Rod Liddle

Margaret Thatcher: faultless on the Falklands but a disaster at home

Text settings

I’m afraid we have to use Nelson Mandela as an example once again. He is proving very useful in his dotage, old Nels, as a comparison for stuff. A sort of benchmark. So, when the BBC’s Eddie Mair kebabed Boris Johnson and called him a ‘pretty nasty piece of work’, it seemed to me relevant to ask if he would level the same sort of charge at Nelson, were Eddie ever to be afforded an interview with the sainted man. Nelson’s organisation, remember, blew things up with bombs, and people died: he was a terrorist — whereas in effect all Boris did was schtupp some ditsy babe and tell Michael Howard a porkie pie.

But it is unimaginable that Mr Mair would have been as rough on Nelson as he was on Boris; he would, instead, have been utterly reverential. Likewise, then, imagine what would happen if — when Nelson ascends to that great laager in the sky — right-wingers danced on the streets of London with bottles of champagne singing songs of a celebratory nature bearing placards exulting that at last the bastard is dead! Can you imagine the outrage? It is inconceivable that the revellers would not be arrested and charged under some public order act or hate crime.

Or how about this — a right-wing politician announcing on Twitter that they hoped the dirt would be properly stamped down on his grave? This is what the repulsive self-publicising semi-Muslim appeaser of Arab despots George Galloway tweeted of Margaret Thatcher. Imagine that said of Mandela! The metro left is possessed of a hair-trigger sensitivity and is always determined to be outraged and offended, and enforce its displeasure with the law, but cares nothing for the sensibilities of those whom it offends. It’s this unyielding absolutism of a tiny minority, incidentally, which has prevented there being a statue erected to Lady Thatcher in her home town of Grantham; the will of this shrill minority always prevails. It is a disgrace that it does so.

So — never mind what follows below from me — of course the woman should have a state funeral. Can you imagine any other democracy disdaining such an honour for one of its most important three or four politicians of the past 100 years? And every time a fifth-rate opportunist demagogue like Galloway or a rat-faced semi-house-trained murderer like Gerry Adams opens their mouth to denigrate our longest-serving Prime Minister of the past century, an extra million quid should be spent making the funeral ever more lavish, preferably taken from social improvement schemes in Armagh or Muslim Advice Centres in Bradford West.

Whether Thatcher was good or bad is of course a matter of opinion; it is a verdict writ in water, I suppose, and will change countless times before, eventually, she is forgotten. But her eminence now, her importance, her significance: these are things which are un-arguable, surely. I was working for the shadow cabinet when Thatcher was at the height of her pomp: ‘Christ, she is a magnificent bitch,’ my boss, a front-bench Labour MP, would say to me, time and again, as he returned from the chamber, sweating — battered and forlorn and awestruck. The emphasis was on ‘magnificent’, not ‘bitch’. I think ‘bitch’ was there as a sort of get-out.

But still. She was, we keep being told, a polarising politician. So here are, briefly, my polarities. I find her close to faultless when it came to foreign affairs — the Falklands, the USSR, the European Union, even South Africa. The instinct and indeed the familiar stridency seemed to me both commendable and right. I do not remember her swinging her handbag; I remember instead a refusal to compromise on a point of principle. She lacked utterly the messianic naivety of a much lesser politician who later wished to emulate her, Tony Blair; for Thatcher, the welfare of Britain and of British people were always paramount. I don’t think that even figured at all for Blair.

But at home? How much of the catastrophe is her fault is up for question, I suppose. But one way or another the market became fetishised in a manner which led to a sort of foul, grasping anarchy. It is at least partly a consequence of Thatcher that, for a long while, we eschewed innovation and manufacturing and put our faith in the spivvery of deregulated ‘financial services’. Ironically, while steadfast in her defence of Britain abroad, she lost sight of what it was that constituted Britain at home; that sense of community and society, the old idea that we were ‘in this together’. Instead we were left with an atomised society and the repugnant principle that the devil take the hindmost.

Millions were hurt. There are plenty of towns in the north of England, and in Scotland and Wales, which are still trying to cope with the recession of the early 1980s; the UK is a country divided both economically and geographically by a primitive and anti-social ideology which was largely of Thatcher’s making, even if its genesis lay in some arid university in the American Midwest. I do not think that she would have applauded the vaulting greed and acquisitiveness which resulted from this consumer-driven boom and which remains hung around our necks.

The sense of entitlement we rightly bemoan is a consequence of Thatcher every bit as much as it is of the left. Perhaps she would also have cavilled at the notion that a house is not a home but mere collateral, to be traded ever upwards. Cavil she might, but that is what she left us with. I would go so far as to suggest that prime ministers who think there is no such thing as society should not be prime ministers — if that is the case, then what, after all, are you presiding over?