The 1987 General Election was a watershed moment for this country. I was 11 at the time, and I remember that day like it was yesterday. It was a beautiful, bright sunny day. I was delivering business cards for a friend of the family, walking around a housing estate posting them through doors.
All day long people were talking about the election. I recall it vividly. I also recall watching the results on TV. It was the first election I ever sat and watched until I nodded off. I have never missed a major one since, in the UK or the US. I watch them avidly, sometimes morosely, or in the case of Obama’s first victory, in a mood of utter delirium.
Even then, I had a visceral understanding of who Margaret Thatcher was. I have always been an avid reader, and, at the time, I was devouring books about the Cold War and global politics.
I knew she’d taken a gigantic risk over the Falklands five years before, and it had paid off. I knew Labour’s policy was on unilateral nuclear disarmament, and as someone who’d had intermittent nightmares about the bomb since seeing Threads in 1985 (and I still do, to this day), I knew I would have voted for that had I been old enough to do so.
The Tories won, of course, but in Scotland their politics had been repudiated almost completely. That particular job was finished in 1997, when every Tory seat in Scotland was lost (I had the thrill of announcing that to a joyous Cathcart Labour Club about 2 minutes after the BBC broadcast it), but that was the night it began.
A year after the 1987 election, Margaret Thatcher came up here for the Scottish Cup Final, Celtic v Dundee Utd at Hampden. A sea of red cards greeted her. The message was loud and clear, from both sets of fans; you are not welcome here. Celtic triumphed that day thanks to Frank McAvennie’s late goals.
I was in the crowd, red card and all, and remember it like it was yesterday. It was another gorgeous summers day, and Hampden had never looked so fine. Celtic had completed the Centenary Double, and I thought it was going to be the start of a wonderful era.
I was wrong. When people ask me what I remember about growing up, I tell them I remember two things. I remember Rangers winning league titles, and the Tory Party winning General Elections. That was my childhood. Those were my teenage years. Labour was to be out of power for nine more years … the same length of time it would be before Celtic were, again, champions of Scotland. The passage of time between those years was awful almost beyond compare.
The year 1994 changed everything. That year, in a tragedy which still echoes down through time, the great John Smith died and he was replaced by Tony Blair. Labour’s opinion poll rating immediately leapt. In the same year, the Kelly/White dynasty was ousted at Parkhead and Fergus McCann took over our club. The Great Rebuilding began in the two organisations I loved most in the world. I’ve come to hate Blair almost as much as I hated Thatcher, but whilst he was at the helm of the Labour Party it was one of the most successful political machines in the world.
1997 was the watershed year for Labour. With a vast majority of 179, there was an opportunity to do things that would stand the test of time. Indeed, the radical changes which were in the manifesto, such as the creation of the Scottish Parliament and the National Minimum Wage, were worthy of any of the Labour Governments which had come before … but few who look back now can see the years 1997 – 2002 as anything other than a missed opportunity. Blair was obsessed almost from the first with winning the second term … and so the first term was more cautious than it needed to be. It was the great shining moment when progressive politics might have changed the country … and it was lost in everything that followed.
For Celtic, 1999 was a watershed year. That was the year of the Jorge Cadete transfer business, the year we uncovered institutional bias at the SFA, the year we got Jim Farry out. It was a big scalp at the time, a massive victory which shook the corridors of power, at what was then Park Gardens, to their foundations. We were re-asserting ourselves, and making it clear that there were no shrinking violets at Celtic Park. Fergus McCann was no mug, and didn’t suffer fools gladly.
The signing of Cadete, in 1996, was bold, ambitious and far-thinking. The striker had shown he had goals in him, enough goals, perhaps, to have turned the tide in our favour that year. The registration ban had kept him from playing in vital games, including a Scottish Cup tie against Rangers, and Fergus smelled a rat.
His legal action was unprecedented, and the SFA only brass-necked it so long (years) because they thought it was a bluff. But Fergus knew the truth of that old aphorism that you never draw a gun unless you intend to use it … and when it became clear he was going to take it all the way, and question people under oath, the SFA folded the hand. Farry resigned in disgrace. His reputation was destroyed, and his career ended.
