Since visiting the Southbank Centre for the Changing Britain Festival on Saturday (you can read about my day here: Changing Britain ) I have been thinking a lot about Margaret Thatcher. I’ve been pondering my relationship with Margaret Thatcher. It has been a fun few days!
Everyone has such strong views about Margaret Thatcher. These days, few people will admit to liking her or to supporting her policies. It is very difficult not to be influenced by the views of others. I also struggle because I want to like Margaret Thatcher. She was after all a great female figure on the political landscape. She rose to the pinnacle of power, and proved very clearly that she could exercise that power more confidently than any man. Surely she deserves our respect for that. She should be a feminist role model, an icon. Right? When it comes to my relationship with Margaret Thatcher, somehow I feel let down.
So, in a bid to be objective, and to look at the positive side of Margaret Thatcher, I made a list of her positive attributes whilst on the train today:
She was about conviction not spin.
Thatcher was a Prime Minister who the Press could have a conversation with without a political advisor or civil servant advising her what to say. There is no way that Margaret Thatcher would have allowed her political advisor to dictate what she said to a journalist. I am not convinced that you could say the same of our current breed of politicians. They play to the Press and their messages are controlled.
She was a great figure on the political landscape.
We speak about Thatcherism. The ‘ism’ deserves recognition. I don’t know that I have heard the term ‘Cameronism’ and I doubt that we ever will.
She was a great influencer and leader.
She held her own, influenced, some might say manipulated, the male political elite both in the UK and abroad. She earned her influence and leadership by working twice as hard as her male competition and being twice as good. She earned the respect of every one of her counterparts in the Western world and beyond.
Ok, so three big positive attributes. I think I did well. Then I’m afraid I got distracted by all the things that she was responsible for which I think are really negative. The negatives define my relationship with Margaret Thatcher. I am not going to examine her every policy so in pursuit of balance, I will limit myself to three:
She had no empathy with, or sympathy for, society’s ‘losers’.
Benefits were cut and the safety net was taken away. Thatcher changed the nature of Britain promoting individualism and greed. She taught us to tolerate greed as a means of self-advancement. This had terrible consequences – the child poverty rate rose sharply to about 30% by the time she left office.
Her social conservatism made things worse for women.
She believed that Victorian family values were the way to improve society. She believed that conventional marriage and a nuclear family were the building blocks for successful society and a healthy economy. Speaking of single mothers she told an audience in the Commonwealth Convention Centre in Louisville: “It is far better to put these children in the hands of a very good religious organisation, and the mother as well, so that they will be brought up with family values.” You can read about Thatcher in Louisville here. As a single mother who does not believe in God (see The Truth About my Religion) this makes my blood boil.
She destroyed communities.
Her drive for privatisation and profit forced many factories, mines and industries to shut. The unemployment rate in some small communities, which relied wholly on the mine or factory for employment, rose to over 50%. She also said that “if a man will not work, he shall not eat.” Nice!
Feminist icon or misogynist? What’s your relationship with Margaret Thatcher?