Whether one loved or hated her, Margaret Thatcher has undoubtedly left her stamp upon British politics and her death last week has confirmed her place in history as one of the most memorable and controversial political icons.
Born in Grantham, Lincolnshire on October 13th 1925, Margaret Hilda Roberts, as she then was, spent her childhood there, where her father, Alfred Roberts owned two grocery shops. Thatcher, along with her sister, Muriel (1921-2004), lived in a flat above one of those shops.
Brought up as a Methodist, Margaret was a pupil at Huntingtower Road Primary School. From there she won a scholarship to Kesteven and Grantham Girlsâ€™ School, where from 1942-43 she was head girl.
After leaving school she went to Oxford to study Chemistry, and graduated in 1947. She worked as a research chemist until the advent of her political career, which did not begin to take shape until the beginning of the 1950s.
She came to power in 1979, to a storm of controversy, as the first female Prime Minister and resigned in 1990, after falling out of favour with both her cabinet and the people.
But what will Margaret Thatcher be remembered for? Indeed, can it be right to celebrate a figure who, in her eleven year term in office, has caused such bad feeling amongst the British people?
Thatcherâ€™s lavish funeral – to be held on Wednesday at St Paulâ€™s Cathedral, is expected to cost around ten million and, unsurprisingly, it has attracted criticism from those who consider it too high profile for such a controversial figure.
There has even been talk of the police arresting people before her funeral to stop them rioting, so strong is the feeling against her. Granted, some of these people were not even born when she was in office, and are simply using the event as an excuse to cause trouble.
Yet, for those who do remember her more stringent policies, Thatcher is still resented for the damage wrought upon the communities she tore apart. Most notable are her demolition of the unions during the Minersâ€™ Strike, (1984-85) which ripped the heart out of the mining communities, and saw thousands of men out of work and families ruined.
Fuelled by bitterness at the humiliation of her predecessor, Edward Heath in the 1970s, Thatcher had a score to settle with the National Union of Mineworkers. She settled it by introducing numerous clauses and legal measure to prevent strike action. Combined with the decline of the manufacturing industries, which had been the beating heart of working class identity, these factors impacted powerfully upon communities, especially in the north of England, where unemployment was highest.
Indeed, one of Thatcherâ€™s legacies to us is the underclass – generations of unemployed for whom work – not merely as a source not just of income, but also as a source of pride and identity – has lost its meaning. Thatcher – if one is to be visceral – ripped the heart out of the working class and stamped on it.
In many respects, the traditional working class, formed around the mining and the steel industries, was eroded, if not destroyed by Thatcher. In its place we have a lost and alienated class with a collective identity crisis.
Negative equity is another legacy from the Thatcher era. The Governmentâ€™s Housing Act of 1980 allowed council tenants to buy their own homes. It was a policy which intended to create, â€˜a nation of homeowners,â€™ but which led to the culture of debt we now inherit. Over the subsequent decades, predicated upon the assumption that the value of property would continue to rise, this housing boom created a Britain mortgaged to the hilt and drowning in debt, when the inevitable happened and house prices fell.
Then there was Thatcherâ€™s introduction in 1987, of the contentious Clause 28, a neo-Victorian attempt to censor teachings pertaining to homosexuality in an age that was already blighted by the A.I.D.S. epidemic.
The act, which stated that under no circumstances must authorities and schools intentionally â€˜promote homosexuality,â€™ led to the closure of many lesbian and gay societies and clubs at school, for fear that they were in breach of the act. We can never know what harm Clause 28 has done to those affected by its introduction – vulnerable young people in need of support who were rendered more marginalised and isolated by the suppressive forces of central and local government.
In summary, it is a great pity that Thatcher used her formidable will and substantial energies to wound and destroy the spirit of the nation. Exercised in a different way, her powers could have achieved her goal, to â€˜make Britain Great again.â€™
Rightly or wrongly, Thatcher defined the 1980s. She creating the materialistic, self-serving â€˜meâ€™ generation who believed they could have it all without paying the price; where opportunities were created and not awaited, and where there was, “no such thing as society, only individuals.”
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