Yet even in this victory, there was to be a bitter aftermath. Like the Labour landslide in 1997, the chance for root and branch reform, of lasting change, of a once in a generation transformation, was allowed to slip away. One man paid a price. Others kept their jobs, and a culture was allowed to go unchallenged. We’ve had much cause to regret it since.
Last year, Rangers Football Club spun from crisis to administration, then plunged into liquidation. The club, its history, its traditions and its credibility was annihilated. They died, only for a man named Charles Green to purchase the various bits, with other people’s money, in an effort to restore them to the top division.
The media seems determined to pretend that the club he owns is a direct continuation of the one which won 9 titles between the Thatcher Cup Final and the Labour landslide in 1997, but it’s simply not the case. The last 12 months has seen nothing less than a rewriting of history. The PR campaign on behalf of the new club has been relentless.
As everyone is well aware, Margaret Thatcher died this week, and a similar process is going on with her. The press and our chattering classes are lining up to pay her homage and tribute, and we are being encouraged to bottle whatever angst we have “out of respect” for her achievements. Where have we heard that before? Oh yes, we heard it with the aforementioned death of Rangers. Further, we are being asked to consider silence out of “respect for her family.” That too has echoes in the oft repeated “you have to feel bad for the Rangers fans” mantra so familiar to us from the media.
I suggest that if you know the history, tears will be in short supply.
Thatcher was a despicable human being. Abhorrent, arrogant, bigoted, racist and wilfully ignorant, she was a destroyer of communities, a warmonger and war criminal, vicious, disloyal, hubristic and spiteful to an almost unfathomable degree. She is widely lauded as having “transformed Britain”, but few who have heaped that accolade on her have stopped to consider whether or not it is really a compliment. It’s not. It’s her epitaph, the greatest condemnation we can heap on her.
Her every political act came at enormous cost to others, whether it was her economic policies or those which condemned people to die. She shamed the nation, and made us almost alone in the international community, in calling Nelson Mandela a terrorist whilst she waged undeclared war in the north of Ireland by turning the assassins of the SAS onto the streets with shoot-to-kill orders, and at the same time, her intelligence agencies colluded with Loyalist paramilitaries to murder innocent people, in some of the most atrocious events of the Troubles.
At the same time, she included amongst her friends Hussein, Mugabe and others. She was a devoted defender of Pinochet, right up to the day he died. When he was placed under house arrest, under the instruction of Jack Straw, in 2000, she was vociferous in protecting the standing of the tyrant. When he was sent home to die, she said “Senator Pinochet was a staunch friend of Britain throughout the Falklands war … the reputation of our courts has been tarnished and vast sums of public money have been squandered for a political vendetta.”
A political vendetta? Nothing at all to do with the thousands he had killed, the tens of thousands he had tortured, and the 200,000 he had displaced, in the aftermath of the coup de tat which brought down the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende?
Such were the people she called “friends.”
Margaret Thatcher’s death left behind a legacy of bitterness and hate which was the by-product of the kind of policies – and the kind of politics – she inflicted upon this nation. She was a deeply divisive and abhorrent figure, and far from being a national tragedy, her death should be celebrated as one that gives this country a chance to move on from her era.
If I had to describe her in a single word that word would be evil. She personified it in a human being. She encapsulated it perfectly.
I am not ashamed to admit I celebrated her death. Myself and my mate went out on the razzle and got well and truly guttered, in The Brazen Head, amidst party hats, streamers and jelly and ice cream. Every drink was named for one of her victims.
I haven’t felt that way since the Death of Rangers. And during that series of events, we were being bombarded by the same empty platitudes, the same demands to show respect, the same re-writing of history, the same appeals to ignorance. I rejected them then as I reject them now. All things come to an end, and certain of them should neither be missed nor mourned. Rangers was one. Thatcher was another. Re-write history all you want. The truth is the same.
Here’s the truth. The national disgraces that were Thatcherism and Rangers were truly appalling to behold, they were destructive and they were costly.
The cost of Thatcherism is measured in the towns and communities she devastated around this country. The damage she did is still being felt today, and its effects have not yet completely stopped reverberating through the economy. The sell-off of council houses destroyed the concept of social housing. The consequences of that are readily apparent in the news today, and have ushered in the “bedroom tax.”
Her impact on infrastructure was like an atom bomb. This country will still be paying that bill in 20 years. The social crisis she precipitated is even more clearly defined. She ushered in the presidential style top-down leadership which allowed this country to be heralded towards the Iraq conflict. The sell-off of the public utilities and the ensuing failure to compel them to invest in their own infrastructure projects leaves us facing an energy crisis unparalleled in our nation’s history, with consequences that are potentially too huge to quantify. The legacy of Thatcherism is of damage done to us all.
Rangers are in no small part responsible for the shocking state of the Scottish game. Their spend-thrift policies forced other clubs to pursue high debts. Their use of EBT’s increased the effect of that exponentially. Their undue influence over the processes of the game have brought scandal beneath the roofs of Park Gardens and Hampden. There was a time when every senior organisation of note in the Scottish game was run by Rangers men. That turned our entire footballing landscape into a one-party state. Policy decisions were assessed for the impact on the Ibrox club. They were allowed to wield almost unbelievable influence over how things were done.
It got so bad that not a single media commentator pointed out the gross irregularity in the hiring of Gordon Smith, running contrary to the stated “personal profile” of the “suitable candidate.” He got the job having gone on the record shortly before as believing the association had pursued an “anti-Rangers agenda” in the past, although he could not point out a single case where this had been demonstrated.
Shortly before his hiring, he had made a number of sectarian comments for a book that had been published, and he compounded this with further racist remarks whilst in office. He was, of course, the man who famously had to be asked, by Jim Traynor of all people, “what part of fuck the Pope do you not find offensive?” when he famously defended that chant live on the radio, in the week when Rangers was first prosecuted by UEFA over sectarian chanting.
Their influence over the media is, of course, the stuff of legend. They neutered large sections of the sporting press. They created “succulent lamb journalism”. They operated a sectarian signing policy for decades. They watched as a large section of their support morphed into a national disgrace, and far from nipping it in the bud, successive boardrooms actually rubber stamped it.
They hid behind phony displays of “tackling the problem”, but they allowed a grounds man to cut a Sash pattern on the pitch. They let the “green straw remover” do his thing. They took Eggs Benedict off the menu in case its presence offended some well-to-do bigot who might invest money. They forbade the St Johns Ambulance Staff to wear green jackets … and the list went on.
Everything from orange strips to the now annual bigot-fest with Linfield was fed to a support growing ever more insular and bitter, and this was complimented by wanton using of the armed forces and “Britishness” days. As the rest of the game was trying to become more inclusive they were telling their Catholic players not to make demonstrations of faith in case it upset the lunatic fringe they were forever pandering to. The club shrunk, until with crisis facing them they needed the rest of the world to be on their side. They found themselves, as all insular organisations and individuals do, with few, if any, friends.
How could we realistically be expected to mourn that? I could not pretend to be sad when they died, any more than I could have pretended to be sad this week when Thatcher finally left this world behind. I celebrated both events in much the same way, as triumphs, as the proof that no matter how much you’ve corrupted the world around you, that history remembers, and that the day of judgement finally comes.
Of all the lauded “achievements” of Thatcher, I struggle to find one of them that ought to be looked at as a source of pride. They were, in their own way, all viciously destructive. This is what separates the good from the bad in this world; some people build things whilst others break them. Some are capable of great creativity. Others can only destroy. I don’t think anyone in this country is in the slightest doubt which Thatcher was.
The achievements of Rangers have been talked up in the same way. Yet, many of their finest hours are shrouded in deep controversy. Their nine in a row was won on the back of enormous borrowed wealth. In short, it was the banks, and by virtue of what happened later, it was the taxpayer, who paid the price.
They won a European trophy on a night of shame, and were handed it in a dressing room whilst outside their fans dismantled the Nou Camp. They reached another European final and dismantled much of the city, in an episode which was made all the more shameful by the hand-wringing of the club and the excuses of the media.
Mourning? Respect for the history? I think not. Those “histories” will be presented in context somewhere down the line, and then they will be judged differently.
Of course, it’s not strictly kosher to say any of this right now. Condemnation rains down on those of us who chose not to hide under the bed, but stand up and confront the truth. On Thatcher we are condemned as haters (by those who preach hate on a daily basis, and stir the soup of resentment and anger against welfare claimants), as class warriors (by those waging class war like never before), as traitors, (to some notion of country which she certainly had no respect for) and as some kind of social lepers for daring to violate some societal convention (for stating that the world is better off without the evil old sod who denied society existed at all.)
