success. It was only by 1987 that coloured ethnic minorities gained representation.[13]

Thatcher’s immigrant controls was a further aspect of Thatcher’s policies that antagonised a large section of society. Certainly the matter of immigration had been a concern right from the 1960’s, but it was during Thatcher’s reign that immigration controls became so decisive. It was established as a major issue in her 1979 manifesto, promising to introduce further restrictions to prevent the country from becoming “swamped” by immigrants.[14]

The general immigration strategy was to reduce annual immigration into Britain by about 1,500-2,000 out of a total of 70,000.[15] In response to these proposals, the British Nationality Act passed in 1981, restricting British citizenship and later tightening immigration rules with respect to marriages.[16] From this came a growing feeling of disheartenment from ethnic minorities who were now living under Thatcher’s rule.

Immigrant families who had lived in Britain for decades now were discriminated against and racism on the streets grew as a result of the increased awareness of immigration. As the Economist commented in 1982, “numbers of white people are encouraged that blacks will be sent home, as though ‘home’ for them was anywhere else but in Britain”.[17] From this it appeared to many that the Conservative government wanted a nation that was purely nationalist, which created much controversy.

Overall, there was a prevailing sense of uncertainty concerning the nation- the question of where the country was heading and how Thatcher’s decision making could create disarray. This was emphasised by Britain’s place in the world and Thatcher’s involvement in global issues. Her relationship with Ronald Regan meant that the country was on the verge of becoming part of the Cold War with the constant threat of nuclear war. In 1979 Thatcher allowed American cruise and perishing missiles to be deployed in the UK and her government became locked in a battle with several peace groups such as CND and Cruise Watch who identified Thatcher as an advocate of world conflict.[18]

In 1981, the Gallup Poll revealed that 39% of British adults expected a nuclear war in their lifetime.[19] There was an underlying fear of the Soviet Union, and in addition to this, the Falklands War brought the sense that such a battle for a leftover of Empire so far from home was of an underlying irrationality.[20]

However, other than solely focusing on Thatcher’s main policies, there are further ways of explaining what Thatcherism was. The fact that she was a new and unique political figure means that there are a number of other explanations concerning her personality and her general promotion of certain values. More so than any other 20th Century British politician, she created a movement that had a lasting impact on British citizens, whether it good or bad. Even a significant leader like Winston Churchill never coined the phrase “Churchillism”, and this is something can be looked into. Thatcherism was more than a set of policies, it was a movement. But was it an ideology or more of a cult of personality?

Thatcher’s personality enhanced her government whilst simultaneously creating a sense of fascination and intimidation. It is first worth mentioning that being the first female Prime Minister of Great Britain there was already a celebrity status, something that she was able to use to her advantage. Interest in her as a leader abroad resulted in the name of ‘The Iron Lady’, a phrase used by the Soviet Union as something of an insult rather than a compliment, but yet was used by Thatcher and her party.  Her gender was very much a factor in generating this cult of ‘Thatcherism’, almost like another form of feminism.  It also helped create a sense of freshness, someone different from the rest of the post war leaders. This suggested that major changes were about to occur.

Certainly, the Tory brand was promoted in a way that welcomed rejuvenation, so much so that they had an ex television producer working to create a completely fresh image for the 1979 election.[21] She had an extremely powerful public personality and technique as a public speaker, and was seen as being skillful in the art of intimidating her opponents, capable of hectoring and embarrassing them.[22] As Thatcher herself observed of her techniques as a leader; “I used public statements to push reluctant colleagues further than they would have gone. Without such tactics Thatcherism would merely be a theoretical viewpoint”.[23]

Most of all, by the time Thatcher got into power in 1979 she had built up a belief that her plans for Britain were faultless and precisely what the country needed. She was determined in her own agenda so much that she was almost deluded, shunning any criticisms or suggestions that the way she was running the country was flawed. And this is one of the key aspects of Thatcher’s rule that instigated such a reaction in certain areas of society.

Furthermore, the general promotion of a number of core values is also a good representation of what Thatcherism was, and were heavily imposed on British society. Since her leadership historians have attempted to define Thatcherism as a single body of thought, but it is possible that it is a combination of different themes rather than one fixed theme.  I would like to focus on two specific themes, both of which link into each other slightly. Both were so prominent in Thatcher’s belief system because they were a part of her background and childhood upbringing.

The first of these is the idea of hard work. Through her dismantling of welfare it made people more motivated, aspiring for personal wealth. This hard work orientated society was intended not to oppress, but rather to show how “work deserved reward, not taxation”, the notion of “the cake having to be baked before it was distributed”.[24]

The second major theme is that of Individualism. This was established as a main theme in the new Conservative government and was reflected in Thatcher’s notorious line; “There is no society, only individuals”. She believed this promotion of individually was important, it reinforcing personal responsibilities. It also encouraged competition between members of the public, and this again stressed the notion of hard work.

Certain sources suggest that this Individualism “provided the framework for individuals to pursue their own interests free from government intervention”,[25] suggesting that Thatcherism was in fact trying to restore some kind of freedom. Both of these values were inevitably such a prominent principle in Thatcher because they had been part of her since her childhood. Her parents were determined for her to work hard and take advantage of every educational opportunity[26]. As Thatcher observed; “In my family we were never idle…partly because idleness was a sin”.[27]

Overall, both hard work and individualism can be linked in with another value that Thatcher closely followed; that of Traditionalism. She displayed a distinct dislike to any radicalism throughout her reign, such as the emergence of gay rights. In general, Thatcher strived to revive aspects of the innate human drive and the values that were held so dear around a century previously- what she saw as a Golden Age for society.

As a final point, Thatcherism was a combination of policies and a set of ethics. Generally speaking, Thatcher and her government possessed a typical right wing train of thought, but a new and updated version. Conservatism had not had much success in power since the early 1960’s, and so it can be said that Thatcherism was very much a rejuvenated, rethought version. It certainly differed noticeably from the party identity of Edward Heath’s government, perhaps being slightly more subversive. Heath himself reflected on the apparent difference in ideologies, commenting how “I was experiencing increasing difficulties with the policies that were being put forward by my successor…” [28]

Paolo Hewitt went further than suggesting a simple revival of Conservatism, noting that it was “a revenge mission on anyone who had harmed her party”,[29] implying a devious and vengeful set of motives. Perhaps it was a highly extreme version of Conservatism. Tony Benn described it in the context of the patriotism surrounding the Falklands War as pure fascism.[30]  However extreme an ideology it was, it was enough to create a backlash in society in the form of musical protest throughout the 1980’s.

[1] Heath, E., The Course of My Life, Hodder & Stoughton, 1998, p. 568

[2] Thatcher, M., The Downing Street Years, Harper Collins, 1993, p. 13

[3] Riddell, P., The Thatcher Decade, Blackwell, 1989, p. 7

[4] Riddell, P., The Thatcher Decade, p. 156

[5] Seldon, A., & Collings, D., Britain Under Thatcher, p. 14

[6] The Times, Thursday December 31, 1981, p. 8, Issue 61120

[7] The Spectator, 7th August 1982, p. 4

[8] The Economist, 1st– 7th  December 1979, p.27

[9] Holmes, M., The First Thatcher Government 1979-1983, Westview Press, 1985, p. 11

[10] Sked, A., & Cook, C., Post-War Britain (4th Edition), Penguin Books, 1993, p. 343

[11] Holmes, M., Thatcherism: Scope and Limits 1983-7, MacMillan, 1989, p. 38

[12] Holmes, M., Thatcherism: Scope and Limits 1983-7, p. 38

[13] Jones, B (ed)., Political Issues in Britain Today (4th Edition), Manchester University Press, 1994

[14] Sked, A., & Cook, C.,  Post-War Britain (4th Edition), p. 358

[15] The Economist, 8th– 14th December 1979, p.12

[16] Sked, A., & Cook, C.,  Post-War Britain (4th Edition), p. 358

[17] Sked, A., & Cook, C.,  Post-War Britain (4th Edition), p. 358

[18] Time Out, London Calling, Time Out Guides Limited, 2008, p. 76

[19] Time Out, London Calling, p. 76

[20] Hastings, M., & Jenkins, S., The Battle for the Falklands, Book Club Associates, 1983, p. 315

[21]Thatcher: The Making of Margaret, ITN, 2008

[22] Skidelsky, R (ed)., Thatcherism, Chatto & Windus, 1988, p.57

[23] Thatcher, M., The Downing Street Years, p. 579

[24] The Economist, 15th– 21at October 1983, p.23

[25] Seldon, A., & Collings, D., Britain Under Thatcher, Longman, 2000, p. 81

[26] Thatcher, M., The Path to Power, Harper Collins, 1995, p. 19

[27] Thatcher, M., The Path to Power, p. 11

[28] Heath, E., The Course of My Life, p. 563

[29] Hewitt, P., Paul Weller: The Changing Man, Bantam Press, 2007, p. 150

[30] Holmes, M., Thatcherism: Scope and Limits 1983-7, p. 7