Remembering Margaret Thatcher

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg invoked the name of UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to support his plan to rescue Australia’s economy in the era of pandemic. My first reaction was furious anger. On reflection, Frydenburg has done us a great service.

Margaret Thatcher will forever be known as “Milk Snatcher Thatcher”,  just as Sir Robert Menzies still carries the nickname of “Pig Iron Bob”.

Every attempt to rehabilitate and sanctify them fails dismally. She will always be the Milk Snatcher and he will always be Pig Iron Bob.

And no matter how many hundred wartime biographies are written there are still people who believe the soldiers’ wartime song which I’ve cleaned up:

“Hitler has only got one testicle,

Musso has two but very small,

Himmler has something similar,

But poor old Goebbels has no testicles at all.”

It’s proof that popular culture trumps official history any time.

Treasurer Frydenberg revived memories of Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan in the belief that they are “figures of hate for the left” who “dealt successfully with the challenges of the 1970s and 1980s”. Really?

They left behind massive unemployment, roaring inflation, huge national debt, angry social division and the wreckage of privatised industries where their cronies were paying themselves huge salaries and bonuses.

It was a time when “supply side” economics was embraced by Western economists and politicians throughout the Western world. All that it ever brought was tax breaks and tax cuts for the rich, the smashing of trade unions and the rise of individualism over collective action.

Ferdinand Mount was Mrs Thatcher’s press secretary and political adviser for two decades and Charles Moore is her official biographer. They are primary sources of the highest calibre. Both beg to differ with the glossy fabrication of Thatcher’s rule.

So does Willie Whitelaw, a potential Tory Prime Minister, whose career was cut short trying to bring Ulster’s “troubles” to an end. When he quit in 1987, Whitelaw warned: “The trouble is that, when Margaret leaves, she will leave the Conservative Party divided for a generation.” More like two or three generations!

In the third volume of Mrs Thatcher’s official biography, Charles Moore writes that she saw off a cavalcade of potential rivals including Sir Ian Gilmour, owner/editor of The Spectator magazine, Leon Brittan, John Biffen, Norman Tebbit, Geoffrey Howe, Nigel Lawson, Ian Gow and Kenneth Baker. She shredded the party leadership for years to come. Sadly, in retirement Mrs Thatcher descended into dementia, drinking too much, entertaining any unsavoury dictator who cared to call and expecting her husband Denis Thatcher (who died in 2003) to come in through the door at any moment.

When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 she was the only Western leader who stuck it out against the reunification of Germany because of her demented hatred of Germans. When the Commonwealth called for sanctions against apartheid South Africa, she stubbornly refused to join any economic, cultural or sporting boycott.

Even No 10 insiders were unimpressed by Prime Minister Thatcher. John Hoskyns, her first Policy Unit chief, wrote in 1981: “You break every rule of good management. You bully your weaker colleagues. You criticise colleagues in front of each other and in front of their officials. They can’t answer back without appearing disrespectful, in front of others, to a woman and to a Prime Minister. You abuse that situation. You give little praise or credit, and you are too ready to blame others when things go wrong.”

Moore evaluated Mrs Thatcher era, writing: “It would be wrong to say that Margaret Thatcher was unimaginative but her imagination was inspired only if her sympathies were engaged. If they were not, she tended to become more stubborn, hectoring and dogmatic.” In other words, if you agreed with her you were spared; if you disagreed with her you were tongue-lashed and humiliated. Amazingly, it produced utter loyalty!

Ferdinand Mount’s epitaph is less generous: “Love her or loathe her (and I have done both in my time), what ultimately unhorsed her? By the end, she was widely disliked in the country, and she knew it. Moore mentions the minority who actually rejoiced at her death, but not the vague though unmistakeable sense of relief that greeted her political demise. A gruelling period of governance had come to an end.”

When she died at The Ritz in 2013, film director, producer and writer Ken Loach said Mrs Thatcher was the most divisive and destructive Prime Minister of modern times. “Let’s privatise her funeral, put it to competitive tender and accept the cheapest bid. It’s what she would have wanted.”

See also Roger Beale’s analysis for Michael West Media, ‘Are Thatcherism and Reaganomics your best answer, Josh?’ 28 July 2020.

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Alex Mitchell is a former Sydney Sun-Herald State Political Editor whose commentary appears every Friday. His latest book is Murder in Melbourne – The Untold Story of Palestinian exchange student Aiia Maasarwe.

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