It’s all cobblers. I will not have these moral hypocrites lecture me on anything.
Far worse are the calls to respect her family in their hour of grief, because that, frankly, is laughable. I would have more respect for them if they paid for the damned funeral themselves, as the rest of us would have to. I’d perhaps have some fraction of sympathy for them if they were, themselves, worth of respect, but, frankly, they’re no more worthy of that than she is.
We should hold our tongue out of respect for Carol Thatcher, should we? She who had a very public relationship with the later convicted Jonathon Aitken, who was sacked from the One Show for racist remarks, who greeted Argentine parents of soldiers lost in the Falklands War not with sympathy but with the words “We were fighting a war. We won. You lost.” Sympathy for this woman who now lives as a tax exile, sheltering the family wealth from prying eyes? Really?
And her brother .. Mark Thatcher. The playboy fantasist who was investigated for grand scale corruption over his business links in apartheid South Africa, and was later found guilty of taking part in an attempted coup-de-tat in Equatorial New Guinea?
Are the press having a laugh with that one, or what? These are the people we should be silent for “out of respect”?
Thatcher’s children lived their entire lives living off her name. Carol Thatcher might have reinvented herself as the darling of the London metropolitan elite, but she is no less a disgraced figure outside the beltway. Winning I’m A Celebrity does not a nice person make. How much of her trust fund over the years came from Big Tobacco or the arms industries her mother was shilling for all the way through her time in, and after, office?
Shame on anyone who uses them as a reason to stifle our views.
The same sorry nonsense has been trotted out painting the Rangers fans as the “innocent victims” of Craig Whyte. Forget their own chequered history, their own reprehensible behaviour, their own abhorrent views.
They are reason enough to laugh off this talk of innocent victims. Concentrate on the way they denied reality, slammed those who tried to tell the truth, painted those who were doing the digging into Whyte as “enemies of Rangers”.
All he had to do to get them onside was create his own enemies list and preach the languages of greed and hate. It was that simple. By such means, he took over and stayed there long after he should have been run out of town on a rail. I have no sympathy for them. Their club was destroyed by a man about whom they were well warned, and they chose to ignore those warnings out of their own sheer hate.
The ignorance was wilful. The bottom line is that they preferred the notion of being run by charlatans and crooks than they did of hearing the truth from people with Irish names. Shame on them for that, and for not learning the lessons.
There’s a lot of it going around. The lessons are the reason I started to write this piece. They are, as I said to my mate Jonny, the broader theme here.
The Tory Party failed to learn the lessons of Thatcherism. Her legacy and her policies destroyed them as a credible political force, and I firmly believe the moral vacuum at the heart of the Labour Party is the only reason why Ed Miliband and his team do not have a sizeable opinion poll lead, deep in the double digits, leaving no way back for Cameron and his yellow spine cohorts.
If they would show some courage, some shred of conviction, the Conservatives would be holding a leadership election by the turn of the year, and all the evidence points to them electing someone from the lunatic fringe who will estrange floating voters, further fracture the coalition and continue the downward spiral.
Every rightward lurch costs them votes. Every concession to the backbenchers breaks down the public’s trust. Yet inside the party, a peculiar myopia leads them to believe their failure to break through is a consequence of not being ring wing enough. The right wing media has clearly bought into the same fantasy.
At Rangers, the arrogance, ego, hubris and hate that led to them being left friendless when the chips were down, has been amped up to full in the year since. The club, and its supporters, has learned nothing from the past. They are displaying the same hateful practices in ever louder terms, and they have found, in Charles Green, a man who is playing to every paranoid fantasy and pandering to every low-down messenger of hate. His behaviour in recent weeks has been erratic and thoroughly ignorant. He has been caught telling blatant lies and making racist remarks, and is persisting with the former and has only apologised for the latter when faced with sanctions. He is the perfect spokesman for the appalling section of their support which refuses to move on, which refuses to accept blame, which refuses to engage with reality.
