The Five Best Songs Protesting Margaret Thatcher's Policies

Manic Street Preachers: Forged in Thatcher's Britain
Manic Street Preachers: Forged in Thatcher's Britain

Update: Judy Garland's "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead" is forecast to be #1 on the British charts on Sunday, the day the official charts are released. I'm not even shitting you. This means that it will end up being played on Radio 1's Sunday Chart Show. Radio 1 is a Government-owned broadcaster. Can you imagine the clusterwhoops going on in the right-wing media at the moment? It's magnificent. The UK is the only country with a sense of humour dry enough to have something like this happen.

Original post follows...

Undoubtedly the most divisive leader in the recent history of the UK, Margaret Thatcher's death today has been greeted by the same polarized reaction that characterized her time in office. As a Brit who spent eight years living in the area of the UK most destroyed by Thatcherite politics, South Wales, my entire Facebook feed is rejoicing. This reaction might be strange to some, but the after-effects of her policies in the 1980s are still writ large over many, many downtrodden communities.

This is, of course, not a politics blog, but it's worth taking a few moments to highlight the incredible artistic response to Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government in the 1980s. While any right-wing government is always the target of opprobrium from the artistically-inclined left, such a polarizing government created a huge wave of artistic expression and permanently politicized a generation. Because I'm not into songs directly about Thatcher on today of all days, here are some of the great songs of the 1980s protesting the dire conditions facing working class and inner-city areas.

5. Style Council -- "A Stone's Throw Away"

Paul Weller of the Style Council, but more famously of The Jam, was a major figure in 1980s musical protests along with Bragg. Both of them formed a tour called "The Red Wedge," which unsuccessfully promoted the election of the Labour government in 1987 as a method of fixing the problems the Conservative government of Thatcher had caused. This song depicts the clashes between police and the striking miners at the pits in South Yorkshire, after the anti-closure protests turned extremely ugly. "Whenever honesty persists, you'll hear the snap of broken ribs."

4. Billy Bragg -- "Between the Wars"

A song protesting about the systematic destruction of the "cradle to grave" ideal of care that the British welfare state was founded on in the era of world wars, all you need from this protest anthem are the incredibly powerful lyrics "Call up the craftsmen/Bring me the draughtsmen/Build me a path from cradle to grave/and I'll give my consent/To any government/That does not deny a man a living wage." Bragg built a career on this kind of protest song.

Daddy, What Did You do in The Strike? by Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger on Grooveshark 3. Ewan MacColl -- "Daddy, What Did You Do In The Strike" Arguably the main policy of Thatcher's that crippled working class towns and cities in relatively rural areas of the UK was the mine closures. Thatcher decided to close twenty coal mining pits in 1984 which were "uneconomic," but in doing so she destroyed entire towns based around the mining industry, a lot of which are still not even close to recovering from the welfare state dependency that was directly caused by the closures. This song from the height of the protests, by the famed activist (and father of Kirsty MacColl) expresses the solidarity between the affected workers and importance of the strikes that greeted the pit closures.  

2. The Specials -- "Ghost Town"

A song about "somewhere in England that we'll call Coventry," this is about the extreme social deprivation felt by inner cities in the UK in the early 1980s. Its release coincided with the Brixton Riots of 1981, and the band were inspired to write it in 1980 after seeing people in the streets of Glasgow selling their possessions. The line "Government leaving the youth on the shelf" became a rallying cry.

1. Manic Street Preachers -- "NatWest - Barclays - Midlands - Lloyds"

Coming two years after the end of Thatcher's reign during the premiership of her Conservative successor John Major, this song, named after the four major British banks of the era, decries the unleashing of the free market during the period of Reaganomics that Thatcher shared in with a chorus of "Death sanitized by credit." It does so with the benefit of 1990s hindsight, and is all the more powerful for that. The effects of the cult of materialism are bemoaned with lyrics like "The more you own the more you are/lonelier with cheap desire."

Keep up with DC9 at Night on Twitter or Facebook.

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >