Thatcher was every bit as bad as we remember

Kevin Meagher argues that, regardless of how human the Iron Lady film makes her look, we should never forget the corrosive effect Margaret Thatcher had on Britain.

In the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, Meryl Streep plays a megalomaniac who leaves a trail of human destruction and misery behind her in her bid to secure political power on behalf of shadowy US corporations.

The casting director must have thought she was a natural, then, to portray Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, the forthcoming biopic of our hated former prime minister which is due out on January 6th.

To most of us, her dismal record in Downing Street is familiar enough; save to say that her timelessly resonant claim that “there is no such thing as society” was especially true if you happened to live in a tightly-knit mining community or industrial heartland, or pretty much anywhere in the northern half of the country.

Thatcher’s innate controversy makes an authentic film about her premiership particularly problematic. Indeed, early assessments of The Iron Lady have divided critics.

Desiccated Thatcher groupies like Norman Tebbitt bemoan that:

“…she was never, in my experience, the half-hysterical, over-emotional, over-acting woman portrayed by Meryl Streep.”

And Lord Tim Bell (‘Margaret Thatcher’s favourite PR man’) added:

“I can’t see the point of this film. Its only value is to make some money for Meryl Streep and whoever wrote it. I have no interest in seeing it.”

Over in The Sunday Times News Review, India Knight argued that the film “humanises [Thatcher] completely” which “forces us to examine our own prejudices”. This in turn should prompt nothing less than a “re-evaluation” of Margaret Hilda Thatcher.

Although stating her personal dislike of Thatcherism, Knight nevertheless falls for the oldest canard:

“She was a grocer’s daughter, she was a woman; she became prime minister. The odds were stacked against her, and then some, but she did it anyway.”

But a focus on Thatcher the woman/mother/underdog etc risks missing the point.

Her novelty was not in her gender, or that she was a relative outside in the Conservative party; her real significance was that she was an unremitting ideologue hell-bent on repealing half a century’s worth of progressive social and economic reform.

That she was our first woman PM is trite; her true legacy was the egregious effect her policies had on ordinary people – especially women.

Anti-union legislation. The emasculation of public services. Mass unemployment. Monetarist economics delivering sky-high interest rates which punished decent ‘producer’ companies. Hardly the heroic stuff of a Hollywood blockbuster.

Abroad, her belligerence resulted in Britain’s increasing isolation, not its glory. Ironically, her most significant move was to sign-up to the Single European Act in 1986; responsible for the greatest acceleration of European integration since the Treaty of Rome.

At home, Thatcher’s malign legacy endures. Sunday’s papers carried a story about the government’s intention to curb the cost of free school milk, claiming that some suppliers are charging too much – although they failed to provide a shred of proof for the claim. Thatcher “the milk snatcher” would be proud of them.

But it is perhaps in the sad death of Basil D’Oliveira, the mixed-race South African cricket legend who came to personify the dignified struggle against Apartheid, which best reminds us that Thatcher’s record should never be viewed through rose-tinted spectacles.

Many decent people from across the divide in British politics supported the aims of Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) through those dark days of ‘whites-only’ rule in South Africa.

But not Thatcher. She regarded Mandela and the ANC as “terrorists – a sentiment just as vile and wrong-headed back when she was in power as it is today. Indeed, David Cameron made it an early mission of his leadership to denounce her for it.

For the millions of ordinary Britons who endured eleven years of her wretched reign, Margaret Thatcher will endure in our memories as a woman seemingly inured to the cruelty of her policies. Oblivious to the social collapse she presided over. Utterly disregarding of the misery she brought to so many lives.

Even a brilliant actress like Meryl Streep, with all the poetic license Hollywood brings to these things, cannot whitewash her record:

Economic inequality and social decay. An economy rigged in the interests of the few while the many struggled to cope. £200 billion of privatisation and North Sea oil receipts frittered away paying the benefits bill of the mass unemployment she created.

Streep’s earlier Oscar-winning hit, Kramer Vs Kramer, told the story of a family divided against one another. Mrs. Thatcher managed to do that to a whole country.

No “re-evaluation” of The Iron Lady is warranted. Let her reputation rust.

