Jonathan Dodd‘s latest column. Guest opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the publication. Ed
It seems extraordinary to me that there has been such an outpouring of passionate feeling since Margaret Thatcher died. She hasn’t been Prime Minister for 23 years, and as far as I know nobody has expressed those particular emotions for all that time. Now, suddenly, they’ve resurfaced.
I fear to mention the subject, because it seems the lady caused such controversy that the first thing you have to say, de rigeur, when mentioning her name, is whether you idolise her or revile her, but I’m not going to do that.
Inefficient and run-down
I do remember the Seventies though. The lovely Sixties were over, and things turned bad and dark. The economy was in a state, mainly because industries in other countries were leaner and fitter and more efficient and the quality of their output was better. I know, because I drove several British cars during that period. Japanese cars were decidedly better, and cheaper.
Successive governments had failed to invest in the state-run industries so they were inefficient and run-down too. The railways, the mines, shipbuilding, telephones and water to name but a few. Trouble was stacking up. A political struggle was also brewing between the politicians and the unions.
Flexing their new muscles
Britain was becoming known as the ‘sick man of Europe’. The Unions toppled a Conservative government early in the Seventies, and then flexed their new muscles so hard that they toppled a Labour government too. Maggie Thatcher won the resulting general election, mainly because voters wanted a strong government that would restore the political balance.
She seemed to have a plan, and I don’t remember anyone else standing up with any ideas, apart from carrying on as usual. None of the people who opposed her had any practical answers to the problems that faced the country. Much as now, with our financial woes, the opposition has no policies apart from borrowing more money.
Here we are, a different nation
Thatcher did, without a doubt, set out to change the country. She was very effective. Some of her changes were inspired and some caused great anger and disappointment. She understood that industries and businesses must compete and make profits. At the bare minimum they need to be run properly.
There was a stark choice. Either shake up all the state-run industries, pour money in and turn them into businesses that could survive, or let them go. With the best will in the world nobody could imagine a bunch of politicians and civil servants being able to make the mines profitable again. So she took the other path, and here we are, a different nation.
The person who’s in charge usually takes the flak
With hindsight, it was inevitable that a lot of people were going to lose their jobs. The world was moving on, things were changing, we either had to catch up or get left behind. There’s never much appetite for that, and the person who’s in charge usually takes the flak.
Whether you think the Falklands campaign was right or wrong, it succeeded against most of the odds. Her partnership with Reagan and then Gorbachev was a prime mover in the orderly removal of the Iron Curtain and the freeing of hundreds of million people from tyranny.
She also made a lot of bad judgements, like her support for Pinochet and her inability to support liberalising moves towards equality and diversity. And the Poll Tax.
It’s actually about character
But I wonder why we don’t have anything like as much hatred for Blair, who was responsible for our involvement in the Iraq War, and all that red tape and CCTV and speed cameras and the mad rush to get credit quick that resulted in the Crash of 2008.
I think it’s actually about character. Blair blurred his edges where Thatcher sharpened up. He ignored problems and refused to have policies. What did he stand for? I’m still not sure. He wanted to be popular and he smiled a lot.
An easy monster
Thatcher knew where she was going and went for it, and she wasn’t good at people skills. She stuck out, too strident, hardly any sense of humour, a bit haughty, too combative. It was too easy to turn her into a monster. She never considered whether people liked her or not when she was making up her mind about what to do. She was perceived as arrogant.
When I look back I wonder how much of the hatred was for the image people had of her rather than the decisions she made and the changes she put in place.
Perhaps the best test of whether someone was a major figure in the life of a nation can be measured by the way people still feel about them many years later.
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