A complex women with a complex score card
This is a late commentary I know, but there is value in picking over the bones from the storm of both hatred and adulation of the last two weeks.
One of Mrs Thatcher’s more defiant actions against the complacent flow of government softness and conformity to unquestioning political correctness was her decision in 1989 to refuse to send a British representative to the celebration of the bicentenary of the fall of the Bastille. As British historian Andrew Roberts observed, it was “a sublime gesture of defiance against republicanism, revolution and terror.” He imagined how they must have fumed in the Foreign Office.
A chastening article by the much admired Theodore Dalrymple certainly was a corrective to the sometimes overwhelming sycophancy of conservative commentators:
Her cultural effect on the country was, overall, disastrous … she introduced the commercial spirit not only where it was needed, but where it was harmful. Almost all the legalised corruption for which the British public administration is now so notable can be traced back to her …
She believed in management as a science in the way that Latin American peasants believe, or used to believe, in miracle-working Virgins. As a consequence, she introduced business practices (such as high and rising emoluments and perquisites) into the public sector without the disciplines of a real marketplace.
Nor did she appear to understand one of the most important lessons of the Soviet Union, namely that in centralised bureaucratic systems the setting of targets results not in efficiency but in organised lying to pretend that they have been met.
The result has been Soviet-type corruption, moral, intellectual and financial, some of it legal and much of it compulsory. Those who work in or for the public administration – it is increasingly difficult to tell them apart – have been comprehensively corrupted by this process.
Indeed, where legalised corruption is concerned, Thatcher was John the Baptist to Tony Blair’s Christ.
These are very strong words but worth pondering in her legacy.
On a brighter note, the irony of having a strong competent women as Prime Minister does indeed make the Sisterhood squirm, as it should. Claire Berlinski, in The Spectator of 13 April sums up her importance to women:
She was and will always be supremely significant to women. Unlike other women to whom she is often compared, she compromised no essential aspect of her personality. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, consciously displaced what femininity she had to reveal a drive for power; Eva Peron forsook her rationality, if ever she had it; Sarah Palin her dignity. Thatcher sacrificed nothing, except perhaps her relationship with her children. She made use of everything.
She was also singular in that in her success in capitalising upon her femininity, she has had no equal in political history, yet she had no use for feminism as a doctrine. She achieved things no woman before her had achieved, exploiting every politically useful aspect of a female persona and disproving every conventional expectation of women. She proved herself a rebuttal to several millennia’s worth of assumptions about women, power, and women in power. For women now aspiring to power, there is history before Thatcher and history after; no woman in politics will ever escape the comparison.
The last word goes to Steve Hilton, a former director of strategy for David Cameron. Above all, she discomforted the Establishment, one of the reasons she was so disliked:
I saw her as thrillingly anti-establishment; as much of a punk, and as brilliantly British, as Vivienne Westwood, who once impersonated her on the cover of Tatler. Margaret Thatcher had the virtues most valued in today’s culture: innovation, energy, daring. She was Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Lady Gaga all rolled into one — and a thousand times more consequential than any of them.