Margaret Thatcher’s Musical Legacy: 5 Iron Lady Protest Songs
Margaret Thatcher has died at 87, and while Diffuser.fm doesn’t typically report on such things, Britain’s “Iron Lady” exerted tremendous influence over rock and pop music in the 1980s. From 1979, when she became Britain’s first female Prime Minister, through 1990, when she stepped down, the Conservative Party stalwart inspired countless left-leaning artists in all genres — everything from radical punk to Top of the Pops pap — to comment on policies seen as racist, regressive, and, depending on your point of view, Reagan-like. We’ll reserve political judgment, yanks that we are, but to celebrate Thatcher’s musical legacy, we look back at five of the most affecting protest songs her reign made possible.
‘Stand Down Margaret’
With lines like “Our lives seem petty in your gold grey hands” and “Would you ever give a damn, I doubt it,” the lyrics to this English Beat anti-Thatcher jam pretty much say it all. It all leads up to the classic chorus: “Everybody shout it/ Stand down Margaret!”
‘One in Ten’
Written in response to the economic downturn experienced during Thatcher’s reign — rising unemployment and economic inequality, plunging standard of living — UB40 sang of the seemingly soulless reaction the prime minister had by treating citizens as nothing more than “number(s) on a list” and “statistical reminder(s) of a world that doesn’t care.” Ouch!
Elvis Costello added lyrics to this song originally penned by producer Clive Langer during the Falklands war, the early-’80s conflict between Argentina and Britain that ultimately bolstered Thatcher’s government after a decisive victory. Costello sings about the juxtaposition between the economic gain that shipbuilding for the war machine brought to areas hard hit by recession and the fate of young men from the same areas shipped off to fight in the Falklands.
‘Margaret on the Guillotine’
“The kind people/ Have a wonderful dream/ Margaret on the guillotine,” Morrissey sings on, well, ‘Margaret on the Guillotine,’ a song that came out after Thatcher had won a third term and left-leaning artist types were beyond fed up with her. Those lyrics pretty much sum up the song’s sentiment; we’re not ones to desecrate the dead, but it’s safe to say that a certain former Smiths singer is cracking a rare smile today.
The Specials’ biggest hit was also their most timely; when ‘Ghost Town’ dropped in the summer of 1981, riots were on the erupting across the U.K., adding to the impact the protest anthem had. The song addressed pressing social issues like urban decay, unemployment and violence in inner cities, with the band’s hometown of Coventry used as a symbol of widespread discontent. The day after the riots broke out, ‘Ghost Town’ hit No. 1.