Monday, 8 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher dies: Britain's only woman Prime Minister so far

Moved to post twice in one day! Not because of grief at Margaret Thatcher's death, certainly not; but because this was a woman who presided over an important part of my life, from 1979 to 1990, from age 27 to age 38.

The years in which my career blossomed, then faltered, then recovered. The years in which I got married, tried my hand at being a house-owning parent, and then discovered what a failing marriage was like.

She shaped many people's lives. The ones who could take advantage of her policies did very well, and they and their children will be toasting her memory tonight over dinner. The ones who couldn't, whose industries were transformed or disappeared, who were cast aside or ignored, who saw their unions defeated and their communities wither, they will be saying instead 'good riddance' without regret, and muttering bitterly into their beer.

I watched David Cameron give his speech outside 10 Downing Street on tonight's early-evening news. He has never made any secret of his admiration for Lady Thatcher. He delivered a speech which made his regard obvious. And why not? She showed how bold, determined leadership might overcome any difficulty, inspire the highest loyalty, make foreign presidents fawn, and win General Elections. Mr Cameron does his best to be like her, but he knows that people will not stand for her intransigent style nowadays. Concensus politics has come back into fashion, even if it doesn't work terribly well.

Do I admire her? Now that's not an easy question. I approved of the following things at the time:

# Her vigour and determination.
# Her decision-making abilities, and keenness for radical policies.
# Her patriotism.
# Her wish to give people a chance of personal success through hard work and innovation.
# The fact that she was, after all, the first Prime Minister who was also a woman.

I did not like these things, which I thought were errors:

# Her irritating and at times lecturing (and even hectoring) voice.
# The way her Cabinet seemed more and more to resemble a court, in which she presided over tame yes-men.
# Her excessive self-belief, which seemed to steamroller all opposition to her pet ideas.  
# Her gradual detachment from a wider view, from grass-roots feeling; a classic mistake that led to her downfall.

I understood very well the rationale behind bribing the electorate with house ownership, share ownership, and cash rewards. It made many desert the outflanked unions and look instead at what they could do for themselves. In short, it made many people rather selfish. It paved the way for excess. And then there was the thing called 'Tory Sleaze', when, released from the old constraints, individuals in powerful positions behaved as if laws and ordinary ethics did not apply to them. The Thatcher Way did nothing to elevate moral standards.

And to pay for the tax cuts, the bribes, her government squandered North Sea oil revenues. It should have been put by for the future. I know that's a very simplistic view of events, but I believe it's true.

But all that's history. And whatever her legacy for the country, and for its present political leaders of all shades, I still come back to the remarkable fact that Margaret Thatcher was a woman, a woman who got the Top Job in British politics, and then held on to it for a very long time. Why haven't other women done the same? There have been some very robust and talented female politicians since 1990. But none of them have become Prime Minister. Is it because they have been deliberately blocked, or is it because none of them have had the vision and will to lead the country?

Would people want a female Prime Minister again? She need not be at all like Margaret Thatcher. But has Maggie spoiled the game for any successor? I do hope not. 

2 comments:

  1. She did it her way is about all I can say.

    Shirley Anne x

    ReplyDelete
  2. thank you for sharing this. if i hadn't checked in on your blog today i wouldn't have known about her passing since i rarely watch the evening news due to the fact that it is usually depressing and somewhat scary.

    ReplyDelete

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