Margaret Thatcher is dead - now the inquest must begin on her life and influence
She changed everything, and for millions it was change for the worse.
There was nothing like her before, and there has been nothing like her since. Thank God.
Margaret Thatcher's death is mourned by half the nation, and celebrated by the other half. Never can there have been such a divisive figure in British public life.
A Great Maggie Myth has grown up in the two decades since she was forced - in tears - out of Downing Street by her own Cabinet colleagues. Those pygmies were not worthy of her, goes the script. She bestrode politics like a Boadicean colossus. What a woman! What a ruler! What a Brit! What a warrior!
And it has become fashionable to offer unthinking praise at the altar of this myth.
Every premier since she was in power has invited her back to Number Ten for advice and a photo-shoot. Every Tory MP worships "the blessed Margaret."
She is the only Prime Minister to have a statue in the House of Commons while still alive.
She is the heroine of endless TV and motion picture films, a legend in her own lifetime.
But now that the Iron Lady - so called by a Russian Communist leader, remember - has passed away , we can, and must, begin the necessary inquest into her life and influence.
Former British Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher (L) waves as she stands with British Prime Minister, David Cameron Cameron is the son of Thatcher Getty
You don't have to look far for the evidence. It is all about us.
She decimated our basic industries of coal and steel. Shipbuilding virtually disappeared, along with much of heavy engineering. She tried to destroy our free trade unions through repressive legislation, and damn well near succeeded.
She branded miners fighting for their jobs and communities as "the enemy within", a foul slur on decent working people and their families for which she will never be forgiven.
She made mass unemployment respectable, and used it as a tool of government. The dole queues were "a price worth paying" under her regime - once described as "an elected dictatorship" by one of her own ministers.
She created a new underclass of jobless men, took away their status as breadwinner in the home and forced millions of women back into the workplace so that families could make ends meet. If she was a women's champion, I am Meryl Streep.
She sold our basic utilities - gas, water, electricity and telephones - and prices soared. She flogged off the buses and railways, and fares went through the roof.
She sold off the council houses and built no new ones, so there are now more than two million families on housing waiting lists.
She enthroned the profit motive, and unleashed the spivs and speculators in the City of London. She surrendered economic policy to the mysterious dark forces of "the market", which led UK plc into one recession after another that led to the mess where we are today.
She imposed the hated poll tax on the nation, first in Scotland where she made the Tories unelectable for more than a generation. She then thrust it down the throats of the English, prompting the worst riots in London since the disturbances of the early eighties.
She took us into war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands , when her popularity ratings were rock bottom, to save an isolated British colony - and her own political face.
On the back of that operation, she won a cynical landslide in the "khaki election" of 1983.
Her enthusiasm for war initiated a new era of British militarism that has yet to run its course.
She hated Europe, shouting "No, No, No!" at every opportunity and made Conservatives think and behave like Little Englanders.
She took the UK to the sterile margins of the European Union, but in the end the issue did for her premiership.
As it may well do for her greatest fan, Dodgy Dave Cameron.
Yet she took Britain into the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in her last year in power at too high a rate of exchange, leading to our humiliating withdrawal on "Black Monday" two years later after the loss of billions of the nation's reserves.
She tied the nation's international policy like a tin can to the tail of the attack dog in the White House, President Ronald Reagan, backing his outlandish "Star Wars" system, which came to nothing.
She flirted obscenely with the racist apartheid regime in South Africa, opposing UN sanctions and dismissing Nelson Mandela as a commie terrorist. She opposed the reunification of Germany.
In Northern Ireland, she sanctioned a dirty war against Republicans, faced down hunger strikers so that 10 of them died, and delayed the onset of the Peace Process that could have come earlier but had to await the arrival of her successor, John Major, who initiated secret talks with the IRA.
She did her level best to wipe the Labour Party off the face of the political map, and only failed because the British people wouldn't stand for it.
She derided Michael Foot, a man with more decency in his little finger than she had in her whole body.
And, let us not forget, she started it all many years earlier in the 1970's by stealing the school milk from children in her first Cabinet post as Education Secretary to Prime Minister Edward Heath. She saw him off, too.
Now that she's gone, it's fashionable to say that "whatever you think of Maggie, at least you have to admire her for sticking to her guns".
I repudiate this modish claptrap. Look where she pointed those guns - at those who couldn't defend themselves, their jobs and their way of life.
The pitmen, the steel workers, the rail employees, the hundreds of thousands of employees in state sector business thrown on the scrapheap in the name of privatised profits.
Businesses now - like water and electricity - largely in the hands of foreign owners ripping off the British consumer.
I lived through the Thatcher years as a London-based journalist for The Times and The Observer, when I reported on all the major industrial, political and social upheavals of her rule.
I do not look back on those times through the rose-tinted spectacles of her admirers. I remember instead the young lads throwing themselves off the Tyne bridges in Newcastle because they had no work.
I remember instead the despair in the inner cities that triggered riots, the hopelessness of the industrial communities devastated by her policies, and the social alienation caused by her "me first" selfish individualism.
And I reflect today on the social and cultural impact of her long rule, a decade that subverted the British way of life vastly more effectively than any of her imagined "enemies within".
Her baleful political influence spread far beyond her own party. It infected Labour, creating a generation of leaders who largely accepted the Thatcher legacy and built on it.
So, even after she blubbed her way out of Downing Street in November 1990, her domination of public life continued.
It is still with us today, in the cuts strategy of the Tory-led government and its relentless attacks on women, working people and the poor.
Thatcher may be gone, but Thatcherism flourishes.
Labour has still not disowned her baleful inheritance. Now would be a very good time to start, when she can no longer be wheeled out like a ghastly spectre of yesteryear.
And if anyone is inclined to remind me that one should not speak ill of the dead, let me remind them that she had nothing good to say about us while she was alive.
Any man over 25 who travelled by bus was a failure, she once remarked, dismissing at a stroke working people who have to use her privatised public transport today.
That was classic Thatcher, from a woman who famously said "Home is where you come to when you have nothing better to do."
How many homes felt the lash of her "winner takes all" view of the world, I wonder?
It all seems a long time ago, and they say the past is another country. But it wasn't. It was right here, and my generation had to live with it.
Those coming after us, particularly today's jobless young people and students crushed under a burden of debt, should know how this commercialisation of our way of life came about.
It began with Margaret Hilda Roberts , born into a grocer's family in 1925 in Grantham, who never saw beyond the bottom line and turned the nation into a cash-cowed society.
Rest In Profit, Iron Lady.