Tuesday, April 09, 2013


They say if you can’t say something nice about a person who’s just died, you shouldn’t say anything. Not very useful advice for a blogger.

So: Margaret Thatcher died. What can I say about her that’s nice? Well, as a Member of Parliament she was one of the few Tory MPs who voted to decriminalise homosexuality in Britain in 1966. That same year, she also voted to legalise abortion. Those are two good things I can note.

Let’s see, what other nice things can I say? Um… well… um…

The fact is, there is very, very little about Margaret Thatcher’s career that was positive, and a huge amount that was absolutely horrible. Of course she’s notable for being Britain’s first female Leader of the Opposition and first female Prime Minister, and, politics aside, those are achievements for which she should receive recognition.

However, when talking about a politician, one can’t put politics aside, and I found hers to be mostly reprehensible. Like her good friend, Ronald Reagan, she believed that if you cut taxes on the rich and well-off, the benefits would “trickle down” to everyone else. It was, and has been amply proven to always be, an utterly daft idea, but for the rightwing (then and now), it’s a core principle.

She also had unshakeable dedication to selling-off state owned assets—the people’s property—as well as fervour for destroying unions and workers’ rights. Also carried forward by today’s conservatives.

As bad as all that is, she, like Reagan, also unleashed not just intellectually bankrupt ideas, but also hard right ideologues. And it was in pandering to them that she cemented her position on my list of reprehensible politicians, especially through the imposition of one law: She backed Section 28.

Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 said:
Local authorities shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.
It was motivated by anti-gay animus, and born of the outrageously loony rightwing belief that kids can be “recruited” into homosexuality. Thatcher herself backed Section 28. She told the Conservative Party Conference in 1987: “Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay.” Her party would continue to defend the bill, even as the then-Labour government got ready to repeal it in the early 2000s (they succeeded in 2003, after earlier attempts were rejected by the conservative House of Lords, and after Scotland repealed it from applying to Scotland).

Section 28 had no criminal penalties, and there were no successful court challenges relying on it. However, many councils and schools engaged in self-censorship to be safe. LGBT student groups folded after the bill was passed, rather than risk legal trouble. Still, Tories continued to back the bill right up until repeal (and some long after).

Campaigning in 2009, and as part of a series of apologies for Thatcher’s policies, Conservative Party Leader David Cameron (now Prime Minister) acknowledged Section 28 was "offensive to gay people", and went on to say “I'm sorry for Section 28. We got it wrong. It was an emotional issue. We have got to move on and we have moved on.”

So, whether out of political necessity or genuine contrition, many in the modern Conservative party are clearly backing away from Thatcher. Apparently, she is as divisive a figure for her own party as she was for Britain and the world beyond. Still, I doubt any Tories took part in the reported celebrations of Thatcher’s death.

Despite everything, I don’t celebrate her death, not that I’m above doing so for true enemies (as I did here, and especially here). It’s just that awful as her politics were, they had nothing to do with me personally—and that’s kind of a prerequisite for me to be actually pleased a politician has died.

Still, you might think that neither am I the least bit sad that she’s died. "You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment."
The photo at the top of this post depicts US President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan greeting UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Denis Thatcher at the North portico of the White House prior to the State Dinner held 16 November 1988. As a photo taken by a government employee as part of the of their official duties, it is in the public domain. It is available through Wikimedia Commons.

The final quote in this post is a related, but possibly obscure pop culture reference.


Roger Green said...

I may just have to do links, because you (and Shooting Parrots) can speak to Maggie far better than I.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Yes, I thought Mr. Parrot's perspective as a Briton was interesting, especially the bit about spin doctoring. Well worth a read: http://shootingparrots.co.uk/2013/04/09/thatcher

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

And yet another Brit perspective I thought was interesting: "The Cold Iron Lady" foldsfive.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-cold-iron-lady.html (via a cousin by marriage)