Comment: No tears for Margaret Thatcher

Ian Dunt: 'Thatcher had a brutal style of leadership which divided this country in a way which has still not been repaired.'
Ian Dunt: 'Thatcher had a brutal style of leadership which divided this country in a way which has still not been repaired.'
Ian Dunt By

It does us a disservice when we speak ill of the dead. The left's running gag about Thatcher's death was never in good taste and it would serve its adherents well to avoid any expressions of joy today. Death is always a tragedy, not least for the family of those involved, and it should be treated as such.

But political figures must be evaluated by their effect on the country. They are not entitled to the same niceties as normal people. Our first impulse when assessing any passing leader must always be to look at what they left behind. That is a more appropriate tribute than piety. And from what I know about Thatcher's personality, it is an approach she would prefer.

For Thatcher, there is much to genuinely admire, but her overall impact was negative and disastrous for the character of Great Britain.

As the first female prime minister of Great Britain, she will always hold a role in history. But her effect was much broader than that. As the name 'Iron Lady' - supplied by the Russians - suggests, she broadcast a crucial message internationally: that women could be just as hard, as tough and as combative as men. The effect of that message is incalculable. Ultimately, she was a feminist icon rather than a feminist. She had little time for women and did little to help them advance. And her version of success in a man's world was to appropriate male attributes – to beat them at their own game – rather than present an alternative. Her leadership was intensely macho, not least of all in the use of the term 'wets' for her opponents.


She was also evidence of a socially mobile Britain. As the daughter of a grocer, few could possibly have nominated her for prime minister as a child. She was followed by the Brixton-raised working class John Major, in a way which would be unthinkable in the age of rule-by-Eton. The tragedy of this background is that she helped dismantle the very ladders which helped raise her. Under Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, her close ally and friend, low and middle incomes stayed static while top incomes soared. Social mobility since that time has ground to a halt. The demands on wages which followed from the defeat of the unions triggered a boost to consumer credit and benefits which helped spark the financial crisis.

Her greatest moment was undoubtedly the Falklands War, when she showed bravery and determination in the face of nationalist aggression from Argentina. She supported the principle of self-determination and democracy when other leaders would have wilted way. Despite her friendship with Reagan, she stood up to American efforts to pacify British anger during the conflict in a way which her successors would not have had the bravery to do.

However, Thatcher's legacy is not one of patriotism. It is one of hardship and the savagery of government.

Thatcher presided over the greatest period of economic change since the Second World War. One is still defined, in 2013, by which side of the debate on her actions one falls. I will not conceal the fact that I oppose them. We are still paying the price of her efforts today, not least of all in the lack of social housing stock. But this is not what made her such a disastrous leader for Britain. Her most appalling moment and the one by which she must be judged came in one simple quote and what it represented.

Thatcher tried to use the public support she won in the Falklands in her battle against the trade unions. She said this: "We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty."

This was the most shameful comment ever made by a British prime minister. She had called our own citizens "the enemy within". These were men and women who worked hard for modest pay and whose industry, whose ability to make a living, was being dismantled. Their wives and children had to watch the prime minister make that comment. She effectively accused them of treason.

It was an unforgivable thing to say and it typified a brutal style of leadership which divided this country in a way which has still not been repaired.

Thatcher was a complex and important figure: a political giant. But she can never be excused for this appalling act of betrayal.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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