Let’s be honest about this; far from being the victims here, as their fans have alleged, Rangers were allowed to gain a license in contravention of the rules. The football authorities determined to find them a place in, first, the top tier and then, when this failed, in the second one. Those plans were shattered by the will of the supporters, and nothing but. The “governing bodies” talked about how the game needed the club at any cost. Any cost, including the integrity of the sport. It was no great surprise when the tribunal of Lord Nimmo Smith found Rangers guilty but concluded that no sporting advantage had been gained from EBT’s. The SFA made damned sure that was the only inference he could draw. The scandal stinks out the halls of Scottish Football.
The truth is; Rangers deserved even harsher punishment. Their crimes against the game are so vast as to defy belief. The day will come when they will be recognised as such.
Until then, we have to live with our certain knowledge, and a certain share of the blame. Because the Rangers fans are not the only ones who have failed to learn the lessons of history. Celtic, too, stand accused of not having done their homework, of refusing to learn from past mistakes, of not doing their damnedest to finish the job.
The Tony Blair governments, as stained in blood as they are over Iraq, are great examples of failure, of squandered opportunity, of letting an historical moment pass them by. Those governments either did not know or did not care what parties of the right always have, and have acted on over and over and over again; that re-election is less important than what you do with the time you are given. One term governments can transform countries more readily than those which go on and on until they become stale. The very definition of a stale government is one that has run out ideas, one that has become complacent, and ideological governments are never that.
The Labour government of 1945 knew it very well, and created the welfare state. Blair considers them a failure because they never won the fabled second term. He, like Thatcher, had three … but whereas she used every moment of every one of hers to pursue her own agenda, and left this country transformed, Blair’s own list of great changes, those which defined the time and changed the fabric of the nation, ends with those I listed earlier. Much of the rest was a continuation of what Thatcher began, and the rest of his legacy lies in his wars. He was, in short, something of a coward, and a slave to changing trends. Thatcher spent her every waking moment battling against the wind, and that’s why so many speak of her as a “conviction politician.”
I despised her, but she had a single mindedness Blair could never have mustered. Her ideology was hateful, but she pursued it with a vigour no leader of the left ever has. She did not care about opinion polls, or popular support.
She knew what she wanted to do, knew the historical opportunity might not come around again, and she set about tearing down all the structures with which she did not agree. Most notably, she provoked the trade unions and then set about dismantling them, and she did not care that it caused carnage across the country.
As her political philosophy grew, so did her boldness and she was even more determined that her second term should be radical, and it was. The country has still not recovered from what she very deliberately wrought during that time.
The Murray years were no less transformative, and their ultimate goal was nothing less than scaling the heights we did in 1967. Murray believed it could be done, and set about spending the money to make it happen. He was ably assisted by a bank which was in the throes of the very “greed is good” wave ushered in during the Reagan – Thatcher years. Their profligacy, especially in Scotland, fuelled a number of football “bubbles” in an echo of boom and bust. Livingston, Dundee, Motherwell, Hibs, Gretna and others fell victim to hubris and overspending, but it would have been impossible without the connivance of people inside the bank itself. That same vicious cycle eventually led to the undoing of Rangers and has put Hearts and Dunfermline on the brink.
The scale of the bank’s involvement in what has happened to the Scottish game is a tale for another day, but it is worth noting that the same people who were ready to close Celtic over £9 million eventually let Murray run up a deficit nearly ten times that, and allowed Dunfermline to amass a £12 million debt with a fraction of our club’s turnover.
Fergus McCann snatched our club back from that fate, and one of his first acts as chairman was to move the club’s banking facilities elsewhere. The bank that was funding Murray’s crazy spending had been ready to close us down.
The lesson was not lost on the man from Canada.
Other lessons were. During the Cadete scandal, Fergus identified a number of other officials within the SFA who he believed were equally culpable. In the end, he and Celtic settled for the head of Jim Farry, instead of finishing the job. Those men were allowed to stay in post. One of them, George Peat, went on to become SFA President, and was the man who would have willingly sacrificed sporting integrity to grant Rangers a second league extension in 2008, and offered to change the date of the Scottish Cup final without consulting Queen of the South. In 2011, he attacked Celtic for questioning the SFA’s role in the on-going persecution of Neil Lennon, criticising us as being “tiresome”. This was only months after Hugh Dallas had to be sacked for sending a sectarian email on his official SFA account, and another referee was found to have told Neil Lennon lies.
