Georgina Natzio, a writer specialising in defence matters, pays tribute to the former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher, who died at the age of 87 on April 8 2013.
Margaret Thatcher, “Mrs Thatcher, ” as she was known during her long political career, had a disadvantage, in that she was regarded as an icon, representing many shades of political opinion within her party from quite early on in her public career. This has had the effect since of confusing appreciation of her true abilities and limitations. Some were intrinsic to her character and personality, others were caused by the political environment that obtained in each decade of her term as Prime Minister, if such a division might be regarded as a fair way of measuring the social changes, wrought not only by the dominant political party she came from but also by the internal and external fortunes of Great Britain, as our country finally wound up responsibilities incurred during the final years of Empire.
Although it was politically expedient for her to mount the Falklands campaign, and although it was beneficial to the future of the armed services at the time to support her views and translate them into military reality (fending off the `Nott reforms’), an invasion of sovereign territory by Argentina presented a problem of some international profundity. The grimness of the future lives Falkland Islanders might have expected under an Argentine regime had real, rather than symbolic or other meaning. Despite some cynicism over motive, there really was a strong moral justification for going to their defence.
Although her friendship with US President Ronald Reagan and the general good relations with America which flourished during her long tenure have been widely recognised, not so much has been mentioned of practical and moral support provided by the Americans for the British Forces as they journeyed into the South Atlantic. We and the Falkland Islanders in particular remain indebted to them for this.
Loyal and kind to her friends, Mrs Thatcher sacrificed much to keep going with her political career during an era when family-friendly support for working mothers had hardly reached the stage it has today. Her husband Denis, joked about in Private Eye, and the subject of a play put on in London theatreland, nevertheless deserves abiding respect for his steady, reassuring presence. All the evidence shows they effectively worked together.
It is important for us to remember that some political verities apply to women as well as men. Mrs Thatcher showed in relation to the poll tax affair that anyone who reaches the heights may lose touch with the voting public after many years as Prime Minister. There really was true hardship within the mining communities after the confrontation with the mining unions and pit closures that eventually followed privatisation. Strategically, it may have been a mistake not to have catered for the social aftermath of such earnestly sought and ardently resisted change, in economic terms. A poll tax was the last straw for many.
Seldom can anyone, it seems, survive too long and close a possession of power. There seems to come a time, and Harold Wilson former Labour Prime Minister demonstrated this as well, when the effort of controlling the wilder shores of one’s party and maintaining harmony among its cadres as leaders are expected to do, becomes too heavy a burden to carry, along with the rest of the material of national government that a modern PM inevitably engages with. Like most of us she was complex – she minded about the military casualties in the Falklands and elsewhere, yet had odd areas of blankness over the economic fate of those at home struggling in the lower income brackets. The harsher social attitudes of some in her party were leavened by those who had seen war-service and consequently acquired close experience of the plain working people, the armed services’ recruiting pool – the citizen servicemen and later women volunteers and conscripts of World War II or later the Korean War, for example.
Mrs Thatcher was brave and enduring and many accounts have praised her clarity of mind. Loyal and perceptive, at her best she managed the art of the possible, with astuteness, bringing most of her highly-able political leadership with her, most of the time in a search for peace and stability. This she rightly perceived was essential during a contentious, dissenting era, full of major uncertainties at home and abroad. Many have said in their eulogies ‘we’ll not see her like again’ and she certainly set a benchmark for her successors.