Written by Jen Offord

Voices

Thatcher, Thatcher, stereotype snatcher

Jen Offord’s certainly no Thatcher fan but, she asks, why are women the only ones who should be compassionate in politics?

Thatcher: Judge her harshly not differently. Photo courtesy of Chris Collins of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, shared under CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Thatcher: Judge her harshly not differently. Photo courtesy of Chris Collins of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, shared under CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

“But when do you think the UK will have a minority prime minister?” my date challenges me. He is from Houston and I have been gently ribbing him for the last hour about Donald Trump, who I have just seen footage of at a Dallas rally, repeatedly shouting his own name. This would be funny even if he didn’t look like the Crypt Keeper’s unnaturally tanned ballsack nestled under an oversized, tangerine merkin, because his name means ‘guff’.

It’s a good question and I have to concede it seems unlikely any time soon. But I’m not about to be taken to task on social equality by an American.

“Well, we have already had a female prime minister,” I offer. I know, not really a minority group, since we make up half the population but an under-represented one, considering how, 36 years after Margaret Thatcher became PM, women still only account for less than a third of MPs.

“But she wasn’t really a woman,” he replies.

“Errrrrrrrrrrrrrm?”

“Only in how she looked and sounded. She was nothing like a woman in any other way. I mean, she had no compassion.”

Well, this date has taken a turn for the worse, I think to myself, as I start arguing that compassion isn’t an exclusively feminine trait. This, I tell him, is a sweeping generalisation borne from the fact that women are mothers and should therefore be kind, nurturing, empathic souls.

The date descends into chaos shortly afterwards when we move onto the ‘safer’ topic of football (he dismisses my opinions on the Premier League, but thinks Maradona was from Brazil) but it has raised an interesting question about Thatcher and her legacy.

I’ve got to be honest, as a Millennium Child, I don’t remember too much about Thatcher. I remember asking my dad about the Poll Tax one Sunday on the way back from picking up the papers and he told me he could go to prison if he didn’t pay it. It’s an explanation that could’ve been finessed for its seven-year-old audience but between this and the Spitting Image puppet, she definitely made me feel uneasy.

Spitting Image puppet photo by Matt Brown shared under CC BY 2.0, via Flickr.

Spitting Image puppet photo by Matt Brown, shared under CC BY 2.0, via Flickr.

So it all kicked off under Thatcher, but it does rather tend to kick off in politics. Think about the moronic shitwits who have overseen proceedings since her tenure – no one tried to bump them off. Or at least the security services liked them enough not to let anyone actually blow up a hotel they were staying in. So why do we hate Thatcher so much?

Well, for a start, “we” don’t. Some people think she’s ace. I don’t, because I find the notion that personal gain and wealth come before all grotesque. I think the wealthiest in society should take some responsibility for providing for those whose backs they make wealth off.

I think that to believe we all have the same opportunities to move forward in society, you would have to be bonkers, American, or have reached at least the Judge’s Houses stage of X Factor. And because I think this, I can’t help but think it’s the Tory ideology I find offensive, rather than Thatcher herself, and I wonder if she, specifically, gets such a bad rap, because as a woman maybe she was expected to be more compassionate?

“Though statistically speaking, Conservatism has historically appealed more to female voters than male, the number of women voting Conservative actually declined during Thatcher’s time as PM.”

Don’t get me wrong, I do not write in defence of Thatcher. I have often thought about whether or not I admire her simply for being the first female prime minister. On balance, it’s impossible to admire someone with such little compassion. But for the same reasons it’s impossible to admire David Cameron or George Osborne.

Thatcher opened the door to a new way of thinking and a new way of running public services that is, to my mind, completely against the interests of the vast majority. There’s very little left to privatise other than the BBC, healthcare and education, but from what I can gather, they’re having a pretty good crack at it – these guys are just finishing what she started, even with the luxury of hindsight.

From a purely feminist perspective, the evidence against Mrs Thatcher is damning. Far from using her status to further the women’s rights movement, she actively distanced herself from it. Aside from policies that reduced the time limit for a legal abortion and made it easier to dismiss pregnant women from work, like our current Government, Thatcher’s austerity measures often had a greater impact upon women as the lower-paid sex and the most frequent primary caregivers of children. Though statistically speaking, Conservatism has historically appealed more to female voters than male, the number of women voting Conservative actually declined during Thatcher’s time as PM.

It was not compassionate to rip communities apart by closing down industries that provided their only source of income, in favour of moving to an economic model that disproportionately benefits those working in the City of London. But nor so is it to break up support networks by capping housing benefits, forcing families out of areas they have lived in their whole lives. The current dire social housing situation may have started with Thatcher’s Right to Buy policy, which enabled long-term tenants to buy their council houses, but a 60 per cent cut to the social housing budget in the 2010 spending review certainly hasn’t helped. In fact the number of social homes built for every 100 of their private counterparts dropped from 74 in 2011 to just 40 by 2014.

We laugh about “Margaret Thatcher Milk Snatcher” but it’s certainly not compassionate to abolish free school meals for infant-school children, as we were led to believe looked highly likely earlier this year, before public outcry.

Badge photo by Danny Birchall, shared under CC BY 2.0, via Flickr.

Badge photo by Danny Birchall, shared under CC BY 2.0, via Flickr.

Under Thatcher, Employment Secretary Norman Tebbit unsympathetically spoke to the soaring numbers of unemployed about how during the Great Depression his father “got on his bike and looked for work” until he found it. The expectation being that those then suffering as a result of the economic mess should just sort it out for themselves. Meanwhile, our current administration deemed thousands of people claiming Employment Support Allowance fit for work, only for them to die within six weeks of their Work Capability Assessment (at least one of these was as a result of suicide).

So by all means, let’s talk about compassion, because it is important in our political system. But I wonder how many people will be lining the streets to gob on David Cameron’s coffin when he shuffles off this mortal coil?

@inspireajen

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Written by Jen Offord

Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen