There are probably few tears being shed in our city over the death of Margaret Thatcher. That’s mostly because we fancy ourselves a bastion of progressivism that stands in opposition to the causes that Thatcher worked for: less government, privatization and the individual over the group. But, as I have often said, what Thatcher’s life can teach anyone of any political bent is how standing on principle can change the course of politics and history.
Thatcher’s name is often spoken in the same sentence as her American counterpart Ronald Reagan who led the United States during the same period and held many of the same views as Thatcher. Yet, it is important to remember that the Britain she took over in 1979 was a country that was far more socialist than the United States has ever been.
Reagan left his mark for sure on American politics, but Thatcher truly shifted Britain from a country that had high taxation, state ownership of car companies and rail lines, and labor unions that were virtually a branch of the national government to a free market economy with unbridled economic development.
One might say that she ruined Britain, just as some say Reagan ruined the United States, but there is no doubt that she changed everything. How did she do it?
'ê¨'ê¨One observer in an FTV documentary pointed out that conservative men in upper class Britain had an odd relationship with women; first they had a nanny, then a distant mother growing up, and then a matron at school. In each case, they were taught to respect these women and certainly not to argue with them.
In Thatcher’s day those roles — nanny, mother, and matron — were all ones women generally played, and to some significant degree, her rise came from being a woman taking a new role in a world in which men’s respect and fear of women could be exploited. She was smarter than the men around her, more driven than them, and more principled than them. And, as a woman, she created a new role for herself that in many ways built on what she had at her disposal, her difference and novelty. 'ê¨'ê¨
Thatcher was also not afraid of being right at the expense of being unpopular. One can see the flash of how Thatcher dealt with the sinking of the Belgrano in a now famous exchange with David Frost in which she said, “I know it was right to sink her and I would do the same again.” I doubt Thatcher would say anything different about her life than what she said about the Belgrano: “I would do the same again.”
Sadly, we live in an era in which politicians of both sexes and parties are more worried about saying the right thing than doing the right thing. In the Pacific Northwest especially, a politician who suggested a “right way” of doing things would be considered dangerous, whether on the right or the left.
We tend to favor process over outcomes, consensus over action and being politically correct over being scientifically right. I don’t agree with all of Thatcher’s views, but I fell in love with the way she expressed them: without hesitation or compromise. Watching her in the House of Commons brilliantly staving off attacks from men making faces and wagging their fingers still inspires me, emboldening me to say what I really think and defending it with every rhetorical tool I can muster.
Thatcher is often seen as a hectoring and proud figure without compassion. I think that is largely because we’re not used to seeing women in power or politicians willing to oppose the popular consensus. She was both. And we won’t see the likes of Thatcher for a long time anywhere. But I will still hope for leaders, especially women, who will say when the going gets rough, “the lady’s not for turning.”