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Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The death of Baroness Thatcher

I am a child of the Thatcher.  I was 10 when she was elected to be leader of the Conservative Party, 14 when she became Prime Minster and 25 when she was forced to resign by her own party.  

I was also very aware of the winter of discontent and the preceding years of strike action, the three day week, the dead remaining unburied, the rubbish piling up in the streets, only have electricity for a few hours a day, extortionate charges for the telephone (when it worked), my stepfather going to the station to catch the train to work and returning home half an hour later because a wild cat strike had been called by the guards, or the drivers, or the signalmen.  I remember it as a time of uncertainty and despair.

I remember the grey men - Wilson, Heath, Callaghan.  I remember that union leaders were more highly thought of than politicians.  I remember the country almost crumbling under the onslaught of strike action (12 million working days lost in 1 (yes, 1) month.

This was the era in which punk was born.  Originally, an anarchistic form of music that reflected the contempt and frustration that we, the young, felt at the older generation, who seemed unable to drag themselves out of the mire of despond into which the country had sunk.  Great Britain was borrowing money from the IMF just to keep afloat.  We were known as the "sick man of Europe".  

The most important thing to remember about Margaret Thatcher was that she was a woman in a man's world.  The Labour Party were ecstatic when she ousted Ted Heath as leader of the Conservative Party in 1975.  They felt that they would be re-elected as the country would never vote for a woman Prime Minister, despite the fact that they were ruling as a  minority government (Lib Lab pact and all that).  

That sort of attitude is unthinkable today and quite rightly so.  However, it was the norm in the mid 1970's.

Mrs T has always been a controversial and divisive figure and argument was something she relished.  She seemed unfazed by the name calling and vitriol she attracted, although I am sure it must have hurt at times.  She stood by her beliefs, her convictions and she genuinely loved her country.  She did make some pretty idiotic decisions (the poll tax!) but she also made some good ones.

As I see distasteful images in the press and on the TV of children born after she left power holding parties to celebrate her death (she resigned some 23 years ago, people) funded and encouraged by a respectable trade union, I wonder whether there would have been the same reaction had she been a man?

She is Marmite.  You either love or hate her.  As a woman I feel that to deny the fact that a WOMAN Prime Minister was elected three times, with a majority, is to join the sexist grey suits who loathed her as a woman first and a politician second.

Most quotes and comments about her seem to reflect her sex, whether they be complimentary or condemnatory.  No one can seem to resist discussing the fact that she was a strong woman and did not play into the Kinde Kirche Kuche mentality so prevalent when I was growing up.  I hate that we are still perpetuating that today.  My particular pet hate is the quote "Ding Dong.  The witch is dead".  I am sure her children and grandchildren are totally unaffected by such facile vitriol?  

I am deeply saddened, as a woman, that her strength and will and the fact that she overcame insuperable odds to lead the country, retaining the backing of the country for 11 years and forging a path for women everywhere is so dismissively (and stupidly?) condemned on spurious grounds.  I was also amused by this particular case, which Mr Scargill, Mrs Thatcher's nemesis, has just lost.  What a marvellously principled Socialist he turned out to be!  However, when he dies, I won't be lighting bonfires and holding up banners calling him scum.....

Quotes...

She cannot see an institution without hitting it with her handbag. Julian Critchley 1982

The great She-Elephant - she has an impenetrably thick hide, she is liable to mount charges in all directions and she is always thinking on the trot.
Denis Healey

The Tories think they are witnessing the retirement of a popular headmistress under circumstances that some might regret.
Tony Benn 22/11/1990

If she would only occasionally come in with a smut on her nose, her hair dishevelled, looking as if she's been wrestling with her soul, as I do.
Barbara Castle

Some people find it difficult to argue with a woman Prime Minister and shrivel up.
Douglas Hurd 30/10/1989

She carried the cult of the individual much too far and has done us terrible damage in Europe with her fishwife yelling and screaming.
Nicholas Soames




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