It is wrong to hate Margaret Thatcher, says Kevin Meagher

SO the Iron Lady has started to rust. Lady Thatcher will remain in hospital – needless to say a Bupa one – to treat her bout of flu. Her son, Mark, says his mother is “in good order”, an unusual formulation, usually reserved for descriptions of used cars.

Some will sneer at her predicament. Her detractors are measured in tens of millions. But she is a sick, elderly grandmother suffering, as her daughter Carol confirmed two years ago, from dementia. Whatever her faults as a politician – and they are legion – she deserves compassion now.

This is not to diminish the appalling policy choices Margaret Thatcher made in her 11 years as prime minister. Thatcherism and the Tory party which propagated it are enduringly loathsome. But we should not hate her.

Of course, it is difficult to separate the woman from the creed. They are co-defendants. That is the price you pay when you give your name to an “ism”. Churchill was an objectively greater political figure than her. Harold Wilson was in office for nearly as long. Attlee changed the political weather to a greater degree than she did. Yet we do not speak of Churchillism or Wilsonites. Attlee would blanch at the prospect of such solipsistic vulgarity.

So is hating Thatcherism necessarily the same as hating Thatcher? Almost. But hatred of politicians leads nowhere. By all means dislike them. Oppose what they do or do not do. But hate the sin, not the sinner. Giving corporeal form to political frustrations and animosities simply ignores a series of broader trends and patterns.

Thatcher did not suddenly appear; she was created by the decline of the post-war political consensus about the role of the state. She was facilitated both by the weakness of the one nation Tory tradition and by the intellectual staleness of Labourist social democracy in meeting the economic and political challenges of the 1970s.

But she has lived long enough to see her legacy exposed for the illusion it was: a credit bubble bookended by the two deepest recessions since the 1930s, driven by a combination of doctrinaire economic mismanagement and a belief in the moral superiority of wealth.

One-off privatisation receipts and North Sea oil revenues were squandered in dole payments, tax cuts for the rich and squirreling onto costly invalidity benefits the very same people Mr. Cameron now wants to shoehorn into mythical jobs. It also went in shuffling off a generation of working-class kids to university rather than have us hang around looking for non-existent apprenticeships or to pop up on the fiddled unemployment count.

Sure, this government’s approach to public spending will still get her blood circulating; but the leit motif of Cameroonian conservatism is “the big society”. It may be nebulous mush, but it represents the frontline in the Tories’ decontamination strategy as they seek to expunge memories of Thatcher and her credo of “there is no such thing as society”. At long last, modern Tories are actively defining themselves in contrast to “the great she-elephant”.

What would she make of Cameron’s decision to patch-up Trident rather than renew it? Or to seek defence tie-ups with the French? Or to ring-fence development aid? And to see her bête noire, Ken Clarke, the cabinet minister who first told her she had to walk the plank, leading a revolt of the pinko liberals on sentencing and justice policy? It would surely summon up whatever reserves of rage and bile she still possesses.

But the left does not get off scot-free. It has a dark secret. Much of the anti-Thatcher hatred is heaped upon a generous dollop of self-loathing, stemming from the knowledge that there are a larger cast of characters to blame for the events of the 1980s.

The left of the Labour party and its onanistic political machinations. The SDP splitters who opened the way for Thatcher to govern on a minority of the popular vote. Arthur Scargill’s lousy tactics. The SNP’s wretched vote to bring down Callaghan’s government. Each helped put Thatcher in No 10 and keep her there.

But theirs are largely sins of omission: chiefly, of vision and unity. Thatcher’s were sins of commission. She chose to embark on a path that would wreak social and economic devastation for millions. She chose to dichotomise British society by unshackling atavistic greed at one end of the scale while tolerating Dickensian squalor at the other.

Mrs. Thatcher’s involuntary reappearance in the headlines is timely. Next month it will be 20 years since her own party did for her, weighed down, as she was, by her own hubris. Betrayed by treacherous courtiers. Her invincibility shattered. Many wept tears of joy at the sight of her own tears of pity for the decapitation of her premiership.

Not many tears will be shed now in the coalfields of South Yorkshire, or in Scotland – an entire country used as a crash test dummy for the hated poll tax. People there – and in many other corners of Britain – went through genuine hardship. Thatcherism sent entire industries to the wall. Communities that serviced them went too. A way of life was ended for millions. Nothing was put in its place. The hope of gradual progress for working-class families was slammed into reverse.

The hatred, not unexpectedly, runs deep. Commenting on the £3 million it is estimated it would cost to provide Mrs. Thatcher with a state funeral, the comedian Frankie Boyle remarked that for the same money you could buy every person in Scotland a spade and they would dig a hole so deep they could deliver her to Satan personally.

But as she lies in her hospital bed it is worth remembering that, ultimately, Margaret Hilda Thatcher is a frail 85 year-old widow. She is also the grandma to Michael and Amanda. We should give her the pity that she failed to give others.

Trash her record; it warrants it. Hate what was done in her name; it deserves opprobrium. Remember in defiance what went on in those years of plenty and penury and pledge that we will never revisit them.

But it is surely a hollow feeling to drink to the ill health of a sick old lady or raise a toast at her eventual passing. In fact, it is a tasteless, unworthy sentiment.

Kevin Meagher is a campaign consultant and former ministerial adviser.

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8 Responses to “It is wrong to hate Margaret Thatcher, says Kevin Meagher”

  1. David Wilson says:

    Sorry Kevin but I doubt there will be many on the left who share your ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ approach to Thatcher. She may be suffering from dementia and she may be a loving grandmother but she will still be harshly judged by my generation who grew up with the consequences of her divisive approach to politics at home and abroad.

    No amount of compassion for her family should let anyone forget the damage she caused to this country. She has never shown public contrition for anything she was responsible for. I think our energies should be focused on the needs of the larger numbers of frail people with dementia who cannot afford expensive entourages and private hospital treatment and leave Thatcher to be supported by her family and friends. In fact let’s have a media embargo on news of her hospitalisation as it is not remotely in the public interest.

  2. It was her power and what she did with it that I hated. Now she’s just an 85 year old woman and I wish her good health and no I’ll-will.

  3. D Dykes says:

    I absolutely agree with David Wilson. She wasn’t suffering from anything when she was in power and chose to ignore the millions who were suffering.

    I will always hate her and am getting a little bit irritated by self-righteous people telling me how I should feel.

  4. Marc Jones says:

    I care as much for her now as she cared about me leaving school to go straight on the dole.

    Hear hear to David’s opening comments.

  5. AnneJGP says:

    A very good article, Kevin, thank you.

    (For David Wilson, every person on the left who is in any way Christian will share Kevin’s approach.)

    I want Labour to be a party I’m happy to vote for, as I explained in a comment on an earlier article.

    For me, one of the most off-putting things about Labour is the apparent real hatred for opponents.

  6. Gary says:

    Absolutely. The amount of people who join ‘party when Thatcher dies’ Facebook groups is a massive embarrassment and shame to the left. As you point out, it is more a reflection of weakness than anything positive.

    And, above all, this is an old woman dying. Laughing and partying about a persons death is pretty disturbing to me, and no doubt to the millions of people that the left claims to and hopes to represent.

  7. Peter Voth says:

    I look forward to dancing on Margaret Thatcher’s grave.

  8. k wicks says:

    view, for a Truth seeking petition on thatcher/bae/suadi deal.

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