I wasn’t going to bother talking about Thatcher. As my mother always used to say, “Least said – soonest mended!” However I am now breaking my self-imposed abstinence on the subject because of my absolute disgust at the Military honours she is being accorded at her funeral at the cost of £10 million to see off a former Prime Minister is appalling in these straitened times. £10 million to commemorate a woman who was deeply divisive and left great scars in our Country would always be too much.
So let’s look first at the strong points of Thatcher. She was the first and indeed currently the only woman PM that we have had – tick. She was a strong Leader who put backbone into her Cabinet – tick. She was a conviction politician. – No resorting to focus groups for her – tick. She took on trades unions that were at the time over mighty – tick. She realised the need to rationalise some rust belt industries that were going nowhere – tick.
BUT all those are effectively negated by one simple statement that she herself made – “There is no such thing as society”.
So let us look at Thatcher the reality. She was elected at the end of a period of chaotic Labour rule when almost anyone who was Tory Leader would have got in. She proposed something called monetary policy. If you don’t know what that is do not be concerned neither did she. It was dropped as meaningless mumbo-jumbo after a few months. Indeed if it was not for the Falklands she would have been a one term wonder. The polls were so heavily set against her that she could not have recovered but then a major mistake that she made enabled her to shine through.
The Falkland’s war was a direct Tory error – Sir John Nott her Foreign Secreatary resigned to make atonement for it. Ambivalent messages about our support for the Islands and the withdrawal of some naval activities made some desperate and loathsome people in Argentina think that no-one would care if they invaded. They duly did and Thatcher did what any British PM would have done – she resolutely went to war to defend the principle of self-determination. Others would have done it but to the victor the spoils.
Her re-election on a declining share of the vote was partly made possible by the rise of the SDP and the writing of the longest suicide note in history – the Labour manifesto for the 1983 General Election.
Renewed by her election victory she began to take on what she perceived to be vested interests. As a liberal I supported some of her aims. The old rust belt industries did not have a future in the way that they were then configurated. But we still need power, we still needed coal and we still needed telecommunications. It was the way that she went about promoting change that was so very, very wrong. Her bellicose nature had been reinforced by her self-view as a ‘war time PM’. The language became that of taking on and not working with. Those with different views were seen as a quasi-Argentinian enemy that could be crushed not changed.
Many of the social problems which we face today arose during her ‘reign’ because of her view on society. Entire communities saw their employment destroyed. Men who were un-skilled or who were highly skilled in a skill that was no longer required were left with no future; neither did their families have one; neither did subsequent generations as all that replaced the hard often dangerous jobs which brought in good money was unskilled or semi-skilled jobs at very low wages.
In the end her policies turned in on themselves. The poll tax was seen by so many people to be so unfair that her own Party deposed her. Indeed some of the people who are today eulogising her had a hand in her defeat within the parliamentary Tory party. It took a quiet man – a compromiser in the form of John Major to win another term that would have surely been denied to her.
So what would she have made of today’s furore about protests at funerals and what song tops the charts? My guess she would be thinking, “bring it on!” As someone who thrived on confrontation she would relish being the centre of such bitter argument and such high flown polemics.
My wish for the Iron Lady? “May She Rust In peace” and quickly be forgotten.