Celtic came to regret not having removed Peat at the time we removed Farry. It was not the only failure to act in that case.
A man called Alexander Bryson was the Head of Registrations at the time, and he would certainly have played a role in the Cadete affair. Had Celtic been relentless in their pursuit of justice, his head would have joined Farry’s and Peat’s on a spike outside Celtic Park, but he too was allowed to remain in office, and the consequences of that reverberated down the years when he provided the SFA’s official “explanation” for how a decade of EBT use at Rangers could slip through the cracks, and was not itself a breach of the rules.
We paid a high price for not finishing the job off, for not grasping the historical opportunity, and we compounded that failure, in spades, in our cowardly response to the EBT verdict, instead of taking our case for compensation to the Court of Arbitration in Sport.
This is a failure to act which could haunt this club forevermore, a chance to settle, once and for all, the issues surrounding the scandal of EBT use, and a final opportunity to settle age old debts. A guilty verdict at CAS would have seen the overdue rolling of heads at Hampden … and was worth pursuing for that reason alone, if for no other. Once again, a chance for real change has been lost, and the people who made that decision will stand condemned by history for that failure.
The Conservative Party has survived the wreckage of Thatcherism because the Radical Century we were promised by Blair never came to pass. They govern now with the craven consent of a Lib Dem party stripped of principle and revealed as naked fanatics moved only be the promise of power. In keeping with the traditions of the right, they are not concerned with re-election, only with getting the job done in one awful term of office.
The destruction they are wrecking will, in many ways, put that of Thatcher’s governments in the shade. The welfare state and the NHS, established by the last radical Labour government of the last 100 years, and which endured Thatcherism’s most vicious assaults, may be largely dismantled by the time Cameron and Clegg are dispatched in 2015, and the dream of a progressive Britain at the heart of Europe with them.
Likewise, the essence of Rangers has survived the grave. The club might have died, but something lives on, playing in the same jerseys, with the same badge and bearing the same name. This phoenix version, born of shame and disgrace, built on dodgy foundations and by questionable means, is emerging as an even more spiteful, hateful organisation than what came before.
They are ruled by a man even more hubristic than Murray, a man who heaps dishonour on the whole of Scottish football every time he opens his mouth, and who’s conduct threatens the restructuring of the game in a meaningful form. The damage this “new Rangers” can do will not be limited to what goes on inside Ibrox. The very manner in which they presently exist threatens our national sport.
This weekend, Celtic again plays Dundee United at Hampden. My friend Jonny Garner suggested it might be wise to once again give Margaret Thatcher the red card, in a display of just how loathed she is up here, and exactly how we all feel about her death.
I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment. The quirk of fate amuses me. The idea is a touch of class. It is one opportunity we should not lose.
Tonight, the Conservative Party is dominating the headlines, having hijacked Parliament for a display of naked ideological rabble rousing. The funeral of Thatcher is being made into a “national event”, but one which will leave this nation deeply embarrassed in years to come, turned, as it is, into a shocking, jingoistic display of triumphalism in war, with its scandalous “Falkland’s theme.”
It is an appalling indictment of that party – and the woman it “honours” – that her supporters should see nothing wrong in paying tribute to her in this staggeringly loathsome way. I believe this is how she’d have wanted it though, and that is all the more reason why I’ll be at a very different ceremony, with a very different mood, on that hateful day of shame.
Tonight, as it’s confirmed that Charles Green will face investigation from the SFA into his links with Craig Whyte, as well as a disciplinary case for making racist remarks, on the day raids were carried out by police in connection with Craig Whyte’s takeover of the club, as rumours continue to grow about coming probes into his later “sale” to the aforementioned Green, it is instructive to note that the team itself is playing Linfield, in what is being billed a “friendly” but is, in fact, a naked 90 minute bigots beano, a truly embarrassing display of everything that was wrong with the club which died and which threatens to define the one which has risen in its place.
Such are the things we are being asked to mourn, and to which we are expected to show respect. But if you know the history, the only sympathy I’d be moved to have is sympathy for the Devil, who now has a tenant every bit as ambitious and cruel as he is himself.
If it comes to paying respect, I will reserve it for those who’ve paid the highest price. For the real victims.
Thatcher, and Rangers, are gone. May they never rest in peace.
Tramp the dirt down.