William Congreve acidly observed that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” in his 1697 work The Mourning Bride. Nowhere, perhaps, is this more relevant than to the thought-provoking life of Margaret Thatcher, a lady raging with fire in her belly, sparking eternal flames of debate for generations to come.
Icon or outcast, champion of women’s rights or Stepford wife of imperialism, she broke gender barriers and political borders by dint of her own efforts. Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female prime minister — like Benazir Bhutto, Khalida Zia and Imelda Marcos — was a defining personality of the 20th century.
As sound bites of her departure flooded our flat screens, many remembered her as a doyenne of bravery, who curtailed militant unions, Argentinean dictatorship, helped bring down the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall and survived a 1984 Irish Republican Army assassination attempt. Thatcher’s staunch loyalty vis-à-vis the pound sterling helped the UK brave the storms of European fiscal uncertainty. Her fervour to circumscribe the central government’s power made her a heroine to today’s Tea Party revolutionaries in the US.
Despite a defiant cabinet, she weathered adverse hail and storm, warming the seats at 10 Downing Street. Thatcher heralded game-changing socio-economic transformation, resiliently restored the UK’s position on an ever-changing global map, shifting the political sands of her Conservative party to a radical right wing, forever tilting the political pendulum toward über free market economics à la Adam Smith. Thatcher was baptised a “conviction politician”, evolving a party hitherto absorbed by the acquisition of power into an ideological beacon more concerned with winning arguments than elections.
Abraham Lincoln evocatively declared that “fools rush in where angels fear to tread” though the “Iron Lady”, christened such by Moscow’s media for her unrelenting resilience, brought the trade unions to their knees and “handbagged” her way through EU summits, ensuring that the UK secured a unique budget rebate from Brussels.
Thatcher’s foreign policy, however, remains scathing. She spent taxpayers’ well-earned money fighting foreign wars on far away Falkland/Malvinas Islands when those sorely needed financial resources could have more judiciously been utilised on the island of the United Kingdom. She indefensibly supported Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and the white minority apartheid régime in South Africa.
Just as Icarus’s tragic examples of hubris led to his being scorched by the sun, just as the giant Goliath’s blind arrogance led to David’s stone-slinging victory, Thatcher defiantly came to believe in the myth of her own invincibility. That led to her precipitous demise. Her differences with Geoffrey Howe, the poll tax and an alarming anti-Europeanism saw her exit 10 Downing Street.
Digital activists, partly in derision, tweeted that her free-market economic policies would dictate that her memorial be privatised. One petition, with more than 30,000 signatures stated: “In keeping with the great lady’s legacy, Margaret Thatcher’s state funeral should be funded and managed by the private sector to offer the best value and choice for end users and other stakeholders”.
Thatcher’s hard-nosed fiscal procedures ingrained the divide between the rich and poor, unemployed millions and ostracised the masses. Her tenure afflicted underspending on Britain’s public services and undermined the manufacturing industries, engendering problems still being remedied to date. Thatcher ensured that Britain’s role in Europe became that of a permanent irritant rather than a profitable partner.
Thatcher’s towering personality will always be loved and loathed in equal measure. To have risen like a phoenix from the ashes of the British political spectrum, class bound and gender obsessed as it was, is no mean feat. To remain thick-skinned, as Princess Diana did, through vindictive odium, is exemplary. Remaining steadfast to ardent ideals and ideas, without corruption and with conviction, bears evidence of a noble character of prominence, worthy for the annals of history to settle.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 10th, 2013.
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