Margaret Thatcher’s grounded, middle-class upbringing, an almost ‘manly’ — as she might acknowledge, but not so much to my own taste that questions such descriptions — strength and determination, and her economic and political policies are back in the public domain. For this too, many thanks go to The Crown. It has also brought back comments reminding the world and Buckingham Palace of Diana under every single picture that the official handle of the Clarence House posts on Instagram. The power of art is such that it eclipses all other entry-points for debate, at least temporarily.
Thatcher’s right-leaning economic policies that irked even some of the staunchest Conservatives in her Cabinet and urged a top Minister to publicly critique her style of governance on his way out, were much talked of in those times. But, would they be as hated and despised today? This seems unlikely. Not anyway when we’re seeing the leading-men of politics across the globe be callously nationalistic in their own little exhibitionism of muscle-power. This works so much at divergence with a term that we often use as an adjective for the current era: Globalization. While Thatcher may not have actually let her son’s disappearance or any other personal incident, for that matter, direct her political decisions, these were, nonetheless, always a mild-to-extreme prick for the general public. There were jobless young men and women, an ailing industry — the country wasn’t doing well when you look at it cumulatively. But, the Iron Lady went on to fasten for herself an 11-year term as Prime Minister. This consistency is something that we certainly don’t see today in a post-Brexit period when Prime Ministers are walking in and out of Downing Street. It’s too cumbersome to wish for Boris Johnson a term as long as Thatcher had. This task would have been manageable had there been someone else in power. There’s only one answer to why Thatcher was in power even when her policies were unpopular: there was no opposition deserving of a winning number of votes. Now, that’s one area where Britain of today might find reminiscence. The Labour Party is wading its way out of a ‘problem’ of anti-Semitism and Corbyn. An otherwise promising opportunity could very well have been flushed down the drain, courtesy of the opposition’s sloth.
Thatcherism was defined by the opening up of markets and a tendency to favour privatization. Rightly so, this brand of politics has had a perpetually standing importance and gets categorized as the kind that thoroughly changed Britain even for the terms after Thatcher’s. Retreating all of the government’s hands — privatizing government-owned firms was part of this — and promoting free markets in a minor nod to Adam Smith’s laissez-faire was on her agenda. Keeping inflation low was also among the primary objectives of Thatcher’s policies. She eased the system out of the trade unions’ control. But the strain of pro-privatization and openness to competition was also accompanied by the Prime Minister’s own notion of austerity being the driver of all reformative action in a society. It’s a wonder how these warring personal and political stances got a single shelter under Britain’s leader then. Among the controversial intrusions that the state made on individual lives was the strict advocation of “conventional” marriages and a ban on teaching about homosexuality in schools. In this retrogressive take that the government adopted on personal liberty, there are resemblances to today’s right-wing leaders.
There is a prevalent cognizance of the fact that Thatcher’s Britain was a deeply-divided entity. Social unrest was common — dismembering trade unions and letting the industries out to the wolves of privatization led to unemployment. These fissures, as some experts put it, continue to be in place. All-out defence of nationalistic sentiments, even if it meant a military power-show, was never shoved out as an option. It was a dais for strongmen — and woman. There was place for ‘heartless’ policy-making here, as portrayed by the suppression of the miners’ strikes. You could always call out the ‘enemy within’, as per the rule-book that Thatcher installed for her term.
Margaret Thatcher will, as a topic of discourse, remain a site of clashing opinions. While the free-market inclinations can be appreciated, a more prominent social side to her era underscores an unequal ground that was instated between 1979 and 1990. Nevertheless, for the right-wing of today, there lies a precursor for all of their decisions in Britain of the 80s.