Remembering Maggie

By Lorenzo

The death of Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, LGOMPCFRS (née Roberts, 13 October 1925 – 8 April 2013), the longest serving and most controversial British Prime Minister of the C20th, has and will let loose a storm of picking over the bones of her Premiership and legacy. I would caution against examinations that look at British economic statistics alone, with no context. The high inflation, high unemployment, low real economic growth of the 1970s afflicted, to varying degrees, all the major developed economies and make simply comparing the high growth, low inflation, low unemployment 1950s and 1960s with what followed somewhat problematic.

To invoke the effect of Maggie on British and world politics, one has to understand the context of the 1970s.  Not merely the Winter of Discontent, but the pervasive sense of dreary listlessness. That low growth, high inflation, high unemployment and bitter wrangling over a static economic pie was where we were stuck. Along with a resurgent Cold War, home-grown terrorists and expansionaryre-arming, Soviet Empire. We live in a very different world, one which seemed hugely unlikely when Margaret Thatcher became the first female head of Government of a major Western democracy. (Reagan, after all, was derided for suggesting that the Cold War was winnable.)

What quickly came to my mind upon thinking about Maggie’s legacy were the jokes and stories. Such as the Oxford alumni association publishing a list of alumni they had lost touch with, including one Margaret Hilda Roberts. They were informed to try 10 Downing St.  Or the story of a Foreign Office bureaucrat ringing 10 Downing St early in her Premiership, the phone being answered by a starchy voiced woman and the FO official launching into a diatribe about Downing Street being very slow in responding to a FO memo and, by the way, who am I talking to? “The Prime Minister” came the freezing reply.

margaret-thatcher

Then there was the Spitting Image (or possibly, Rubbery Figures) skit of the PM dining with her Cabinet. She ordered the roast and, in reply to the question, “what about the vegetables?” replied, “they will have the same”. Or the story of her actually dining with the Cabinet. One young waitress, suffering nerves, dropped a bowl of soup in the lap of one of the Ministers. Maggie reacted in flash, springing up, arms around the sobbing waitress and saying “there, there dear, it could happen to anyone”. The scalded Cabinet Minister being left to fend for himself. (Possibly, he was a Wet.)

Or Ronald Reagan being asked about how his first meeting Presidential meeting with Maggie PM went. “I couldn’t get a word in edgeways” was allegedly his reply. (I suspect that just made a good story.)

Apparently, during the annual Tory Parliamentary Party Christmas gatherings, Maggie made it a point to chat with the wives of her MPs. Having an elephantine memory (something she shared with John Winston Howard) she would regularly remember the last conversation, even if it was a year ago. Making the wives feel appreciated gave her an extra partisan in MPs households.

Besides, somebody who, in their memoirs, included the line “but I would say that, wouldn’t I?” perhaps had a sense of humour. Dare one say, a dry one.

Humour is a good way to remember a remarkable woman who so expanded the sense of the possibilities of democratic politics.

ADDENDA: Thanks to Ann O’Dyne, a Christopher Hitchens anecdote that is both a great story, reflecting well on both participants, and a very funny insight into Mrs T’s sense of humour.

13 Comments

  1. Posted April 9, 2013 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    her riposte to Christopher Hitchens was pretty good too.
    My main memory of 1970’s UK is that skinhead gangs ‘Paki-bashing’ crime was absolutely rife.
    RIP Baroness T

  2. Dave Bath
    Posted April 9, 2013 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    * “but I would say that, wouldn’t I?”

    Just the opposite of what had been on the TV – a character she would have had her politics compared with (but not her methods) – “You may say that, but I couldn’t possibly comment”.

  3. kvd
    Posted April 9, 2013 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Nice post Lorenzo. I must say it was also a relief to read the quite graceful words of Meryl Streep.

    And also, what AOD said.

  4. Posted April 9, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    An interesting note by a public servant here about Thatcher:

    I can say I was on first name terms with her – she always called me by my first name. Except unfortunately she thought that was Peter. I recall she came out to Poland when I was in the Embassy there and I was embarrassed because she knew me, and thus greeted me more warmly than my Embassy superiors. The problem was lessened by her continuing to call me Peter very loudly, even after I corrected her twice.

    But then he says:

    In person she was frightfully sharp, she really was. If you gave her a briefing, she had an uncanny ability to seize on the one point where you did not have sufficient information.

