As a non-British child, born outside of the UK in the mid-80s and completely unaware of Margaret Thatcher’s existence until after she was out of power, my life was largely untouched by her policies and actions–at least, not directly. (Then again, perhaps my tuition at the University of Leeds was affected… But never mind.) The same is not true for millions of others of my generation and the ones before. The #Hashtag of the week, coming rather early on this Tuesday, the 9th of April, is Margaret Thatcher.
On Monday morning, the 8th of April, Margaret Thatcher died at the age of 87. Since the news of her death broke, reaction to her legacy and her life has poured forth, in the form of editorials, demonstrations and, of course, tweets. In a commentary published Monday by The Guardian, Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Liberal Democrats from 1988 to 1999, says:
The pre-eminent attribute in politics is courage; the moral courage to hold to the things you believe in. And this, like her or loathe her, she had in abundance.
It is because of her convictions, and her fierce determination to always stick to what she believed in that Margaret Thatcher was so influential. Her courage, or stubbornness as it can be seen, is why she remains a larger-than-life, legendary figure to this day.
If they weren’t well-known before today, the reasons Margaret Thatcher is such a divisive and polarizing figure are definitely clear now. She believed in small government, and fought to move many public services into the private sector in the UK throughout the 1980s. She was famously inflexible on her policies on labor unions, Northern Ireland, privatization, the economy and foreign affairs.
During her tenure as Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, she was both praised and despised for leading the UK into the Falklands War, and her refusal to negotiate with labor unions saw unemployment rise to a record 3.3 million in 1984 (ref: The Independent, via Wikipedia). She, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev are credited for ending the Cold War; and she is roundly criticized for “flirting” with South Africa’s racist apartheid government.
With the news of her death, people are writing tributes of praise for being a formidable woman in politics, while at the same time crowds are gathering in public places to celebrate her death. For some (including myself) the idea of celebrating a person’s death (be that person other than say, Adolf Hitler or Satan incarnate) is horrifying. But it only goes to show how deeply divisive Margaret Thatcher’s legacy is, and how the wounds inflicted during her tenure have not yet healed.
A clear example that Lady Thatcher regretted nothing about her policies came in 2009, when delivering a speech in Glasgow, Scotland (where the revelers above are pictured) she stuck to her conviction of the poll tax, and for cutting funding to curtail “the culture of dependency, which had done such damage to Britain.”
Even 19 years after leaving office, she held absolutely to the conviction that she had done right.
Some, like Mr. Ashdown, call this courage. Others may call it stubbornness. Was it a desire to prove that women are just as capable as men of getting things done? Probably not. I doubt Lady Thatcher worried too much about proving herself to be worthy to lead as a female.
From the little I know, and the research I’ve done on this post, I think her character simply did not allow her to compromise on what she thought was right. Call it courage or stubbornness, it is a polarizing characteristic in anyone, most of all a politician. But this must be said for the Iron Lady: She got things done.
Perhaps her courage, stubbornness, drive, and absolute certainty that what she was doing was right are things that politicians today should strive to emulate. I am ill-qualified to judge whether her actions as Prime Minister were positive or negative for the UK, but she did take decisive action, to great effect. That’s more than can be said for many politicians today.
It is certainly something to think about.