Julie Burchill

Maxine Peake is wrong: Margaret Thatcher and Rebekah Brooks are feminist role models

Maxine Peake is wrong: Margaret Thatcher and Rebekah Brooks are feminist role models
Text settings

Margaret Thatcher has been out of power for twenty-six years and dead for three, but in our brave new world of virtue signalling (defined in this magazine by its creator James Bartholomew as ‘the way in which many people say or write things to indicate that they are virtuous…one of the crucial aspects of virtue signalling is that it does not require actually doing anything virtuous’) she has become the El Cid of politics, strapped to her trusty steed and sent out into the fray one more time. But interestingly, her corpse is being repeatedly trotted out by her enemies, rather than by those who guard her flame - and what they say tells us far more about their failings than it does about hers.

The actress Maxine Peake recently informed us what a horrid person Mrs T was in the Observer magazine: ‘At least Thatcher knew she was an evil witch,’ she said during an interview. Peake then lays into Rebekah Brooks, who she played (with all the nuanced finesse of Tyson Fury as a pantomime horse, it must be said) in the tragically unfunny TV film Red Top. Peake claims, incredibly, that Brooks’ career ‘has been all about getting from men what she wants to get. That’s not a feminist role model. It’s like when people say Thatcher was a feminist. These people get to positions of power, but at what cost? They don’t take other females with them.’

This argument always makes me cross, then makes me hoot; women as feeble job-lot who have to be ‘helped’ to a position of power by an alpha female - how insulting to women in general, and how handicapping for maverick women. Do we demand the same from black people, or Muslims, or gay people - that unless they take dozens of their kind with them, their achievements count for nothing? Maxine Peake is that rarity, an actor from a working-class background - does it make null and void her success that the majority of those she works with in the acting profession are posh and getting posher? Couldn’t she stamp her foot and demand that all the public-school boys get the boot from future projects, to prove her worth?

Before the witch-hunts, I knew Rebekah Brooks slightly and found her to be delightful company and a very good feminist indeed, fiercely loyal to her friends - especially the female ones - who in turn were devoted to her. I didn’t know Mrs Thatcher at all and was politically opposed to her (I voted Labour, as always, during her era) but I refused to go along with the cretinous left-wing line that she was evil, stupid and uninteresting. I believe that the purpose of feminism is to inspire as much as to assist - Tim Lott said it well: ‘However reactionary a figure Thatcher was in her thoughts, pronouncements and actions, the very spectacle, day after day, year after year of a woman controlling and indeed dominating a pack of otherwise traditional alpha males can have been nothing but inspiring to any women unimpeded by an ideology that prevented them recognising this.’

Though Peake calls herself a feminist, she is`a fan of Jeremy Corbyn - a man who has referred to the gynophobic honour-killers of Hamas as ‘friends’ and who has suggested that we ‘talk to’ those rape-around-the-clock rascals Isis. With all the level-headed maturity of a One Direction fan describing Harry Styles, she says about Corbyn: ‘I just love him… I felt that hope had returned... I never had any doubt.’ Incredibly, she is referring to a person who promoted an ex-lover to his team while ignoring female Labour MPs he hadn’t had sex with, to the extent that one of the most talented, Jess Phillips - not one of nature’s cry-babies - recently said to me: ‘In the first few days of Corbyn, I definitely felt it was just going to go back to the same old same old — everyone in any sort of job is a man. At the moment, because the Left have their messiah as leader, I’m disappointed to see left-wing women settling for stuff they probably wouldn’t have settled for if Blair had tried to do it.’

There is still a profoundly dumb idea in some sloppy-thinking quarters that a right-wing woman is a traitor to the cause. In fact, women often thrive under capitalism, wither under socialism and perish under theocracy. Indeed, in a looking-glass world where Labour preside over gender-segregated meetings, one might say that a left-wing woman is selling out her sisters. As Jess Phillips added: 'It’s a massive disappointment that we’ve somehow allowed all the other parties to run away with this…it’s like people on the Left are champions of equality until they see that some of their power is being taken away from them — whereas the Tories willingly gave it over.’

When Mrs Thatcher said: ‘I owe nothing to women’s lib’ it wasn’t a brag or a boast but a statement of fact; feminism barely existed as a movement in this country between the Suffragettes and the Sixties, and she was well on her way by then. But Maxine Peake has benefited greatly from feminism. At the end of the interview she touches the interviewer on the shoulder and simpers ‘Be kind'. I can’t imagine Brooks or Mrs T ever stooping to such stereotypically poor-ickle-me anti-feminist tactics.