Comment: The Iron Lady showed women they had a place at the top table

Charlotte Henry: 'When you've had a female prime minister, it becomes a lot harder for local parties to say a woman shouldn't be the candidate.'
Charlotte Henry: 'When you've had a female prime minister, it becomes a lot harder for local parties to say a woman shouldn't be the candidate.'

By Charlotte Henry

For about two years, from 1990 to 1992, Margaret Thatcher was my MP. Aged three, you will forgive me I hope for not being aware of the reputation of the lady whose constituency my family had just moved in to.

I cannot claim the same 22 years on. As is quite apparent from the near endless column inches and pixels rightly dedicated to Baroness Thatcher's passing, that reputation is contrary, lasting, and impossible to ignore.

In Alan Bennett's The History Boys, teacher Mrs Lintott finally loses her temper with her male students, curtly informing them: "Women so seldom get a turn for a start, Elizabeth I less remarkable for her abilities than that, unlike most of her sisters, she did get a chance to exercise them."


Similar sentiments could be expressed about Lady Thatcher. Whether or not you liked all, some, or none of what she did as prime minister, it is truly astounding that at the time she got the chance to do any of it at all.

The fact that through sheer force she was able to overcome patronising Conservative associations, a confused electorate, and a misogynistic Commons to become prime minister leaves every woman in UK politics in her debt.

For all its claims of being the last word in democracy and equality, the USA has still not managed to have a female president. Only two women have ever made it to the presidential ballot, and they were from the minor Green party.

I sadly have to accept that Thatcher's smashing of the political glass ceiling has not helped the progress of female politicians as much as it could have.

A quick survey of both front benches, and the shameful recent Labour leadership contest on which Diane Abbot was patronisingly forced onto the ballot, shows there is still a long way to go for political gender equality.

However, whether they loved or loathed her, Thatcher's ascension has made multiple generations of British women believe that they could do politics, and operate at its very highest levels.

When you've had a female prime minister, it becomes a lot harder for local parties to say a woman shouldn't be the candidate.

When you've had a female prime minister, it empowers women to believe they have as much right as men to Cabinet positions.

When you've had a female prime minister who has taken the country to war, it looks ridiculous to give women only the touchy-feely jobs in government.

In the coming days we will surely continue to debate the Thatcher legacy extensively, but have no doubt that the Iron Lady steeled women, and showed us that we all have a place at the top table of politics.

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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