In the UK and abroad, news of the death of Baroness Thatcher has been greeted with both sincere sorrow and savage elation. That one person could polarise opinion in such a dramatic way is testament to an incredibly strong personality and unwavering beliefs that, while not universally admired, were undoubtedly sincerely held.

An instinctive Conservative, Mrs Thatcher’s credo was that of the housewife writ large – don’t spend what you haven’t earned. She was not only the country’s first female prime minister, she was also the author of a resurgence in Britain’s fortunes for which she has been rightly credited by politicians in all parties in the short time since her passing.

In 1979 she inherited a country reeling from a winter of strikes for which there are few equals. I have some personal memories of that time…

I recall garbage piled high in the streets of Newcastle, and trying to steer our baby in her pram past the vast rubbish mountains full of rats the size of cats. I remember days when we had no money to eat, because the local authority staff were out on strike and no benefits could be assessed or paid – every little we had went to feed our child, not us. I remember a gravedigger’s strike that left the dead unburied. I recall watching cheerful, well-fed and well-dressed civil servants waving their placards on the streets, while shivering in the winter winds in my thin summer jacket. I remember crying tears of joy when Mrs T was elected.

All of that may seem like a long time ago and very far away, but mine is far from a unique perspective on that era. The unions, at that time, were all-powerful. They could call a strike without consulting members, and send ‘flying pickets’ to any site they wished to enforce a strike. Mrs Thatcher made them introduce democracy, and for that she has never been forgiven by the Left.

She was also the chief author of many contentious reforms that are at the heart of much of the dislike. In dismantling vast, hugely expensive state-controlled monoliths and exposing them as businesses to the free market, her policies led to significant unemployment, particularly in the north, as  inefficient businesses failed in the face of competition. She also took on the miners, under the militant unionist Arthur Scargill, which led to great deprivation in the coal-mining heartlands of Yorkshire and Wales as well as bitter clashes with the police. It was a short step from here to the death of the UK’s underground coal industry. 

Her government was also responsible for the Poll Tax, a deeply unpopular revision of the domestic rating system. This tax was devised out of a belief that it was fairer to charge individuals for local authority services rather than houses, on the basis that it is individuals that use these services, not buildings. 

While this was undoubtedly true, it was perceived as unfair to the poor – a rich man in a castle might pay considerably less than a family of seven in a terraced council house, for example. As such, the Poll Tax caused huge dissension that led to riots, and one of the few u-turns made by this formidable woman. 

I am not a political creature, having voted for almost every party except the Monster Raving Loonies (and only because they have sadly never cared to campaign in my area). But I offer this as a personal view, and an explanation of a kind as to why she has evoked such strong feelings. Mrs Thatcher’s policies and beliefs, painful though they were, provided the foundation for modern Britain. Her unwavering support for Ronald Reagan is also widely acclaimed as having been instrumental in ending the Cold War.

It is possible to argue endlessly about whether the reforms of that era were good or bad and probably logical to conclude that they contained elements of both. I do not judge. I do, however, as a human being, believe it to be wrong to celebrate her death.

One thing she did give us, for which I am very grateful, I can explain in another small concluding anecdote. When Mrs T was finally ousted from power, my two girls appeared to be extremely worried. When I asked why, the older girl explained: ‘There are only men trying to become Prime Minister mummy – is it possible for a man to be Prime Minister?’ 

I realised then that for the whole of their lives they had known nothing but a female PM. What seemed extraordinary to the rest of us was normal to them, thanks to her. She shattered a glass ceiling so profoundly that generations have grown up since in the sure knowledge that they can aspire to any post, no matter how high. For that, I would like to thank her. 

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