Friday, April 19, 2013

Baroness Thatcher: The woman who divided a nation

Some things divide a nation: Marmite. Simon Cowel. Banana Milk Shake. And Margaret Thatcher.


Thatcher the Milk Snatcher.
The Iron Lady.
Attila the Hen.

Some speak the name with great reverence, others give it the same respect as cat litter.
Three petitions have landed on my desk today asking me to agree that the ten million pound funeral of the longest serving Prime Minister of the twentieth century should not come out of the public purse. There has been dancing in the streets at her passing, party hats and champagne while singing "so long, the witch is dead".  Radio One has now been banned from playing the song, yet anybody who listens to Radio One is far too young to have experienced the Thatcher years.

My lasting memory of her is her Spitting Image puppet. In one famous skit Mrs Thatcher was sitting with her all male cabinet at the dining table. A waiter asks her what she wants to eat. The chicken she replies. 'What about the vegetables?' 'Oh they will have the chicken as well.'
She was an easy caricature to make cruel. 

That satirical programme was so powerful, it could make or break a political career.  As the years went on, her puppet became more mad and demonic - which to be fair is how a lot of folk saw the women herself ! Satire only works if it has resonance. Dennis was always portrayed as a gin ridden upper class git, an image he said he rather aspired to.

Britain’s first female PM and longest serving PM of the 20th Century was born in Lincolnshire. Her dad owned two grocery shops, she and her sister grew up above the shop. I think that technically working class background, hard work ethic, coloured every part of her life, private and political.   She had no time for those who would neither work nor want (as my wee granny would say) and in these times of government expense scandals it's interesting to note that she  practised great frugality in her official residence while PM like insisting on paying for her own ironing-board.
She was not popular up in Scotland.  Politically we would never have a conservative government - we just get what the English vote for and have to lump it. There are more giant pandas (2) in Scotland that there are Tory MPs (1).
Thatcher inherited a country in pieces. Heavy industry was on its knees, the shipyards were unprofitable, run by unions with good intentions but at times little concept that to be competitive in a world market means you have to be ‘competitive’.  According to the BBC, Thatcher "managed to destroy the power of the trade unions for almost a generation" The working class communities were hit hard, and her superior attitude and hectoring tone did her no favours. She came across as a hard nosed woman who didn't care. That is why we can't forgive her. Starving people were rioting.  The miners’ strike is a disgraceful part of the economic history of this country – the rotweiller against the pit bull. It  was a situation that the term ‘irresistible force and unmovable object' could have been coined for. Pity the  common man caught in between. Families are still estranged due to what happened in that year,  84-85. The majority of miners had voted against the strike, but Scargill called them out. It was the start of a long hot summer and Thatcher had stockpiled fuel and riot gear.  What followed was bloody and bitter.

I have no idea if her policy of deregulation of the banks has to do with the mess we are in now but I think no one under her charge would have fiddled their expenses. She was a hard nosed woman, but that applied to all including herself.

However, the economy of the GB as a whole, was sick and in need of drastic surgery, and she was the woman to do it. Focussed and not for turning. You don't do surgery like that without hurting the patient, but the patient will survive and be stronger .... and maybe that legacy is what we should focus on. The past is past.
Behind that voice, she had a good sense of humour. It seems that she and old Queenie got on quite well during their weekly meetings ... can’t help but think if they ever talked about other stuff.  Queen is moaning about Charles, Maggie moaning about Mark ... what a great idea for a short play. While in office she was advised not to show her humour, as being a woman, she would be thought of as weak. It’s interesting that Queenie is going to the funeral today, only the second time she has  attended the funeral of  an ex PM.

Her kids have been an embarrassment to her over the years.  Mark, a failed rally driver who then became an arms dealer- difficult to separate that from any influence mum might have had....  And her daughter became a reality TV star, briefly a TV presenter until she used the n word on live TV and that was the end of that.
I read that Barak Obama holds Maggie up as an example to his girls. Yet she once said that  all feminism is "poison".  She is quoted as being the "ultimate feminist icon" and others see that as an insult, quoting that she froze child benefit and criticised working mothers (and only promoted one woman to her cabinet!). She did remain a woman, like some a scary old auntie, the sort who would spit on a hankie and rub the jam from your face so hard it hurt.  
She was Feminist Marmite.

But then mention a handbag as a political weapon, and everyone smiles. Everybody knows what you mean.  I think it is true to say that we all like to dislike her and 35 years later she is still revered and loathed in equal measure.  And that is quite a legacy no matter what your political leanings.
Personally as a politician I'm still not sure what to think of her. My dad and his two brothers lost their jobs when the shipyards went and times were hard.  But as I grew up, set up my own business, I benefited from a bountiful economy that might not have existed if she was not as hard line as she was.
But could one woman really make all that change, or is she just a good cipher for us to project our hate or admiration onto? 
At the end of the day, she was somebody's mum, somebody's granny?  The grand funeral or 
not, some of those tears will be of real sadness.

The Iron Lady died on Monday 8th April, at the Ritz hotel, an old woman who was suffering badly from dementia. Her condition was so bad that she had to be reminded, constantly that her husband had passed away as  she would ask for him often, her rock, her best friend.
Maybe she will rest  in peace, I hope  they are together somewhere.

Caro 19 th April 2013


  1. That's one of the most balanced tributes I've read to her! Congratulations, Caro. Meryl Streep would be proud.

  2. Illuminating, but she did make some odd and painful choices.