The lady with balls of steel, who was not for turning, the country’s longest serving Prime Minister, who established her own ism Margaret Thatcher has passed over. Both tributes as well as criticism have filled cyber space and other media. In my Hood people gathered to celebrate her passing. I don’t find a celebratory mood when someone dies very appropriate, but I guess it is a strong indication of how upset many people still feel more than 20 years after she was ousted as leader of the country by her own party. As the longest serving Prime Minister she was also the most divisive.
Although Margaret Thatcher was no sister and many refuse to embrace her as a feminist icon, what she has achieved as a woman from a modest background is most remarkable and unprecedented. She was elected as member of parliament for Finchley in the late 1950s after campaigning for 10 years to become an MP. Only 20 months later she was made junior pensions minister by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. When the Tories were in opposition she became member of the shadow cabinet in 1967 and when Heath won the elections in 1970 she became education secretary and the only woman in the cabinet. Against everyone’s advice, as she was considered unelectable, she decided to run for the leadership and to everyone’s surprise she became party leader in 1975, winning the general elections four years later to become the first female head of government in the UK and the wider Western World.
Thatcher broke with the norm of consensus politics as she believed that was what caused the mess the country was finding itself in the 1970s (high inflation and a 3-day-work week as the trade unions were hijacking the country with their continuous strikes). Throughout her first term she was most unpopular until the Falklands war turned that around. She sold off large state-owned enterprises, deregulated the financial sector and gave people the right to buy their council house. She fought the trade unions to the death and by closing mines and other industrial sectors she destroyed whole communities of which most still haven’t recovered. She was considered a flag-bearer for freedom and democracy for the then-Soviet Union and its satellite states in Eastern Europe. However, she didn’t consider these rights worthy for the non-white population of South Africa as she supported the apartheid regime and deemed Nelson Mandela a terrorist, or the opponents of Chilean dictator Pinochet who she supported and offered refuge.
As I grew up in Lowlands Country during her Prime Ministership Thatcher was no more than a puppet from Spitting Image of which the jokes I didn’t quite understand, but I was aware she was a much hated figure. She sure made her mark on the country and 20th century Western history. It is clear that something had to change in the late 70s and she had the vision and very much the conviction to change what she thought was wrong with the nation. She stood for what she believed in and didn’t care much about popular opinion although no political leader is without spin.
By no means do I agree with the philosophy of Thatcherism and other convictions she had. Yet, I think her balls of steel, her intelligence, and work ethic are most admirable qualities. Although Thatcher was not much of an ideologist she had a vision and a strong conviction something the current government, hailing her as a saint, clearly and frustratingly has not.
The world is not black and white. People one admires don’t become saints after their passing and I believe no person is an outright villain. I find it difficult to say whether the country has changed for the better because of her. I guess it’s just very different. More aspirational and more unequal perhaps. Mrs Thatcher, I do hope your conviction, intelligence, hard work and achievement as a woman can be an inspiration for all. To undo those effects of your ism that have hurt and divided communities and work towards a prosperous and fairer society, that entity you believed doesn’t exist, so no one has to feel the need to hold a street party at someone’s passing out of sheer anger and frustration. May we turn things around and may you rest in peace.