Point of View

A fondish farewell to Mrs. Thatcher, Thatcher, Milk Snatcher

April 12, 2013 

Britain Obit Thatcher



Our Blessed Margaret. The Leaderene. Tina. That Woman. Maggie. Mrs. T. Thatcher, Thatcher, Milk Snatcher. The Lady Who Was Not For Turning. All of these terms were used at one time or another – mainly by the British – to describe the now-late Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of the UK from 1979 to 1990.

Actually, the milk-snatcher taunt goes back to her earlier life when, as Minister for Education, she infamously cut the free 1/3 pint of milk doled out daily to British schoolchildren. And she was, acronymically, Tina because, when she announced some particularly painful policy, she would say to her unlucky subjects, “There Is No Alternative.” “Iron Lady” seems to have been an American, rather than British, label of awed approbation for this formidable character.

You can tell that none of these terms is wholly, or even partially, complimentary to Thatcher, who was, after all, the first woman political leader of the UK or, indeed, of any big-time European country.

She was everything the Wall Street Journal is now saying about her: trailblazer, superb politician, reviver of the right-wing, Friend of Reagan, hammer of the trades unions, spine-stiffener of George H.W. Bush, fierce handbagger of the unwary and the unprepared, antidote to moribund socialism, and so much more.

I used to be British and cannot help but be taken aback by the huge coverage of the former Prime Minister’s death in the U.S. media, where almost unqualified praise and admiration seem to be the order of the day.

I, too, have to admire Thatcher for her amazing skill as a politician. You can’t survive in the snake pit of Westminster for 11 years without exceptional savoir faire, ruthlessness, dexterity, verbal wit, intelligence of all kinds: the IQ and the emotional. Clever, dedicated, hugely hard-working and with enviably clear-cut values, Mrs. Thatcher was, for many years, all but unstoppable.

According to the BBC, some people in the UK did a bit of dancing in the streets when they heard of the old lady’s death. How could they? Well, perhaps because Thatcherism, like its fraternal twin Reaganomics, sometimes involved so much pain: benefit cuts; poll taxes; union-breaking; privatization of formerly government-run entities such as steel, telephones, railways; and the acceptance of a supposedly necessary poverty.

Plenty of blue-collar guys lost their jobs under her reign and never found them again. But those who had jobs, including those in Big-Bang-influenced southeast England (after the London Stock Exchange revolution), found themselves lifted on the tide of a new prosperity. Numbers told, and Mrs. T was in for a long 11 years.

Her foreign policy, including her well-choreographed win in an old-fashioned imperial war in the Falklands, kept everyone awake. Like President George W. Bush, Thatcher looked into the eyes of her Russian (then Soviet) counterpart (not Vladimir Putin, but Mikhail Gorbachev) and decided she had his measure. “I can do business with Mr. Gorbachev,” was her conclusion, and she certainly did.

Like Reagan, Thatcher was in on the end of Soviet-style Communism and basked in the glow of its implosion, then and later. Her Falklands triumphalism made her look like a royal wannabe, and nobody in Britain will forget her appearance at the door of Number 10 announcing the South Atlantic “away win,” while sporting her very queen-like hairdo, pearls and handbag. On another occasion: “We are a grandmother,” she announced after son Mark had produced an offspring. (We? The royal we?)

Ironically, this woman who rivaled royalty in her speech and manner was famously nervous on her obligatory visits to Sandringham and Balmoral for overnight stays with the real queen and her family.

According to one biographer, Mrs. Thatcher would faint with apprehension on these occasions. She also dipped curtsies of a depth and reverence otherwise almost unseen in modern times

Now that Baroness Thatcher has gone, we will be hearing about her funeral. Next week, in London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, she will get a send-off just one level down from a full State Funeral. She will get the same category of ceremony accorded to the late Princess Diana. She will, however, be denied the funerary honors Winston Churchill was accorded, much to the chagrin of some of her most avid supporters.

Mrs. Thatcher’s passing certainly deserves to be marked by the historians, the political scientists and – perhaps – by the feminist cultural critics: not that she was a feminist. Her funeral will indeed be a notable event.

But there won’t be the fields of flowers and the floods of tears that accompanied the coffin of Princess Diana in 1997. The exit of That (Amazing) Woman arouses far too many mixed feelings for such a display.

Rosemary Haskell, who lives in Chapel Hill, is a professor of English at Elon University.

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