My son asked me today “Mum, what was it like growing up in the 80’s?”. A timely question, especially as just a few minutes later the news broke that Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of Great Britain during that time, had died.
I tried to answer him honestly – living with daily news accounts of IRA bombings here on the mainland and the violence in Northern Ireland, the miner’s strike that ultimately led to massive pit closures, massive unemployment, the Falklands War, privatisation of our national companies and services, the dodgy fashions (shoulder pads and power dressing, luminous socks, ankle warmers and ra-ra skirts), the music, the first instances of rogue traders and so on.
I told him about the violence – the riots, the IRA, the Falklands, the strikes – and I told him how tough it was for ordinary working families, and how Margaret Thatcher was a key figure in all of it.
I didn’t particularly like or dislike Margaret Thatcher, but I can admire her for her forthrightness, her strength, her determination and her attitude that being a woman didn’t stop her doing the job she loved doing. She really was in service to our country. Whatever she did it was with our best interests at heart – and polarised opinion as to what that meant – and it was not for her own personal gain unlike some subsequent “leaders”. She stood for what she believed in and she believed in what she stood for.
I am not a Tory, not by a long shot, but even I can see there was some sense behind some of the things that she did. Take for example the decision she took in the late 1970’s when she was Education Minister to remove free milk from school children. It earned her the nickname “Margaret Thatcher Milk Snatcher” but why did she do it? It had long been established that there was a link between poor nutrition and poor educational results and in 1946 a law was passed that entitled all children under the age of 18 to receive a third of a pint of milk each day in schools in order to boost their nutritional intake. However, it proved expensive to run and in 1968, the law was changed so that secondary school aged children didn’t receive it any more. That was by Harold Wilson’s Labour Government, yet only a few years later when Margaret Thatcher removed free milk for 7 to 11 year olds, she was branded as a monster. I’m not sticking up for her, but I can’t be doing with the unfairness of it all.
You don’t have to agree with her politics to admire her strength and determination not to be swayed from her duty and her service. For example, the IRA bomb at the Brighton hotel the night before she was due to deliver her keynote speech in 1984. Not many modern politicians could survive a bomb attack on their life and then carry on the day afterwards with barely a shiver like Thatcher did then.
As I say, I didn’t particularly like or dislike her but I do feel desperately sorry that in recent years her health has been failing – physically and mentally – and she has died homeless, frail and without family or friends round her. However great and powerful she once was she did not deserve to die a lonely death as she did today.
Margaret Thatcher will go down in history for many reasons (and will be written about by people better able to than I can) and it will be a long time until we see another like her. Some would say that is a good thing; I say there is always two sides to everything and I wouldn’t trade her life with mine for anything.
Rest in peace Mrs T.
- Margaret Thatcher: feminist icon? (newstatesman.com)
- Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dead after stroke (pix11.com)