Monday, April 15, 2013 by Helena Dalli
The Margaret Thatcher obituaries have been a mixed bag of both praise and scorn. Those who supported her say that she rescued their country; on the other hand, her critics say she demolished it. This is reminiscent of when, during the time she was Prime Minister, one’s politics was defined by whether one was for or against Thatcher’s policies.
We recalled the times when she ruled with an iron fist and was dubbed ‘the best man in the Cabinet’ and were reminded that the lady was not for turning. Others depicted Thatcher as a bully who repressed opponents.
Her supporters in the area of foreign policy say she was right to defend the Falklands. Environmentalists pointed out that she was one of the first to put the dangers of climate change on the international agenda.
Thatcher’s detractors spoke and wrote about the black spots of her Administration. Foremost among these came the bitter struggle with the miners, which left people in the mining communities rejected and abandoned. Her defenders argue that the coal-mining industry had been doomed before Thatcher came to power.
Possibly, one of the biggest issues was that of unemployment, which, in the early 1980s, was at well over three million.
Critics also reminded us of the catastrophic introduction of the poll tax and the ensuing riots
There was also the infamous clause 28 debacle, which was invariably raised by various writers, an issue that would be unheard of today.
The scene was set during the 1987 election campaign whereby the Tories pooh-poohed Labour for promoting rights for gay people. Still etched in my mind is one particular billboard showing young men wearing badges with “Gay pride” on them and the slogan, playing on the word ‘camp “This is Labour’s camp. Do you want to live in it?” The billboard had the opposite effect on me and I recall it was the time when my interest in the rights of gay people was stepped up.
Upon winning the 1987 election, Thatcher denounced local education authorities for teaching children that “they have an inalienable right to be gay”.
With the introduction of clause 28, the intention was to outlaw the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ through secondary school curricula and social service provision bans.
The law made teachers feel they could not tell kids it was acceptable to be gay. In effect, teachers avoided talking about being gay even when children were being bullied and physically attacked for this reason.
The law was repealed by a Labour government under Prime Minister Tony Blair.
In June 2009, David Cameron – as leader of the Conservative Party – stated that the law had been a mistake and formally apologised that his party had introduced a law that was offensive to gay people: “We may have sometimes been slow and, yes, we may have made mistakes, including clause 28, but the change has happened. I do not have a perfect record in voting for gay rights but my party as a whole is now united over the issue after years of infighting over the clause.”
Possibly, the most scathing attack on Thatcher came from MP and actress Glenda Jackson during a special Commons debate to pay tribute to the former.
“We were told that everything I had been taught to regard as a vice, under Thatcherism was in fact a virtue: greed, selfishness, no care for the weaker, sharp elbows, sharp knees,” she said.
I noticed that some of the remarks made in the House of Commons last week were of a personal nature. Had Thatcher been listening she would probably have reacted as she always did to personal attacks: “I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.”
Much was also written on the ‘fact’ that she did not consider herself a feminist. But what was her view on men? When she was first appointed Cabinet minister, a journalist asked her whether she imagined herself as Britain’s first woman Prime Minister, to which she quickly retorted: “There will not be a woman Prime Minister in my lifetime – the male population is too prejudiced.”
On this one, she was for turning, that’s for sure.
Helena Dalli is Minister for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties.