Though much, perhaps enough, has been said in the fading acres of coverage of Lady Thatcher’s passing and funeral, and the respective bias of the media, the debate will surely abide and the underlying themes will continue to define the conservative relationship with the national media.
As to whether the broad coverage was pro or con her legacy, it can probably be chalked up to a score draw.
What has, however, been consistent throughout the coverage both in the media and among political commentators regardless of bias, is the top line reference to Margaret Thatcher as “Britain’s first female Prime Minister”, as being her most notable achievement, cited by the Prime Minister and Leader of Opposition with immediacy in acknowledging her passing, and then subsequently by majority of those that followed.
If Margaret Thatcher had achieved very little as Prime Minister, perhaps if she had left after one short term in 83, it might have been enough to say in memory that Thatcher’s most notable achievement was in being Britain’s first female Prime Minister.
In eleven and a half years as Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher didn’t change the world for women, she changed the world for Britain and for freedom. Her gender both in her eyes, and to the impact she had, is at best a minor footnote to her inimitable achievements.
It therefore serves as an interesting barium for our times, that even those who should be unfailingly biased in favour of her achievements, the cheerleaders and defenders of her legacy, should seek to continually make reference to her gender over and above her galaxy of other achievements that have changed our history forever.
We have become, largely since her departure from office, a nation of groups, of communities before the whole; the black community, the Muslim community, the gay community, women’s rights groups, animal rights groups, the People’s front of Judea, the Judean People’s front.
This approach of seeing all things through the lens of special interest groups and tacit community boundaries has entirely altered the perception of us as a nation. It has created what can only be described as a bottom-up apartheid, in which we divide ourselves voluntarily and forcefully and seek to entrench those divisions in society, in the media, and in politics.
It is the Blair’s Britain that she didn’t understand, and wouldn’t understand, because the thing that she understood best was the national interest, and respected no divisions or boundaries before it. In this sense, she truly felt there was no such thing as “communities”.
We are undoubtedly a far more divided and fractured nation (and Party) now, than when she was Prime Minister, but it is not her doing, it is ours.
Much of the problem comes from us ceasing as a nation to have a collective narrative, and ceasing as a party to have anything resembling a coherent or visionary social policy, preferring a piecemeal set of policies designed to appeal to and thus enfranchise various minority and special interest groups, as the fashion of the day has dictated.
It could be argued that social policy was also a weakness of Thatcherism; she was a very strong social conservative, but regularly commented after leaving office that, though successful in implementing economic Thatcherism, she had great regret in never getting the chance to implement "Social Thatcherism" to the extent that her great ally Ronald Reagan did.
Because of her commitment and clear definition of the national interest, however – of what Britain meant and what it meant to be British, a vision that re-energised the nation – little more needed to be said.
It is a nation we saw a glimpse of on Wednesday April 17th, a nation that remains, and awaits re-discovery. It may be found through a national debate culminating in a British Bill of Rights, it may be a re-negotiation or shift in our relationship with Europe, or it may be the rise of another leader as she was, that re-defines and re-galvanises Britain and takes us beyond the era of the special interest community.
Simon Richards offered the best summary to this view, that her funeral proved “you can collect all the minority groups you like, but they don’t trump the the majority”, and the majority is still Britain.
Her legacy belongs to no one now but the ages, and I would be astonished if history marks its chapter on Thatcher as being significant for her gender.
In years to come I hope, as she would have wished, that she was the first female Prime Minister will be relegated to the footnote of the page, and that she was the greatest will be emblazoned atop and throughout. It is an approach to life and to politics that for the future of Britain, conservatives would do well to rediscover.