This day in 1925 In Grantham Lincolnshire was born Margaret Hilda Roberts. The daughter of a shop owner and Alderman of the town, Maggie Thatcher went on to become one of the greatest leaders this country has known. She is a marmite figure. Everyone has a view. Before we come to that: you know where I stand on this one and so from me it is Happy Birthday Maggie.
Thatcher was a meritocrat. At a time when no political party pushed women forward via positive discrimination she rose to lead her party on merit. She did so not because of her grand birth but because she had courage, vision and talent.
Britain was in a mess in the late 1970s. Bankrupt. Dominated by Unions who wanted the taxpayer to support ailing industries. Facing a hostile threat from the Soviet Bloc. With economic and social systems in place that kept the poor poor and unable to buy their own house, and protected privilege in a way that made the country ever more economically doomed. Thatcher accepted the challenge and, assisted by men such as Sir Keith Joseph, took on the Unions, stood up to the Russians ( and of course the Argies), unshackled our economy so that folks could make better lives for themselves and so made Society better off.
In trying to give the poor and less advantaged an opportunity she threatened the client state of the left. In daring to stand up to Europe she attracted the hostility of the establishment and that was her eventual downfall. With hindsight who was right on Europe? Thatcher or Howe, Heseltine, etc. On every issue that mattered Thatcher instinctively got it right. Hers was not leadership based on focus groups or consensus but based on sticking to principles and doing what was needed even if it did not win short term electoral popularity.
In my view the marmite test on Thatcher is a simple one. If you believe in established structures that keep the poor as members of a client state answering to a welfare system, Trades Union bosses and dependent on the State, you hate Thatcher. If you would rather have been red than alive (not dead) you hate Thatcher. If you are so ashamed of what was overwhelmingly a force for good, Empire, because of a misplaced sense of guilt that you would ignore the principle of self-determination (the Falklands) you hate Thatcher. If you do not believe that the human spirit if freed will seek self betterment and thus improve society you hate Thatcher. If so you probably (like all the Winnifrith family bar myself and little step sister Flea) are a middle class Guardian reader yourself dependent on state patronage and hoping – in a deeply unpleasant way that this is Thatcher’s last birthday.
If you believe in freedom and opportunity you will, like me, be wishing Baroness Thatcher many happy returns and thanking her for saving Britain when she did and lamenting the fact that she has been followed by a string of men not fit to wash her feet.