See also:

How Thatcher’s “property owning democracy” turned sour for today’s “jilted generation” – May 31st 2011

Mail masks Thatcher’s true legacy: Unions busted, hours extended, productivity held back – Daniel Elton, May 5th 2011

Women’s History Month profiles: Margaret Thatcher – Oona King, March 19th 2011

Thatcher 2: I’ll be back – Will Straw, May 5th 2010

Thatcher to blame for ‘Broken society’ – Will Straw, November 20th 2009

Like this article? Left Foot Forward relies on support from readers to sustain our progressive journalism. Can you become a supporter for £5 a month?

68 Responses to “Thatcher was every bit as bad as we remember”

  1. Alanw1234

    Feelings in T’North are as dark as you’d like (though it should be very noted that Thatcher is a heroine to a significant portion of the English working class).

    Anyway, it’ll soon be time for dancing clogs. The hatred of that woman up here is deeper than the division she created.

  2. alanx ma with bar

    Btw, it is not just a simple left wing / right wing hatred issue here. Enoch Powell despised the woman because of the damage she did to the country (and probably as he was a smart bloke he spotted her ideological lunacy at a glance).

    Anyway, that grave will be well guarded or else I won’t be the first to spark my clogs on it. Anybody remember Meng and Ecker? – that’s how bad the feeling endures. And I’m a f**king moderate.

  3. Revenai

    what sick bastards you are! – exulting in another person’s death would have to be the most disgusting thing I have heard. I despise, loath and abhor Gordon Brown, but I would never wish death on him – I pity your children if this is the kind of morality you teach.

  4. Nick

    Single-handedly turned this country round which was bad news for the left as they had to get off fat arses and do a job.

  5. Paul Campbell

    RT @leftfootfwd: Thatcher was every bit as bad as we remember

  6. Kevin Morris

    RT @leftfootfwd: Thatcher was every bit as

  7. Dànaidh Ratnaike

    Thatcher was every bit as bad as we remember @KevinPMeagher

  8. UK Immigrant Magazin

    RT @leftfootfwd: Thatcher was every bit as bad as we remember

  9. Al

    If only there’d have been jobs available to do….

  10. Stephen Wigmore

    But sadly for you her reputation will not ‘rust’. It will only grow with the passing of time and she will be remembered for Centuries as the greatest Prime Minister of the latter 20th Century just as she is repeatedly voted as the greatest Prime Minister of the 20th Century in poll after poll now. You were utterly defeated by her. Beaten in election after election by millions of votes, and utterly beaten politically. Britain for the last 30 years has been Thatcherism nudged gently one way or the other. She has so thoroughly shaped our country that even now after the financial crisis all even the Labour party has to offer is essentially more Thatcherism because she brought the solutions Not that she was perfect, indeed she made some quite major mistakes, and it would be wrong to make light of the social problems that existed during her premiership. But fundamentally her legacy is a mighty Tower of Iron that will continue to stand tall while critiques like this rust and fade away around her feet.

  11. NickSmeggHead

    Not just she ruined thousands of families in the Midlands and the North but also destroyed manufacturing industry in UK. I want her to live for long so that she can suffer very slow death.

  12. Newsbot9

    Certainly, the greatest force of evil this country has seen for hundreds of years.

  13. Newsbot9

    Nope, permanent Tory rule. If they get past the next election, they’ll be able to stich up the figures forever, as they’re trying very hard to.

  14. Aldosrendos

    Thatcher singly handedly killed off the Tories in Scotland. Us Scots should be eternally grateful.

  15. Thatcher’s corrosive legacy: The UK’s abandoned inner cities | Left Foot Forward

    […] Thatcher was every bit as bad as we remember – Kevin Meagher, November 26th […]

  16. Yrotitna

    RT @leftfootfwd: Thatcher was every bit as bad as we remember

  17. Barnaclebill

    Having read Jeff Wheatcroft’s: The strange death of Tory England – I can only celebrate the decline, and I hope, the eventual demise of the Copulation – er, I mean Conservative party, not only in the Celtic fringe, but throughout the UK. I never could escape the simple facts of democraphics, and long ago came to realise that Thatcher spoke to the pre-war, pre-counter culture generation of twisted, vindctive old farts, who never did get over the youthquake of the 1960’s. Let’s remember that in 1979, the Tory party had a membership of two & a half million. By 1997, it was below three hundred thousand, average age 66, and Theresa May was seen at their conference, lambasting them for being “the nasty party of politics.” I remember in the mid-eighties, a Tory grandee accusing Thatcher of destroying the long term interests of the party. I sill believe her legacy will still prove toxic for the British centre right in the long term. I hope I live long enough to see it.

  18. Femme Obtuse


Leave a Reply