It’s difficult to defend Margaret Thatcher after you’ve browsed through an extended list of the wrongs [more here] she is accused of committing during office. Especially when one is inclined to believe some of the allegations tossed about in her name. While there are hints of malicious vengeance, grossly inflated accusations and arguably overstated faults, there are quite a few which hold their own. And which appear to be supported by apolitical, clear and explicit evidence.
Thatcher had been in office for little over two years by the time I was born, and so I have no grand first hand memories of the early days of her era. However, what I do remember –later on in life – is reading the newspaper accounts of her hard-fisted and uncompromising do-as-i-say-or-get-lost resolute leadership style; cut-outs from Time Magazine and Newsweek (both of which my mother subscribed to), which depicted Thatcher as a strong and unwavering leader, quashing several riots at home, defeating the unions, rising above the misogynistic era of the day, winning three elections, and defeating Argentina in an imperialist war. I remember as a small boy listening to banter between my mother and other ‘adults’ around the house regarding her premiership, especially the excitement generated during discussions in my living room. The radio would be on, and an account of proceedings in the house of commons would be played by the BBC world Service. In the presence of visitors this was perfect fodder for political or historical banter. Admittedly, my mother – a single mother of two – adored the “Iron Lady”, I suspect because of the whole hoo-hah over breaking the ceiling of achievement for women, and possibly because she became a leader in a world that was very much male dominated; when she was least expected to. But I also know that my mother didn’t know much else about Thatcher. She didn’t for example know that Thatcher had been a grocer’s daughter who studied Chemistry at Oxford and later became a barrister. I’m also certain that she knew nothing of these less than admirable antics Thatcher apparently was involved in, in Africa. Which, when I do get to show her, will inevitably cloud her early admiration of the Iron Lady.
Watching the big questions last sunday, an outsider would be forgiven for erroneously thinking Thatcher had been a communist dictator who thrived on quashing dissent, drove her subjects to abject poverty using high taxation, pushed policies that favoured the very rich through parliament and sent political prisoners to gulags. I found myself in those rare but sober situations of indecision where I couldn’t make up my mind as to what I thought the legacy of Thatcherism would be, other than that there were as many people who disliked her as there were that worshipped her. Good leader or bad leader, Angel or Evil witch …Saint or Sinner… I’ll just toss a coin!
On a serious note, just two days ago, I walked into a hobby store in Nottingham, and found 3 men – including one who I assumed is the shop keeper who was standing behind the counter – immersed in discussion over Thatcher’s death. The Shop keeper claimed that “His father worked in the coal mines, so his position on Thatcher is absolute, she destroyed people’s lives and he remembered how hard his family life became after his father lost his job.” He then went on to give the example of Ian Duncan Smith’s £53 a week story, saying “It’s people who don’t know what the rest of us live like entrusted to make silly laws and policies that don’t work in our world, the real world that is the problem.”
While it is probably a hard thing for those who were born with privilege, or in affluent families to fully grasp the suffering and hardship Thatcher’s actions caused to hundreds of thousands of families, others, such as the Bradford West MP George Galloway have not spared them this consideration, and have been a lot more scathing.
However, I was quite surprised of the numbers of people who were said to have turned up for the parties to celebrate Thatcher’s death. Most of the TV news channels talked of hundreds of thousands who gathered in London and Glasgow last Saturday to celebrate her passing. Now, that’s a lot of people celebrating the death of someone they didn’t like. It brings to mind pictures of mobs pulling down Saddam Husseins’ statue. Surely, while there is something known as freedom of expression, and while it is true that many people experienced untold hardship as a result of her government’s policies, celebrating the death of a person, other than a Stalinist, Nazist, murderous, holocaust perpetrator or other cruel inhumane sort, with joyous gatherings and Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead hijacking the charts couldn’t possibly be entirely right? Or is it right?
There’s got to be something good that Thatcher did for both rich and poor alike, that has contributed to Britain’s relative prosperity in the world today? Whether that something is good enough for someone who ruled Britain for 11 years, and whose family probably directly benefitted from some of her policies (for example towards South Africa) is an entirely different question.