Thoughts on the other Mrs T, Mrs Thatcher
Yesterday the news broke that Mrs Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from May 1979 to November 1990 had died from a stroke. Her death unleashed some unpleasant vitriol: students celebrated on the streets, offensive remarks delighting in her death were posted on Facebook, left-wing politicians queued up to slate her, an e-petition was started to prevent her from having a state funeral.
Subsequently, I have thought back over the life of Mrs Thatcher,who was in power for most of the years when I was forming my own political opinions, and I've wondered if she deserves the vitriol or whether, in fact, she deserves the accolades that those with more respect for her passing have shown. Was she truly a"great" leader and, if so, what are the qualities that distinguish a "great" leader from any other leader? What sets her apart from any other British twentieth century peace-time politician to the extent that she warrants an expensive and elaborate funeral?
I came to the conclusion that there is one overriding factor in determining a "great" leader:
I believe that factor is courage.
Policies and circumstances all change. That's life, that's momentum. There will always be arguments over Mrs Thatcher's political legacy as there will be for any other political leader. But I think what distinguishes her, like Churchill, from other politicians is her courage, her resolute determination, her undeniable self-belief and unswerving loyalty to this country.
In 1984 I was in my second year at university. I lived in a ramshackle student house with four other female students. I was studying History and had chosen Modern British Government as one of my two core subjects for that year. Although not a political activist, I was interested in politics in the way that any reasonable intelligent being would be having lived my teenage years witnessing The Winter of Discontent, the death of Bobby Sands and The Falklands War.They were turbulent times when the news was read on the television and radio with ever-present gravitas.
On October 12th 1984 my house mates and I gathered around our television to watch the aftermath of the assassination attempt on Mrs Thatcher at the Grand Hotel in Brighton. I can't remember what all our respective political opinions were now, nor do I particularly care, but I do remember we all had a lot of admiration for Mrs Thatcher. We respected that she had taken on a male dominated establishment and we respected that she was prepared to face bitter political, social and personal antagonism and hatred in order to do what she believed was best for the future of this country.
We respected her courage.
We are all free to voice our own opinions, that's democracy. And it's my opinion that it's not courageous to speak ill of the dead in the manner of the last twenty four hours - especially when it is about someone who was freely elected, who proved beyond doubt that women are equal to men and devoted their life to British politics in a far more honest and transparent way than many of her detractors.
Mrs Thatcher's legacy is but one chapter in the history of these isles. It is a particularly interesting and courageous chapter. It deserves an epitaph.