On 13 October 1925, a woman called Beatrice Ethel had a baby and then that baby grew up and then last week the baby (who was by that point an 87 year old woman) died.
54 years after that baby was born in 1925, Margaret Thatcher (as she had by then started calling herself) became the first ever woman to become the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Standing on the steps of 10 Downing Street in 1979, having just been elected as the first ever woman to become the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom by a massive majority vote (43.9%), Margaret began her premiership by quoting St Francis of Assisi:
Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.
Tragically, Margaret was never able to bring harmony where there was discord, or truth where there was error, or faith where there was doubt, or hope where there was despair, as in 1990 she was forced to flee Downing Street in tears by members of her own party who this week described her as the greatest peacetime leader in British history.
I was born in Kingston-upon-Thames in 1981 and so was not particularly concerned with mine closures or right-to-buy. During the final few years of Thatcher’s reign of terror, I was mainly thinking about Michelle Harvey who was a girl in my class at school and whose name I probably should have changed in case she ever happens to read this. However, despite my tender years, I am aware that Mrs Thatcher could, at times, antagonise people.
Immediately following her death, a Facebook campaign was launched to get the song “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead!” to number one in the charts.
The campaign made me think about the suitability or otherwise of the use of the word “witch” to describe a woman you don’t like or agree with. I think “witch” is a gender-specific form of abuse and using that word to describe someone you don’t like demeans you more than it demeans them, particularly if you are attempting to claim some moral high ground based on compassion for others. The only time it’s acceptable to use the word “witch” is if you are describing someone with green skin and a wart on their nose who wears a black pointy hat whilst flying around on a broomstick with a black cat and cackling insanely. Which is exactly what Margaret Thatcher did throughout the 1980s.
Feeling that perhaps the message behind the “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” campaign was a little too explicit, a second and more subversive campaign was orchestrated by the author and satirist Louise Bagshawe (posing as the cartoon former Tory MP ‘Louise Mensch’). Bagshawe managed to single-handedly propel the obscure 1979 novelty punk song “I’m In Love With Margaret Thatcher” into the charts in the week of Thatcher’s death by convincing her right-wing supporters that it was a fitting tribute to her memory, despite the fact that it was recorded by a band called The Notsensibles.
Despite her often divisive nature, most commentators at least attempted some kind of balance following her death. Sadly, some journalists were unable to resist the temptation to attack Margaret Thatcher’s legacy. Writing in the Mail On Sunday, Peter Hitchens described Thatcher’s eleven years in office as “a tragic failure”. Hitchens lists a number of her policies which he felt had failed: privatisation; the attack on British manufacturing; her policies on taxation; right-to-buy; her policies on education, morality and the family; health and safety legislation; the Falklands; the surrender to the IRA; Europe. Despite all this, he remains proud to have met her and to have spoken to her. I am sure that when he did meet her and speak to her he explained to her precisely how her time in office had been such a tragic failure.
As I read Hitchens’ column, one section caught my eye:
And this country still has the biggest nationalised industry in the world, the great, over-rated NHS. It also has huge armies of public-sector workers in quangos and town halls – only these days they are condom outreach workers or climate change awareness officers.
If you google the phrase “condom outreach workers”, you’ll see that such a thing doesn’t really exist. The phrase pops up every so often in one of Hitchens’ columns, but never in the real world. There is, however, a “climate change awareness officer”. Or rather, there was. A woman called Andrea Lee held that position at Vale Royal Borough Council between October 2007 – April 2008.
For all of her rhetoric, I do not believe that Margaret Thatcher could ever have reduced state spending to a level which would have satisfied Peter Hitchens. “Huge armies of public-sector workers”? One woman who worked for the local council in Cheshire for seven months five years ago is not “huge armies of public-sector workers”. She’s just an individual doing her job.