  5. John H.
    Posted April 9, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Good post Lorenzo. Thanks. I find it disturbing that so many are filled with hate and spite that they are celebrating her death. This forum is one of those forums where the writers work hard for fairness and balance. What a relief!

  6. Adrien
    Posted April 9, 2013 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    She ordered the roast and, in reply to the question, “what about the vegetables?” replied, “they will have the same”.

    🙂 I remember that well. Not as good as the bit where a turtle mates with Reagan’s brain however. I’d need Alzheimer’s to forget that.

  7. Mel
    Posted April 9, 2013 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    Why did Maggie hate freedom and liberty so much?

    From the above link:

    Seven years later, after the Baathist dictator deployed chemical weapons in his now-notorious attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja, Thatcher did not merely turn a blind eye to the atrocity; she and her ministers actively played down reports that the Iraqi regime had used poison gas against its own people. “Within a month of the Halabja attack,” wrote US investigative journalist Barry Lando in his book on Iraq, ‘Web of Deceit’, “Thatcher’s trade secretary, Tony Newton, was in Baghdad to offer Saddam 340 million pounds of British export credits.”

    Thatcher was a merchant of death and a great friend of despots. She didn’t like poofs either, so I’m not sure why Lorenzo is being so kind to the ol’ gal.

  8. Posted April 10, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    That Hitchens story – Ian Mcewan has written a very fine critical piece on Thatcher and her critics in The Guardian in which he offers a different version of that story. According to Mcewan, Thatcher did slap Hitchens with her papers, but not on the buttocks – that detail was added later by Hitchens.

  9. Posted April 10, 2013 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Hitchens thought she was hot.

    this is the MT riposte I was thinking of:

    after a fight about Rhodesia/Zimbabwe policy. “As she walked away,” Mr. Hitchens noted, “she looked back over her shoulder and
    gave an almost imperceptibly slight roll of the hip while mouthing the words ‘Naughty boy!’ ”

  10. Posted April 11, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] Actually, as SL points out, Maggie was an early supporter of decriminalising homosexual acts. Besides, there is a lot more that matters than sex and sexuality.

    As for selling armaments, that has been British policy to support its defence production for at least 3 centuries.

    Her support for Pinochet was significantly based on his help to the British in the Falklands conflict. Just as a lot of Western countries thought that anyone who was willing to take on the Islamic Republic of Iran could not be all bad.

    Churchill’s comment after the Nazi invasion of Soviet Union (“If Hitler invaded Hell, at least I could make a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons”) is behind a lot of such choices, including during the Cold War.

    The following comments I received in an email and provide more on her legacy:

    – as a trained scientist Thatcher was way ahead of other political leaders on climate change …
    – unlike her contemporary Ronald Reagan, and even more unlike modern conservatives, she never tried to ‘roll back’ the advances in individual liberties, women’s reproductive rights etc that had occurred during the 1960s and 1970s
    – although she was herself a target of terrorism, and one of her closest associates (Airey Neave) was murdered by the IRA, unlike modern conservatives she didn’t think the appropriate response to whatever threat was posed by terrorism was to vastly expand the powers of the state over the individual through much more intrusive surveillance, greatly enhanced police powers to apprehend people without warrants or access to lawyers, and vastly increased budgets and staff for security agencies
    – combine the above with her ongoing concern for the oppressed people of Eastern Europe and what you see is that her foundational mindset was one which emphasized the freedom and liberty of the individual – and her economic views flowed from that – in contrast to modern conservatives who have a fundamental inconsistency between their economic and their social views, when seen through the prism of the rights of the individual vis-a-vis the prerogatives of the State.

  11. Mel
    Posted April 11, 2013 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Yes, well, Lorenzo, I was being a bit harsh. I guess I was fishing for a reaction, its been too long since we last stoushed 😉

    I suppose we will never really know what went on in Maggie’s head. I’ve tried to interpret her actions re apartheid but I haven’t succeeded in drawing a conclusion about her true feelings.

    I also wonder what Maggie would think of Obama’s drone attacks ….

  12. Nigel Davies
    Posted April 12, 2013 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    It is clear that the lady would have been embarrassed by her supporters fuss over her death, but deeply amused by the vicious spleen of her detractors.
    She always said that she was happy when people resorted to personal abuse, as it was their way of admitting (in their own small minded and irrational way) that they had run out of logical arguments.
    The fact that the sort of people who are celebrating are the sort who think its ok to riot, loot and set fire to things (or even to openly side with terrorists and murderers), is all the validation she would ever want.

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