There was a telling line in a Dominion Post article this week about Victoria University English professor and poet Harry Ricketts. He told reporter Diana Dekker that he had left England for New Zealand in 1981 when Margaret Thatcher was in power. He didn’t want his children growing up there.It’s funny how this obsession with Thatcher is still fashionable in certain circles 30 years down the track. It’s regularly trotted out by Brits of a certain age as proof of their socialist credentials.
I’m no admirer of Thatcher, but the inconvenient truth is that Britain was on its knees when she came to power after years of weak, ineffectual Labour government. Its economy was moribund, its people were demoralised and its industries were in the grip of thuggish trade unions. Thatcher rescued the country from irrelevancy and gave the British a reason to be confident again.Nonetheless, an enduring hate industry – films, books, television dramas, journalism – sprang up, based on the premise that she was a ruthless oppressor of the working class and an agent of greedy, heartless capitalists.
If you ask me, by far the worst consequence of Thatcherism is that it encouraged droves of sad-arsed, disaffected lefties to flee Britain and take refuge in countries like New Zealand. Many ended up in academia, where they were of course welcomed with open arms. And decades later, they’re still bleeding (or bleating - take your pick).The Dom Post article included a poem from Ricketts’ latest collection which includes the couplet: “Wellington is a city that’s dying,” says the man with cold snapper eyes – an obvious reference to John Key. We can assume from this that he’s probably no more a fan of Key than he was of Thatcher.
Ricketts of course is entitled to think Thatcherism destroyed Britain – even if it means remaining in denial of all the evidence to the contrary – and that Key is as cold-blooded as a fish. But it’s all so drearily predictable. The needle has been stuck in the same groove for the past 30 years, just as it is with New Zealand lefties who still rail impotently about Rogernomics.The encouraging thing is that no one is listening, beyond the narrow, incestuous circle of inner-suburban lefties who attend poetry readings and buy Landfall and Sport. They’re talking to themselves while the world moves on around them.
I think W H Auden had it about right:For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper …