Skip to comments.Memories of Maggie (Looking back at the 20th Century's greatest stateswoman)
Posted on 05/03/2004 2:05:28 PM PDT by presidio9
May 2004 marks the 25th anniversary of Margaret Thatcher's election as the first Prime Minister of Great Britain. I was 14 when she was elected and can remember discussing with some friends the novelty of having a woman in charge of the country. Most of them were apathetic - 14-year old boys aren't usually interested in politics, after all. One of them, however, quoted his father's opinion of her. It went something like - "Women are weak. They can't think straight. This country will be taken advantage of by unions and foreigners. She'll be gone by the next election, back to her ironing board." I think at that time we probably laughed and agreed. Oh, young man, how wrong can you be?
Of course, as it turned out, she wasn't weak - or unable to think straight. Foreigners and unions? They were ground to dust beneath her high heels. And she wasn't gone by the next election. Or the next. In fact she never lost an election. She ended up running this country for what seemed like an eternity, permanently altering the social and political fabric of Great Britain in the process. At times during the 80s it seemed she was going to be Prime Minister forever. Although gone since 1990, in a way she has never left No.10 Downing Street. You might think you're living in Tony's Great Britain, but it's really still Maggie's.
In 1979, many people simply wanted a change. Any kind of change. Britain was in economic turmoil with power cuts, strikes, inflation, and unemployment as the staple topics of the day's newspapers. When the Conservatives finally got into power, their vision of economic success and the end to 'winters of discontent' could be enacted. Inefficient, nationalised industries were to be sold off and privatised. Not only would they be (in theory) replaced by more competitive, efficient, streamlined industries, but the income earned in the sell-off could be used to provide tax cuts and the lucrative share offers would ensure that a grateful public would return the Tories to power again and again. The unions were to be emasculated. Either smashed in direct conflict, as happened to the miners, or made harmless by simply getting rid of the industries that their members were employed in or through one of the seven parliamentary acts brought in to curb their powers.
In parallel to the deconstruction of British heavy industry, the 'City' was to be brought up to date with the 'big bang' i.e. computerisation, and let loose on the world's markets. Soon, the two contrasting images that summed up the priorities and divisions of Mrs Thatcher's Britain in the 80s became Hooray Henrys waving vast wads of money about, contrasting with striking miners being smashed over the head with police batons.
And then there was the Falklands. Personally, I don't think the Falklands War was an unnecessary conflict, considering that Argentine troops had invaded British territory, and more importantly, were the representatives of a disgusting military junta responsible for countless 'disappearances' among their own population. No, what made it all completely unbearable was the self-satisfied crowing that went on as the realisation sunk in that victory was going to guarantee election success for quite some time to come. 'Jingoism' was the zeitgeist of 1982 as the country showed that, however up-to-date and sophisticated we might think we were all becoming, nothing felt better than going to war and thrashing a lot of bloody dago foreigners.
In fact, going to war seemed to be Mrs Thatcher's style in most cases. War with Labour; war with Europe; war with 'wets' in her own party; war with the BBC and all those other liberal permissive pinkos; war with the IRA. (Serious stuff. They came within an ace of killing her at Brighton.) And finally war with Scotland. Scotland?
If there's one place where Margaret Thatcher never got anywhere, it was Scotland. Nobody liked her save a few scattered Scottish Tories and nobody voted for her MPs - in fact most of them were voted out. Not that she needed them, since she had almost the whole of Southern England in her grasp, but given Maggie's combative nature and air of patronising superiority it must surely have rankled. So in retrospect Scotland wasn't the best place to introduce a contentious new local tax system a year before anywhere else, but nevertheless we were chosen as the Guinea Pigs. Enter, stage right, the seed of Mrs Thatcher's own downfall - The Community Charge or, as it's better known, The Poll Tax.
The Poll Tax idea was typical of much of Mrs Thatcher's double-edged thinking - introduce breaks for taxpayers combined with a neat way of harassing those pesky local governments. The new tax was designed to make everyone pay a flat charge for local taxes and services. Never mind that it had nothing to do with your personal income or house value, and too bad if it meant that local councils were reduced to running around trying to track down thousands of elusive non-payers, who had been budgeted for, but had now disappeared off the face of the earth, leaving a big hole in local finances. And there were other neat little side benefits in the plan. By avoiding such things as registering to vote, individuals might avoid the bailiff's knock on the door indefinitely, but, of course, they also werent going to be voting in any upcoming elections - and you can bet that they wouldn't have been marking an 'X' in the box marked 'Conservative' on polling day.
By the time the tax arrived in the rest of the UK, people were becoming distinctly cool towards it. Although it did have some potential benefits over previous tax systems, the bad points were perceived to massively outweigh the good and fellow Tory MPs were getting cold feet as public opinion altered in the run-up to the 1991 election. In November 1990 Geoffrey Howe resigned in protest, and Michael Heseltine stood against Maggie in the party leadership ballot. After just scraping through the first ballot and not expected to survive a second, Margaret Thatcher accepted defeat and resigned on 22nd November 1990. An era was over.
I was at work when someone came in and said he had just heard about her resignation over his car radio. Everybody had some reaction to the news. It summed up the political, social, economic and even cultural divisions that she imposed on Britain that while half of the workforce (me included) whooped with joy, the other half looked on with ill-concealed anger and irritation. Shell be back, a young woman said through gritted teeth. She was wrong, but for a while it was always a lingering threat over the nation, like nuclear war. The return of Maggie. Gulp!
Summa these here FReeper women are right up there with 'em, too!!! Women with intestinal fortitude, dude!!!
Hey! That's some "spaced out" tagline ya go yerself there, Tax-chick!!! (grin)
I got forty-two'd a few years back... it didn't hurt too bad. ;-)
I wondered where that came from!
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