Thatcher’s ability to divide outlives her

Margaret Thatcher meeting people on the Cornhill, Ipswich, in April 1979

Margaret Thatcher meeting people on the Cornhill, Ipswich, in April 1979

I NEVER actually met Lady Thatcher – or Mrs Thatcher as she was in her prime – but I did see her at on a couple of occasions when I was a student and she was leader of the opposition.

My overwhelming majority of her is how small she was – for a towering political figure she was anything but physically!

What has really come across over the last few years, and especially since her death, is that the period of time still has not diminished her ability to divide the nation.

It seems that no one has a neutral view about her. Either everything she did was right, or everything was a failure.

The truth, of course, is that some policies worked. Some did not.

Reform of the trades unions was vital after all the industrial unrest of the 1970s – but while few would argue for the return of flying pickets, secondary action, and arbitrary strikes without a ballot, many would argue that the action against the unions went too far.

Her determination to win back the Falklands defined the early years of her premiership, and led to victory in the 1983 general election – but her government’s failure to understand the consequences of what was happening in Argentina in 1981/2 led to the invasion in the first place!

Most Read

It now seems ridiculous that businesses like BT, British Gas, and the electricity boards were owned and run by the state – you weren’t even allowed to own your own phone.

But the concept of a “share-owning” democracy has not really come to pass, not directly anyway.

Most of the shares in nationalised industries that were sold off to small investors have ended up in the hands of pension funds and big banks – you don’t see millions of people studying the financial pages any more.

Others – like the electricity companies – have ended up in the hands of German or American multi-nationals.

And Lady Thatcher did have the ability to make some spectacular political mistakes!

Her treatment of colleagues that she did not like verged on the bullying – which turned people like Michael Heseltine, Sir Geoffrey Howe, and Nigel Lawson into implacable enemies who ended up bringing her down.

And the poll tax was a dreadful idea from day one. I cannot believe that no advisors or ministers tried to talk her out of such a disastrous idea.

But she ignored all the advice, rather like the captain of the Titanic driving the vessel towards the icebergs.

Despite all that, however, she deserves a starring role in the political history of the 20th century. She changed life in Britain.

But let’s recognise that she wasn’t a saint or the devil incarnate. Like most of us she leaves some achievements . . . but made some dreadful mistakes.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter