The lady’s not for turning (in her grave)

From growing up in the North of England to living and working in Hong Kong, Margaret Thatcher’s long shadow looms large wherever I turn.

I’m not going to add to the million and one words that will be spouted on her ‘legacy’, for Britain or Hong Kong. Suffice to say, one side will say she was wonderful, the other that she will be dreadful. Suffice to say, neither is entirely right or entirely wrong.

I’m neither in mourning about her death nor celebrating it (except in the sense that we blackhearted journalists always celebrate big breaking news).

What’s undoubtedly true is that I’d never have become as fascinated by politics as I am today if it hadn’t been for a towering figure like Maggie.

I’m told that, on a visit to London at the age of three, I stood outside 10 Downing Street (must’ve been before the barriers – a grim legacy of the Thatcher era – were erected to keep out the hoi polloi and the IRA) and demanded to know ‘which bedroom is Mrs Thatcher’s’.

I must’ve been six or seven before it became apparent that it was possible for a man to become prime minister, and probably a few years more to realise that it had once been the norm.

While nobody seemed to like her, Thatcher was inescapable. From wandering through the mud of Goose Green in her wellies to wandering, dazed, out of the bombed Grand Hotel in Brighton. Unforgettable was the day when my dad showed her round the showroom at his work – we kept for a long time the video from the local news in which he’s seen calling out ‘Mrs Thatcher’ as she ignores him and wanders off in the other direction.

By 1987 it seemed unimaginable that that strange Mr Kinnock with his Welshness and ginger hair could possibly beat Maggie. I supported the Liberal-SDP Alliance at the time, due to the fact that A) My mum did and B) they had the same name as the Rebel Alliance, the goodies from Star Wars. But even I knew that Mr Steel and Dr Owen were never going to have to settle the question of which of them was going to be PM (it should’ve been Shirley Williams of course, as lovely when I met her at a pre-election rally that year as when I interviewed her as a young reporter 15 years on).

What really turned me on to politics was the drama of Thatcher’s downfall. The possibility that the other big beast of the Tory jungle, Michael ‘Tarzan’ Heseltine had been bubbling in the background for some time. Then, one Sunday night in 1990, the Machiavellian plot ramped into full gear and we saw in the rawest sense the unfolding of a bloody battle for the keys to 10 Downing Street.

This had nothing to do with Thatcher directly, of course. Rather it was the seminal television series House of Cards, which echoed and coincided with the ousting of Thatcher and the ascent of John Major, and with him a greyer, duller political world. Tony Blair followed, a media creation whom Thatcher would have eaten alive. Then Gordon Brown, who entertained the Iron Lady for lunch in the misguided hope that some of her popular appeal would rub off. Then David Cameron, the ultimate child of Thatcher.

None of them seem larger than life in the way that Thatcher (or indeed some of her contemporaries on left, right and centre) did. Would Spitting Image have been a hit in the day of Brown? Will Cameron ever challenge Thatcher’s record of appearing in almost 100 Private Eye covers? Don’t hold your breath.

Are they, a bit like the American cover version of House of Cards, no more than a pale imitation of a grander creation? You might well think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.


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