Mrs Thatcher and me

Not unexpectedly, the online world has been all about Margaret Thatcher over the past 24 hours. It is what you would expect because whatever else anyone might want to say about her, she was a force to be reckoned with, and she changed things in the world.

Few would deny that, and certainly I don’t see anyone arguing the case for her irrelevance, but some of the online contributions right now are pretty extreme in their attacks on Mrs Thatcher. Maybe to my surprise – given that when she was Prime Minister of the UK I was pretty strong in my opposition to what she was doing – I am not inclined at all to share in the vitriol of many of those whose opinions I might otherwise respect.

I was only eligible to vote in one of the UK general elections in which she was a candidate: though that election was the one that brought her to power, in May 1979. I was doing research for a PhD in Cambridge at the time, and in fact had gone to an election rally addressed by her (as well as another addressed by Denis Healey of Labour). After that, I watched from the sidelines in Ireland. Those in UK universities with whom I worked closely had, mostly, the same opinion, which was that she was destroying British industry and subverting British society (an entity she famously claimed not to recognise). My then field of industrial relations was particularly affected. By 1981 the collective bargaining-based, non-law regulated system of workplace relations had been torn apart, and as we know, by the mid-1980s the power of the major trade unions had been largely broken. I wrote stuff about this.

But now, in 2013, would I go back to the practices and assumptions of 1979? Would I vote for a restoration of the old state-run industries and their form of industrial management? No, I don’t think so.

It is notoriously difficult to engage in a dispassionate assessment of a controversial figure at the point of their death. The passage of time is still needed to make sense of what happened. Margaret Thatcher’s memory will, I imagine, always have some degree of controversy associated with it. I still doubt I would vote for her. But I can admire her courage and tenacity, her sense of purpose, her unwillingness to be bullied by the political establishment.

And whatever the merits may have been of her views and policies, she presided over an era in which big questions were asked and significant debates conducted. It was a time in which the currents of history could be felt. We are much more impoverished now.

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12 Comments on “Mrs Thatcher and me”

  1. wildninja Says:

    I must say that your intelligence and perspective is refreshing in the sea of vitriol and filth that has consumed the web today. We can respect someone’s gifts without liking them and be respectful without endorsing their politics.

  2. V.H Says:

    In the early years as leader of the party and as PM she had that touch in politics that’s extremely rare. At the time Reagan, Gorbachev and Mitterrand had it too. What they had was an ability to bring in people that wouldn’t normally agree with their position all without moving their position only it’s rhetoric. And people crossed the aisle because what they were hearing made sense.
    The Conservative Party is a loose collection of people that wouldn’t normally be seen dead with each other were it not for profound dislike of a common foe. Largely speaking, there are about three elements that consider themselves the beating heart of the organisation and for about 1985 she became closer and closer to one. Her positions became more and more tilted in their direction and she herself began to espouse their economic and social orthodoxy. But what she forgot was the power depended on people who came over and not from a rump that had no place to go.
    The Conservative Party, at least the true Conservative Party are nothing if not well versed at reading the mood. And they were correct as well as right, had the Party gone to the next election with MT instead of Major they would have lost. This can be seen when after 97 that rump (too thick and too insulated) took over and almost smothered the Party. But more than that they would have lost to a Labour Party that was still in the 1950’s. Who would have reversed much of the actual good done.
    All in all, MT shifted things in the early years. Became staid and believed her own rhetoric after 85. And from 90 was a noose for each successive leader of the Con’s for they kept referencing back to her Golden Age until she became so doddery they could ignore her.

  3. Eugene Gath Says:

    You make no mention of the fact that she abolished academic tenure in the UK in 1988, allegedly in retribution for her alma mater Oxford’s failure to award her an honorary doctorate. Not to mention the utter contempt she showed for the concerns of the nationalist minority in Northern Ireland.

  4. Eddie Says:

    I expected this article and am not surprised at all!! Foreigners, who are socialists to the core, rarely understand her.

    This article if anything reflects the views of leftists who hate her guts, her temerity to take on the unions who through their nefarious practices brought the country to halt then. It is a pity that this article is by some one who says he did research but singularly failed to grasp how the manufacturing industry then was riddled with militant union leaders who prevented the modernisation of the industry. Not surprised at all as all articles I read here demonstrate that socialists cannot look beyond their noses!

    I voted for her in three elections, will still do if a leader like her stands now. The Winter of Discontent meant my neighbour an elderly was in her coffin not buried. Unions and their socialist supporters seemed not bothered. She changed this and deserved our support.

    It does not surprise me that it is fashionable for champagne socialists, academics seems to belong to this bunch as they want governments to tax and spend for their self-serving purpose but giving all kinds of other reasons, who would love to dislike a great leader, and like Labour’s Healey love to borrow money and call in IMF to sort out the fall out.

    She was a great patriot and I as a patriot admired her and still do. To the credit of Blair and Brown, they kept her trade union reform mostly unchanged.

    • V.H Says:

      Oh get on with yourself, the borrowing during the T years dwarfed Lab of the 70 by a factor of 30. The only difference was who got it.

      • Eddie Says:

        Unlike you I was present when the IMF was called after Healey messed up the economy and unlike you I have a grown up views of things on matters which are related to Britain which I know better than you.

        • V.H Says:

          Do you now ?. What a tremendous boon for you.

        • V.H Says:

          I’m not about to be intimidated by you or debate with you this time round either mister. You are just the bully shouting from the back of the bar more bothered with scratching you ire and a dislike for people than in a friendly robust debate.

          • Eddie Says:

            @V.H. The bar and drinking is for you. I am a teetotal.

            If you care to read, my focus was more on unions and her legacy in that area than on spending etc. Indeed, she was elected when unions were out of control and were a government themselves, and if one cares to do some research one will know how Callaghan, himself once a union leader, was a prisoner of unions, and even Liberal party who were supporting his government withdrew their support after the Winter of Discontent and his government fell.

            To her credit, she changed the Labour Party, and their blind allegiance to unions. Even John Smith did not give unions a free run as opposition party leader,and now Ed Milliband would not go to the extent of doing what unions want.. Postal ballots were introduced, secondary picketing and flying pickets were made unlawful. These laws are in operation even today and Ed Miliband does not want to repeal them.

            I did not reply to your post, but you did with a comment which was plain silly as it was produced not reading what I posted. As for accusing me of bullying, it is kids’ accusation in the play field, and that shows you have not grown up at all. You need to do more research on areas where you have very little knowledge, and more importantly should drop your prejudices.

  5. Anna Notaro Says:

    Maybe given the nature of this blog, often (but not exclusively) concerned with academic matters it might have been interesting if today’s post has touched upon MT’s *impact* on HE. THE was quick off the mark yesterday with a piece which featured only one critical voice (that of Roger Brown, professor of higher education policy at Liverpool Hope University) as opposed to a multitude of praises, mostly from current or former VCs. The apex was reached by Peter Swinnerton-Dyer, a former vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge. who said:

    “The instinct of a woman is to spring-clean and this country needed spring-cleaning, not least the university sector,”

    http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/thatcher-had-immense-impact-on-higher-education/2003059.article

    The sexist connotations of the above statement are so obvious that are not even worth underlining, probably MT would have agreed with the spring clean instinct metaphor, given her lack of interest for gender matters unless they related to her own female persona (individualist coherence to the core!)

    Personally I think that Thatcher-hate is futile and shows a lack of decorum (different from mere etiquette) which is due to every human being at time of death, still this should not preclude us from embarking on a mature process of evaluation of her legacy. There are undeniable achievements to acknowledge even for someone who does not share her policies, and there are significant shortcomings, the prominent one to my mind, being that she never fully grasped how the relation between the state and the individual is much more subtle, nuanced than she thought, not to speak of her model of leadership, inherently authoritarian, which abhorred and annihilated dialogue behind a mask of infallible certitude.

  6. Eddie Says:

    I should mention that she was an excellent constituency MP, our MP in Finchley, even in those 11 years of her period as the PM. We knew what she was as a human being.

    An excellent industrial chemist ( and later a brilliant tax lawyer) at a time when there were no women chemists in that position, having worked under that great Dorothy Hodgkin, when women were not encouraged to do STEM subjects. Of course , she had faults, she had her share of mistakes ( I would not countenance supporting Prof Denis Noble of Oxford who wanted government support to his research at that time, and if it was so brilliant any industry would have supported it ), but the voters knew she was a great leader, and a colossus at that time.
    Those of us who comment on her in ridiculous terms know that we would fade away in years without making any lasting contribution.


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