Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Maid of Grantham, Made of Iron


One simply can’t avoid Margaret Thatcher at the moment. There she is, staring out from the side of city buses, like the ghost of Conservatism past, a constant reproach to David Cameron, the Tiny Tim of the Party, the God help us everyone Prime Minister. Actually it’s not her at all; it’s Meryl Streep looking remarkably like her in advertisements for The Iron Lady, which I saw last month.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the real Iron Lady recently, both in the light of that biopic and in the light of contemporary political developments. I’ve just read a marvellous piece in the January issue (yes, my reading always lags behind; there is so much!) of Prospect, a monthly political periodical. Entitled The DNA of a Generation it’s by John Campbell, the author of a two-volume biography of Baroness Thatcher. I have it in my collection somewhere, an orphan reproaching me for my heartless neglect. Well, in the light of Campbell’s article, it’s jumped into my consciousness, several rungs further up on my ‘to-read’ list.

I never knew Thatcher in the days of her ascendency. I was born the year before her third election victory in 1987, so she is not in my DNA in the way that Campbell maintains she is in the DNA, love her loath her, of everyone over the age of thirty-five. She’s in my political DNA, though; I know of her legacy, her history, her commanding presence in both British and world politics.

The Iron Lady, though not a great movie, makes it clear that there was nothing phony about Thatcher, nothing of the Blair or the Cameron, small men without vision or direction. In so many ways she seems to be the last of the conviction politicians, a woman with an idea and the determination to give that idea shape in reality.

Campbell makes a point that I hadn’t really considered before, that Thatcher was not, as I had assumed, a uniquely British phenomenon. No, she was part of a global revolution against collectivism which swept across the world, bringing in its wake the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. In this country she was the expression of a massive reaction against those things which had brought us so low – labourism, Keynesianism and corporatism, all conveniently grouped under the rubric of socialism. She was also a reaction against that awful phenomenon known as one-nation Toryism, a kind of political appeasement.

In Britain the Thatcher revolution released a huge wave of enterprise and energy that seemed to swamp decades of decline. The emphasis here should be on seemed because subsequent governments, particularly that of Tony Blair, showed that it was all an illusion. Still, it was magnificent when it lasted; she was magnificent when she lasted, before she was betrayed by the one-nation euro fanatics in her own party, those wretched men like Howe and Heseltine, traitors with a lean and hungry look.

Napoleon once observed that generals need luck. Thatcher was lucky in her friends. She was lucky to have Ronald Reagan as President of the United States. It was her relationship with him, and with Mikhail Gorbachev of Russia, that gave the impression that the old wartime partnership of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin had been resurrected, that Britain mattered on the world stage after so many years of irrelevance.

She was just as lucky in her enemies. What a gift to any aspiring leader to have General Galtieri of Argentina as an opponent from without and Arthur Scargill, the leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, as an opponent from within. It’s almost as if a comic farce was being performed, with these two morons walking on as pantomime villains, Mr Stuff Shirt Fascist and Comrade Comb Over! Quick, a left hook to the Argies in the Falklands, a right hook to the miners on a summer strike! The result was a massive vote of national confidence in a Prime Minister with seemingly impeccable judgement.

Although her approach in economic matters was guided by those who adhered to the monetarist doctrines of Milton Freedman I don’t think that Thatcher was an ideological dogmatist. With her it was all instinct. Her thinking here was all down to her upbringing. It was all a question, you see, of good housekeeping. Frugality, hard work and discipline were qualities that she learned from her father, Alfred Roberts, a grocer and local politician in the town of Grantham in Lincolnshire. The paradox, as Campbell points out, is that her liberalisation of the British economy released a kind of ‘casino capitalism’ of which she never approved, an economic culture which began with the thrifty world of Alfred and ended with that of Mark, her unattractive playboy son, Mr Lodsamoney in person.

Hers was a rapid trajectory, a sudden ascent and a dramatic decline, almost Shakespearean in intensity. In the end it was more of a tragedy than a triumph, all the more tragic because the real enemy within was within her own government. What came after was the pathetic and incompetent John Major, who presided over a lengthy political civil war. What came after was Tony Blair, a slimy opportunist with no bigger idea than to get himself elected. What came after was Gordon Brown, a charmless Presbyterian ogre. What came after was David Cameron, the focus group Prime Minister, shallow and insincere. They all have one virtue – they make Margaret Thatcher look all the greater, all the more honest, all the more competent. It’s unlikely that her achievement will ever be matched.

26 comments:

  1. Margaret Thatcher was indeed a great leader who had a firm grasp on her nations affairs through turbulent times. Perhaps through necessity another Titan will rise, nay, must rise, to meet the present challenges? perhaps Ana Von Bismarck!

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  2. The Argentines are making a bit of a fuss again over "The Last Refuge of a Declining Empire", the Falklands issue involves substantial off shore oil reserves.

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    1. That's the big thing, Anthony. I tweeted this and rather surprisingly I got an approving comment from a someone in Argentina, who said that Kirchner was inflaming the issue because of her declining popularity.

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  3. Maybe one day you'll be Thatcher 2.0 :-)

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  4. My greetings from France!
    After visiting your blog, I could not leave without putting a comment.
    I congratulate you on your blog!
    Maybe I would have the opportunity to welcome you on mine too!
    My blog is in french, but on the right is the Google translator!
    good day
    cordially
    Chris
    http://sweetmelody87.blogspot.com/

    http://world-directory-sweetmelody.blogspot.com/

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    1. Thank you, Chris. Yes, of course you shall. :-)

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  5. I'm sorry you don't like the current PM. Perhaps it is his smooth unlined face that makes him look phony, but that is hardly his fault.

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    1. David, I had high hopes. It's not his face but his apparent absence of backbone that worries me. He is indeed the heir to Blair, not Thatcher.

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  6. Although I am a qualified admirer of Mrs. T., I feel she missed the opportunity to effect the most vital changes necessary to ensure the future security of Britain: exit the EU, reverse the destruction of selective schools, abolish the race relations industry, and abolish the BBC. I also believe she made a severe tactical mistake in her handling of the poll tax. Instead of attempting to impose a standard funding method for all local councils, she ought to have simply ended central funding, and allowed local authorities to impose local funding measures however they wished. This would have exposed the socialist leeches in all their awful splendour, and given taxpayers the incentive for change needed to end their profligacy for good.

    But Mrs. T. demonstrated clearly that descent into the socialist abyss can be reversed with sufficient courage to resist. Imagine a tory government - or a libertarian one - without the europhile and socialist moles who betrayed their leader and their country. Britain might become livable again in less than a generation.

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    1. The thing is, Calvin, she was strong but not strong enough. Thatcherism was in many ways an aberration, a mirage for a season. She was atypical in a party still dominated by the Heathites, still dominated by those like Howe and Clarke who had swallowed the European lie whole. I'm going to say more on this but I think there was a deliberate conspiracy, perhaps emanating from Brussels, to have her removed. We have seen more recently how the prime ministers of Greece and Italy have been deposed without the consent of the national electorate. I do agree, though, that the ill-conceived poll tax was her biggest tactical error.

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  7. Hi Ana, I agree with you, contra the always-insightful Calvin, that Thatcher wasn't strong enough to affect the changes he proposes. She was a kind of miracle, a late but authentic bloom of a now-vanishing England, and it was remarkable that she achieved the extraordinary changes that she was able to do . . . the poll tax was, in my view, in essence a tragic case of Thatcher forgetting how much cleverer she was than almost everybody else.

    I don't think there was a conspiracy, per se, but by the time of the poll tax she had so many enemies that they succeeded in distorting the issue from her attempt to create transparency around the recklessly irresponsible Labour councils. She was shouted down with the Big Lie that she was forcing poor people to pay more than rich people.

    I'm a passionate admirer of hers, and I was a bit concerned by your tepid response to the slanderous and revoltingly mean-spirited Meryl Streep vehicle--and I am very glad to see you wielding your sparkling rapier on her behalf . . .!

    I've quoted this dictum by Nietzsche before, but rarely has there been such a great example of his insight that "A nation is nature's way of producing two or three great people--yes, and then circumventing them!

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    1. Great quote, Chris! I don't agree with your assessment of The Iron Lady. As a portrait I thought it quite sympathetic.

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  8. Ok, well perhaps it's a case of "de gustibus non disputandum est" . . . but would you agree that the decision to depict Thatcher as she is in THE IRON LADY would seem to carry a whiff of Schadenfreude?

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    1. Chris, it was slightly distasteful but not wholly unsympathetic.

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  9. Hindsight is always 20/20 vision.

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  10. Well, I am rather naive in the details of politicking, but I could never understand how she failed to recognize the traitors in her cabinet and destroy them. There may have been unseen influences at work of which I know nothing, and she remains the only postwar PM worth a damn.

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    1. Calvin, British cabinet government, even under Thatcher,is a bit like the Roman Empire before Diocletian. In other words the PM is first among equals rather than dominant.

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  11. I quite agree with your characterisation of the prime ministers who followed Margaret Thatcher. What about the ones before her? They were just as pathetic. She was truly an aberration. What I particularly enjoyed was the reaction of foreigners. Americans, Canadians, Germans, Italians, Dutch - all were united in wishing they had someone like her in charge of their countries.

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  12. I thought The Iron Lady was a really badly made film though Meryl Streep's acting the part was superb I got bored very soon into the film and was hoping the story-line would improve a little, a hope that remained unfulfilled. The flashback technique was also very badly managed and confusing - I much preferred the brilliant earlier film Long Walk to Finchley.

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    1. Yes, Rehan, I agree; the movie was a second rate vehicle for a first rate performance.

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  13. Your blog cool...I'm Triton from Blogcatalog. Remember?

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