As someone who was born after Margaret Thatcher stepped down from office, the Iron Lady has been a remarkably present figure throughout my life. Perhaps it was because she was the local MP for my area before taking up residence at Downing Street, or the fact she was admired by one parent whilst despised by the other. But more than that, more than any policy she ever triumphed or failed with, the inimitable Mrs T did something that had never happened before or since: she proved that politics could be a woman’s game.
Thatcher’s politics might leave me cold, but her conviction does anything but. As I sat in the newsroom at lunchtime today, watching interview after interview with Tory peers, and the ex-PM’s former colleagues, that achievement was yet again hammered home. I watched as a conveyor belt of wrinkled old Etonians were asked to comment on Thatcher, on her policies, and her life, and her input, and couldn’t help but wonder where her female contemporaries might be. Surely it was for them, and not her male counterparts, that a woman at the forefront of British politics truly meant something.
I talk about the lack of women in male dominated areas of life somewhat frequently – in fact, I often think I should write about something else. But then I notice an all-male panel show, or a political conference entirely devoid of female journalists, and can’t help but put pen back to paper. In a government with woefully few female politicians, most of whom are forgettable faces drawn in to keep up the appearance of addressing the gender gap, Thatcher’s rise to the top of her game and ability to stay there for over a decade is all the more meaningful.
While I found many of her policies to be rather deplorable, Thatcher’s belief in politics, and belief in herself, do offer a glimmer of retribution. A politician who can be respected is something I’m yet to see. I have never heard the current state of politics more accurately summed up than by comedian Zoe Lyons, who two years ago proffered: “We now have the blandest politicians in Europe. Cameron, Clegg, Miliband – if there was a General Election tomorrow, I wouldn’t know which middle class, middle aged, bland suited, wet lipped, big foreheaded Oxford graduate to punch in the face first.”
British politics has become an increasingly sorry state of affairs, where so-called ‘leaders’ are little more than media monkeys spouting watered down policies that have no real meaning. It is bitterly ironic that in their desperation to show themselves as characters, as men of the people, that Camereggiband has become little more than political white noise. Thatcher didn’t need to tweet, or draft in house pets in a desperate bid for attention. She cared about her country, and though the way she showed this was wildly divisive, no one can doubt her genuine desire to make a difference.
When Roger Ebert passed away last week, tributes poured out in memory of the great writer who spent much of his career destroying that of others with an acerbic flick of his pen. But praise and adulation were heaped upon him because, whether what he said was good or bad, he had an innate understanding of his craft. You may have disagreed with a review or two, but nobody could say the man couldn’t write.
And similarly, while Thatcher’s policies directly impacted some in a most terrible fashion, she understood the game she was playing. It is easy to look back retrospectively and insist that there were better ways to bring coal mining to an end, but the reality was that there was a job that needed doing, and she was the only one with the guts to pull the plug. A politician can never make everyone happy – that goes against the very nature of democracy, where there will always be a majority and minority – but one whose legacy remains as prominent as Thatcher’s has and will speaks volumes for what she achieved. The vast majority of politics revolves around papering over the cracks left by the last government, and while she had inherited an economically damaged country in a perpetual state of rule by an overpaid boys club, adversity seemed to propel her forward.
What worries me most about Thatcher’s death is not the Bieber generation tweeting their desperate confusion about why someone’s name they don’t recognise is trending. What is far more concerning than that is how Britain’s only ever female leader being gone will impact the future of women in politics. I struggle to believe that the likes of Baroness Warsi or Nadine Dorries will positively influence young girls contemplating a career in politics – there are simply no role models, no female tour-de-force frontbenchers who show girls that they can be a party minority and win.
I find it almost impossible to get my head around the fact that out of 75 Prime Ministers, in a country where 51 per cent of the population is female, we have been outnumbered by male leaders in 98.7 per cent of British history. And now, in a society that is supposedly gender equal, we cannot produce one female politician prepared to run for the top spot – which makes Thatcher’s victory at a time where women’s place was in the kitchen all the more significant.