Margaret Thatcher: The Elnett MachiavelliPosted: April 17, 2013
Margaret Thatcher was a grocer’s daughter, a fact people always like to mention often because it makes her “one of us”.
She was the British Prime Minister for 11 years and oh yes, a woman. Maybe a little like one of us then, but only a little.
She was also the woman who broke through a crusty glass ceiling and then like her accent, covered it up again so quickly that no-one else could get past it.
Margaret Thatcher was my mum’s wet dream. As a teenager, I thought she was the devil incarnate.
Thatcher first rose to prominence when I was at junior school, as the ‘milk snatcher’ who stole my break-time mini bottle of milk. She wasn’t PM then, she was just beginning to sharpen her claws.
By the time my child brain was developing any kind of political radar she’d already devastated many mining communities, crushed the balls of most of her Cabinet, and thrashed the Falklands with her legendary grit and determination.
She was hailed a hero (not a heroine, that would be sexist).
But as I write this today, there are more people out of work in the UK than in the past 20 years, our economy is seemingly beyond repair, and oh yes, latest figures show that there are, for the first time, more people living by themselves. Our communities have been shattered by her singular brand of greed and capitalism.
What I see is a woman who yes, achieved something admirable in reaching the top of her profession but by doing that – and not putting in place anything to help other women do the same – she failed every woman in the country. If you were a child of Thatcher’s era and you are female, you should be very angry indeed.
She was our British Dream, like the American one but with picket lines instead of picket fences.
You have to see her in light of where women were in history at the time she was voted PM to understand how “Thatcher’s children” have suffered because of her demonic determination to privatise our world.
Thatcher was elected in 1979 when I was 11, and by then the feminist movement meant that women had freedoms beyond just wearing short skirts.
My mother, born in 1939, was married in 1960. She hated it. She married because she had to. Because society expected it of her. There was no other choice at the end of the Fifties.
She was taught to rely upon the man as the main bread-winner even though she was more than capable of working. She wanted to work. She wasn’t allowed. She didn’t really want children. She had them.
My parents lived through the Swinging Sixties acquiring maybe one or two puffs on a neighbour’s joint, the tragic loss of a baby son, and a handful of affairs culminating with a detached house in a seaside town, a new Bentley and a drawer full of cash from the sale of their London home.
For my mother, this was hell. By the time Thatcher came along, she like many women of her generation, were ready to embrace a new poster girl.
But for me and other young women in the Eighties, Thatcher was already an old lady and not to be trusted. For a war baby like my mum, she was the answer to all her problems. And if she couldn’t be that, mum tried to convince me that she was the answer to all MY problems.
From an early age I was told never to rely on man, never to trust a man, to make my own money, to make my own way, my own living, my own choices and my own destiny.
These are not necessarily bad things to be taught. By they are if they are only options being presented to an impressionable mind. On their own, they are frankly, devastating.
I was not the only Eighties teenager who thought that I could do it all by myself. The imagery of the Eighties was very much in step with The Iron Lady. Women had their Dynasty should pads, high hair and presented themselves as warriors. We were expected to be everyday Ripleys, crushing the boys at their own game. We wore sombre grey suits from Next to work one day, and slutty Madonna lace to seduce our Fred Perry wearing wide boys, the next.
We didn’t care who we hurt because we were Thatcher’s children and this is what we were supposed to do. Best of all, we did it by ourselves.
But here’s the rub. Margaret Thatcher didn’t do it all by herself. Thatcher was married to a very rich man. She had two children and an enormous support network.
My generation who were taught to be like her, were in effect, nothing like her, carrying a toolbox that looked very different. We were Working Girls through and through. We gave sex away and never allowed ourselves to be looked after. Our safety nets shrank like the size our our mobile phones.
Like millions of other girls I was taught to concentrate on my career, buy property and leave having babies til as late as possible. “You can be Prime Minister,” my mother’s generation cried in unison.
But no. No. We couldn’t. Life so didn’t want to play that little game.
“It’s so much better to have your own money,” said mum, who it has to be said bettered herself under Maggie. Yes it is. But when the recession hits and you’re all alone and the money stops flowing. Who’s going to be around to help you out?
Because we’re not all the Prime Minister you know. We’re women who are soft in parts and need to be loved. We need our communities around us. We need the very thing that Thatcher took away from us.
Ironically my mum, now in her mid-seventies and still reading the worst newspaper on the planet (you know the one I mean), says, “The best thing I ever did was have my children.”
It was a different story 30 years ago. “Don’t have children, they’ll drag you down. You need to be free to make your own way in the world. Do what you want to do.”
Well I did, and so did many other women. And we are here. Alone. Struggling. And wondering how a life that promised so much has morphed into such a difficult journey.
Today, as a decent human being, I will give a nod to the 87-year-old Baroness who ended her days tending roses alone under police protection but I will also look around at this harsh world she crafted like an Elnett Machiavelli, and spend a moment remembering how she ripped away our hopes and dreams.
One of them being the dream of a life where you can love and be loved because for many women today, her legacy means they will be watching her funeral on the news, at home alone, wondering how the bills are going to get paid, if their jobs are safe and who is going to look after them when they get old.
Sadly for us, the grocer’s daughter opened up the doors to her shop, but didn’t let anyone else in.