Rusty Politics

It was perhaps inevitable that the death of Margaret Thatcher would bring out the wailing and gnashing of teeth from one side of the political divide and songs of jubilation from the other, yet I cannot help but feel the whole thing is over-egged. It is true that she will go down in history as the greatest Prime Minister of the latter half of the 20th Century, but that has more to do with the quality of the alternatives than her own qualities. Ultimately, she is nowhere near the great heroine nor the great devil that her supporters and detractors like to portray.

It is certainly true that as the first (and, so far, only) female Prime Minister of the UK that she achieved something remarkable, but every other of her successes is qualified and not for the silly, reactionary reasoning of her critics. She led Britain to victory in the Falklands War, but it was her own foolishness that allowed Argentina to launch an invasion in the first place. She broke the power of the Unions, but mostly by breaking British industry as a whole, cutting off the nation’s nose to spite its face. Likewise, she broke the vested interests of the wealthy, only to encourage a new generation of ‘greed is good’ capitalists to replace them. She was a strong voice in Europe, but lacked the political will to remove the UK from the then-EEC. Ultimately, that will be the story of her premiership – half-measures. In other words, she did what had to be done, but she didn’t do a very good job of it.

Some of her failure to do so was not her fault. As a working-class woman, it was inevitable that the entrenched forces of the patrician class, whether Tory toffs of champagne Socialists, would seek to stymie her at every turn. Even today, one has only to look at the demographic make-up of her detractors to see that those who scream loudest their hatred of her are inevitably driven by gender and class, even when they try and dress up their attacks as being left-wing propaganda. They are snobs and sexists, not class warriors. She also faced opposition from the vested interests, many of them led by the patricians who loathed her mere presence in politics as an insult to their paternalistic patronising rule. Whether business cliques or union bosses, they did not want the status quo that gave them power to change, even if it was ruining Britain for the majority. But, as much as they retarded her attempts to raise Britain from the mire in which it found itself under successive Labour and Conservative governments, her biggest enemy was her own weakness – she allowed herself to be swayed by civil servants and members of her party from following through on the right decisions.

Sadly, for every problem she cured, she caused a new one, and she left many problems untouched or only half-sorted. The right idealize her as a saviour, but she wasn’t, not really. She may have got Britain’s head above water, but she didn’t get the nation fully out of the mire. The left regard her as the epitome of evil, but they had not better answers. Ultimately, she did what had to be done, but she didn’t do enough and neither have the Prime Ministers who have followed her; indeed, they have done much to undo what good she did do. Unfortunately, she is just part of the trend towards inept and short-sighted government that has blighted Britain for decades if not centuries. Which is why I am neither particularly sad nor delighted to hear of her death. If only we had someone better to run this country…

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