Maggie baked cakes and cried - but she was still grotesque

PUBLISHED: 07:15 08 June 2019 | UPDATED: 13:35 08 June 2019

Margaret Thatcher who is the subject of a recent documentary series

Margaret Thatcher who is the subject of a recent documentary series


Viewed through the distorting lens of history, people’s reputations can be transformed.

Stalin, who killed tens of millions of his own people, is lionised in parts of Russia for his strong leadership. For Theresa May's "strong and stable", I give you Joseph Stalin's "strong and unstable" - though "strong" may be a bit of a weak word to describe history's most prolific mass murderer.

Sir Winston Churchill flips regularly between hero and villain: hero of the Battle of Britain and the fightback against Hitler; villain of the Tonypandy riots and Gallipoli.

I trust that one day history will judge that I was an underappreciated prophet of my age, slicing the scalpel of truth into the bloated body of modern life and watching hubris seep out.

One person who I have always believed that history should judge harshly is Margaret Thatcher.

With her wild eyes and manufactured posh voice, she laid waste to Britain's heavy industry, saw unemployment top four million, and heralded the era of self - which still overshadows society today.

I don't doubt that many of her poisonous views have eaten deep into the hearts of millions of today's older people - corroding compassion and contributing to the climate of mistrust that led to Brexit.

For all of my life, I have been comfortable picturing Maggie in my mind wearing a pointed hat and stirring a cauldron with a silver spoon borrowed from the mouth of one of her many Old Etonian colleagues.

I actually had nightmares about her in my teens, where her face morphed into her Spitting Image puppet and those demonic eyes bored into my soul.

But is it time to swap the witch's hat for a halo and the cauldron for a mixing bowl?

I'm currently three episodes into the BBC series Thatcher: A Very British Revolution. It's a superb series: evocative, enlightening, thought-provoking - and potentially reputation-altering.

It shows Maggie Thatcher - middle name "Out-Out-Out" - as a human being. This was something I'd not previously considered to be a possibility.

But there she was, baking cakes, laughing with her family, preparing meals, dusting plants and - wait for it - crying.

Yes, the Iron Lady did have fully operational tear ducts, and at least one expression to add to the unblinking-cold-cruel default.

It also showed how she rose to power at a time when her party was dominated - in fact monopolised - by upper middle-class men from Oxbridge.

For a woman to do that was remarkable: for a woman from a middle-class background, it was miraculous.

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I cannot imagine Maggie calling herself a feminist, but she did much to advance the cause of working women, not least by debunking the nonsense that women are not strong enough to make tough decisions.

Tell that to the Argentines, the Soviet Union, the National Union of Mineworkers and Neil Kinnock.

They were all "handbagged" - a sexist description that tells us much about the time in which she governed.

I've said in a previous column that Margaret Thatcher should be judged by history to have been a "great" leader - for her impact, her presence and the way that she broke ground.

The fact that the word Thatcherism exists is evidence enough - how many other political leaders have been awarded an "ism"?

But I still weigh her in the balance and find her wanting.

No number of cakes baked, plants dusted or tears shed can outweigh the inhumanity of her "me, me, me" ethos, which hardened attitudes to the poor and the vulnerable and made so many of us care a little less for our neighbours.

Mining communities died under her withering gaze, while inner cities simmered with discontent. Those at the bottom felt more alienated than ever before.

Mrs Thatcher knew these things would happen, yet ploughed on because "this lady is not for turning".

This man is not for turning, either: the BBC documentary paints a more colourful picture of our first woman PM, but the picture is still grotesque.

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