The last 24 hours has seen blanket news coverage of the death yesterday of Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first woman Prime Minister and one of its longest serving. Winner of three General Elections, her name has been attached to a monetarist economic theory, as well used as a chant of derision in demonstrations and protest. She was a controversial figure in her lifetime and the recent comments and debates show that she still manages to excite both admiration and loathing in equal measure.
My views fall somewhere in the middle. Mrs Thatcher was elected in 1979, in the first election in which I was old enough to participate. I remember voting, and it feeling both quite exciting and a bit anti climactic, but have no memory of for whom I made my mark. Watching the news clippings of the major events of her premiership, of the 1980s I see the background to my early adulthood, and it seems both like ancient history as well as not much longer ago than the day before yesterday.
While those who have popped up on the screens spouting paeans of praise for her greatness and leadership, have set my teeth on edge, the embittered ones who opposed her and lost, and are still eager to say something disobliging, were even less interesting.
If I never see that clip of film of her on her first arrival at No 10 in 1979 reciting the quotation from St Francis of Assisi again, it will be too soon, but not every policy she followed was bad; and while she may have been the clear leader, making the most of the power of the role of Prime Minister, she won a majority in three elections – someone was voting for her party and not for the other ones. Everyone who was active during that decade contributed to the unfolding events through either co-operation or opposition, be it the trade unions or the barrow boys in the City.
Much of what has been shown has highlighted the divisiveness of the time, but it was one of great change; and many of those changes were retained by subsequent governments, even those from the opposite side of the debate. The comments that I have found most interesting are the more nuanced ones: she was good at this, and horrible about that. She got this right, but misjudged that. She retained loyalty for these periods and then alienated everyone for that. She clearly got grander and grander as the years past, and probably served for too long; her ‘we have become a grandmother’ comment being particularly unfortunate, and perhaps a signal that her political end couldn’t be far off.
I felt sad when I heard the news, largely I think, because her death represents the passing of a large segment of my life, and makes me doubly aware of the passage of time. But I think it’s unlikely I’ll watch her funeral.
Coincidentally, I have recently read Damian Barr’s memoir of growing up in the west of Scotland during the 1980s ‘Maggie and Me‘ in which he describes, as a child, being both inspired and appalled by Margaret Thatcher in equal measure. (A review of the book will follow in due course….)