Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Lady Protector


It’s now over twenty years since Margaret Thatcher left Downing Street, the consequence of a Caesar-style assassination that surely ranks as the nadir of the modern Conservative Party, the lowest point in its history. She’s a controversial figure, she remains a controversial figure, there is no point in denying that but, my goodness, love her or loath her, she casts every other British Prime Minister since the Second World War deep into the shadows.

I read articles by two completely contrasting historians, written to mark the occasion: one by Andrew Roberts in the Telegraph (My Tears for the Iron Lady) and the other by Dominic Sandbrook in the BBC History Magazine (The Jury’s still out on Thatcher’s legacy).

Roberts is a super historian, a personal favourite, who invariably makes one see the past in fresh and invigorating terms. He is also delightfully right-wing, a refreshing contrast to the Guardian-style orthodoxy of so many in the academic mainstream. He was twenty-seven at the time of the Iron Lady’s downfall. As a mark of his personal sorrow he bought some blue flowers to take to Number Ten, there to be greeted by a crowd of jubilant lefties outside the gate. “Bad day for you mate”, they shouted at him as he handed the flowers through to the policeman. “Yes”, he replied, “but a bad eleven and a half years for you.”

And so it was: a bad time for all those who sought to undermine and destroy this country. Who else but Thatcher could have stood up with such determination to trade union blackmailers, IRA hunger strikers, Argentinean generals and European Union bureaucrats? Above all, we must not forget her proudest achievement, the part she played in collaboration with Ronald Reagan in bringing the dreadful Soviet imperium in Eastern Europe to an end, finally redeeming the shabby betrayal of Yalta.

Roberts’ article was published shortly after Baroness Thatcher won the 25th Threadneedle Street Spectator Parliamentarian Awards for “Statesman of the Era.” Her achievements are so varied, not least the example she gave to women. Although she never professed to any form of feminism, at least a theory of feminism, her struggle through the ranks of the most male-dominated party in England and through the most male-dominated profession truly are inspiring, a practical role model who broke every glass ceiling that one can imagine. How shabby it is, then, that only last September Harriet Harman’s Equalities Office left her name off a list celebrating fifty years of women in power, while including utter nonentities like Baroness Scotland and Diane Abbott.

Considering the present crisis in the eurozone, Roberts provides a timely reminder that it was the issue of Europe that provided the spur for Brutus and his cronies, not the Poll Tax, as so often assumed. Geoffrey Howe, a man who makes dead sheep look positively exciting, executed the first cut, resigned from her government precisely because she would not agree to a timetable for British entry into monetary union. It was her Commons speech of August 1990 opposing economic and monetary union that turned Howe and the rest of his ghastly Europhile gang against her, bringing the end to her premiership and beginning a twenty year crisis in the Tory Party. How grateful we should all be for her courage and foresight, courage that went so far as sacrificing her political life.

Sandbrook’s piece on the Thatcher legacy makes some cogent and persuasive points about her stature in British politics. It’s perfectly possible to write an article about the 1930s, as he says, without mentioning Stanley Baldwin, or the 1960s without mentioning Harold Wilson, but it would be quite impossible to write one on the 1980s without mentioning Margaret Thatcher;

Since we are used to seeing Mrs Thatcher as a hugely controversial figure, we easily forget how unusual this is. Twenty years after his resignation in 1976, Harold Wilson was almost totally forgotten. The twentieth anniversary of Attlee’s departure in 1951 passed off almost unnoticed, and I doubt many people will care much about Tony Blair in 2027. Even David Lloyd George, perhaps the only 20th century prime minister who rivals her as a genuinely divisive character, had become largely irrelevant by 1942…Mrs Thatcher, I suspect, will go down in history as one of those endlessly controversial characters that English history seems to do so well.

I can’t argue against his conclusion, the parallel he draws between Baroness Thatcher and Oliver Cromwell, another middle-class radical and enduringly controversial figure in our history. Here we are, three hundred and fifty years on, and there is till no consensus on Cromwell…but people are still talking. I agree that, projecting the same period into the future, that people will still be talking, and arguing, about the legacy of Baroness Thatcher. I can think of no better measure of her greatness.

18 comments:

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  3. Well, believe it. I would have thought my views on communism would have been perfectly clear by now. :-)

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  6. On, my goodness, it's so far off to say that see 'loved' the EEC. It was an economic necessity, that's all. I neither agree nor disagree, Adam; I don't make these kinds of subjective and sweeping judgements. I will say, though, that the British Empire was not a the negative force that is so often depicted.

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  9. Well, appeasement was a policy that commanded a consensus in the nation at large. It had nothing to do with the internal politics of the Conservative Party.

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  11. She was a "principled pragmatist". While the EU was still the EEC - a simple trading block - she tolerated it. When it morphed into the EC and then EU she recognized that it was contrary to her principles and to the interests of the UK.

    That's why Blair could never be more than a poor, drag-queen imitation of Bss. Thatcher - he lacks any guiding principle.

    I'd go part way with Mr Garrie and agree that the Empire was, on balance, one of the most positive groupings in world history ("Christendom" would be the other contender).

    It's tragic that the Commonwealth was thrown under the bus in favour of the EEC.

    (I say this as an atheist of libertarian inclination, not as any kind of neo-Rhodesian.)

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  12. I believe she will be totally vindicated in a way that Oliver Cromwell was not, and I think we're already seeing it begin with the disintegration of so much of Europe in the face of Mohammeds Revenge and the moral hazard that the EU is now facing with the PIIGS.

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  13. Adam, hers was a time to be divisive. The post-war consensus was over, killed by history. She had the courage to tackle this, tackle the new issues that were arising for a new age.

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  15. Suciô, a principled pragmatist sums up her politics very well.

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  16. O no, not again: now write 5 times: Reagan, Reagan, Reagan....

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