RIP Maggie: She must have been doing something right

A lady not for turning: Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

A lady not for turning: Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.


I was at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery a couple of years ago for the 25th anniversary debate on the Miners’ Strike.

Despite the best efforts of the organisers and the chairman of the panel on stage, it felt rather more like an ambush than a genuine debate.

Understandably, a good number of people in the room were from mining communities and the bile and vitriol reserved for a former Conservative Minister was there for all to see.

Suffice to say, Edwina Currie – a woman who doesn’t need me to defend her – deserved the utmost respect for turning up to be shot at here in a solid Labour, working class city.

My overwhelming thought as I left the lecture theatre was ‘thank goodness it wasn’t Margaret Thatcher’.

Thatcher ‘the milk snatcher’; Thatcher: Who came up with the Poll Tax; Thatcher: Whose government oversaw the closure of 150 coalmines which devastated communities across the UK; Thatcher: Who crushed the trade unions; Thatcher: Whose belief in the free-market economy and privatisation promoted greed and selfishness on a scale never seen before.

You’ll read all of the above and more in the coming days as the country comes to terms with the loss of a towering political figure.

In my opinion, this is a very selective and simplistic version of the Margaret Thatcher story – and a markedly biased one which panders to left-wing rhetoric.

Since the news of Baroness Thatcher’s death broke yesterday we have witnessed the unedifying spectacle of people actually celebrating her passing.

‘Bing bong’ posted people on Facebook and Twitter – quoting ‘the witch is dead’ line from The Wizard of Oz.

I’m not sure which is worse – the fact that people are dancing on someone’s grave or that they can’t find a decent thing to say about one of only two leaders of note this country has seen since Churchill.

It was Tony Benn no less, that most respected of Labour heavyweights, who often held Margaret Thatcher up as an example of how a great political party should be led.

She came to power in 1979 as Britain’s first woman Prime Minister and, in doing so, sent shockwaves through the old boys’ club that was the Houses of Parliament.

Surely that ticks a box with everyone? Go on, admit it.

Let’s also not forget that Mrs Thatcher inherited a country in turmoil, paralysed by industrial unrest and half as productive and prosperous as it could have been.

Trade unions were trotting in and out of Downing Street with their demands, rubbish littered the streets, the dead lay un-buried and the IMF was banging on Britain’s door because ‘the sick man of Europe’ was bankrupt.

She set about transforming Britain’s economy – something she did at questionable social cost – and was vilified for her crusade against the very unions who had held previous Labour administrations to ransom.

Mrs Thatcher will be forever remembered as the Prime Minister who destroyed the UK’s mining industry. Few, however, are brave enough to concede that large parts of the industry were loss-making and that coal mines were also closing all over Europe.

Maggie’s government introduced the Right To Buy scheme for council homes – one of the most important pieces of empowering social legislation this country has ever seen.

She was despised by the IRA for her hard-line stance on terrorism and almost paid for it with her life. Even that didn’t cow her.

It was Mrs Thatcher’s deep-held sense of belief in standing up to aggressors and defending Britain, forged during the dark days of the Second World War, which shaped her response to the Falklands Crisis.

The resulting improbable victory was spectacular and owed much to Maggie’s unshakeable belief in the importance of defending ‘her people’.

The woman dubbed ‘The Iron Lady’ by her enemies in Moscow needed no spin doctors – unlike those who have succeeded her at Number 10. She was talked-about, respected and, crucially, listened to on the world stage and was certainly the equal of any statesman across the globe.

I dare say George W. Bush wouldn’t have got away with talking to Maggie the way he did the political poodle that was Tony Blair.

The very fact that she was the first Prime Minister to win three elections in a row tells me that Margaret Thatcher must have being doing something right in the eyes of the majority of those who could be bothered to vote.

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I grew up in an era of proper celebrities who earned their fame

Another week and another non-entity leaves the X-Factor while whatsisface wins the latest edition of Big Brother.

All this and Strictly Come Dancing trundles on as I’m a Celebrity prepares to resuscitate (or kill-off entirely) the careers of a dozen Z-listers.

As someone who avoids such shows like the plague, I often yearn for the days when stars were stars – not someone who had simply blubbed in front of the nation or showered for the cameras.

The definition of a celebrity is a famous or well-known person but these days the word has been diluted to such an extent that any Tom, Dick or Harry who has been on the telly for five minutes – irrespective of their obvious talent vacuum – can earn the label.

People we wouldn’t know if we fell over them in the street – the ‘stars’ of Geordie Shore, The Only Way Is Essex or My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding – are tragically classed as famous. Basically for being, er… famous.

But it wasn’t always like this. Turn back the clock a quarter of a century and there was no internet to speak of, no reality TV and mobile communications were in their infancy.

Back in the Eighties, if you were famous it was usually because you were good at something and people liked or at least respected you for it.

Generally speaking, you also had to have served your time – shown enough talent and been around long enough to have been talked about, written about and seen enough to warrant fame.

When I recall the celebrities – for want of a better word – who dominated my formative years, they had that status on merit.

(I am not, here, talking about the time that I met Grotbags at the Garden Festival).

As the blockbuster movie phenomenon took hold, stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Eddie Murphy, Harrison Ford and the assorted beautiful people who made up the Brat Pack loomed large into our collective consciousness.

Then there were the sporting celebrities of that period – genuine icons whose auras haven’t diminished with the passing of time. For instance, I put my love of cricket down to watching the colossus that was Ian Botham (now Sir Ian) almost single-handedly wrestle the little urn from the Aussies back in 1981.

I know the killer statistic off-by-heart: Five wickets for one run off 28 balls. Enough said.

Then there was Daley Thompson (now a CBE) whose gold medal-winning heroics at the Olympics in 1980 and 1984 enthralled millions.

Let’s face it, most Olympic sports are boring and rubbish but Daley ran, jumped and chucked stuff better than anyone. I mean, what’s not to like about the decathlon?

Sticking with athletics, who could forget the rivalry between working class hero Steve Ovett and the posh lad Seb Coe? Those boys made actually made running watchable. For a short while, at least.

The Eighties was also the decade that snooker entered our living rooms and we all, inexplicably, sat up until the wee small hours watching a one-man domination of a sport.

This, of course, prompted a huge spike in sales of fold-away, six foot by three foot snooker tables like the one mum and dad brought me for Christmas in 1983.

A world champion no less than six times in the decade, the ginger magician Steve Davis OBE was nothing if not interesting.

At the time, Gary Lineker was the darling of England football fans – back when yours truly still gave a monkey’s about the national team.

Famously never booked or sent off during his illustrious career, his reputation at the time was as white as his freshly-pressed Spurs shirt.

He was a far cry from today’s high-profile England stars who can’t seem to go a week without appearing in the tabloid press for all the wrong reasons.

Interestingly, back in the 80s even politicians seemed to have genuine stature and a celebrity status which transcended the kind of spin-doctoring that goes on today.

I wonder how much of this was down to a certain television programme which mercilessly poked fun at the great and the good?

First airing in 1984, the multi BAFTA-nominted Spitting Image turned the country’s top politicians into figures of fun. And we loved it.

There was a time when many people could name all of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet – simply because they had been so brilliantly caricatured by Spitting Image.

It helped, of course, that the Iron Lady herself was such a powerful figure – not only in the UK but also on the world stage.

No matter what anyone thinks of her now, I somehow can’t see Maggie playing lap-dog to George W. Bush like a certain Prime Minister of ours famously did not so long ago.

By the same token, even the royal family seemed larger than life back then – prior to the scandals and the tragedy which rocked the house of Windsor to its foundations in the Nineties.

In my lifetime, there hasn’t been a more famous person than Princess Diana whom I bumped into at Alton Towers, of all places, while I was learning my trade as a cub reporter.

She was out with her two young boys and they went past me on the Log Flume.

At the time I remember thinking that I had just taken a photograph of the most famous person in the world.

For all her faults – the beautiful, vulnerable, misunderstood and ultimately tragic Princess of Wales deserved the fame she both enjoyed and hated in equal measure.

I honestly can’t think of a single, modern celebrity who can hold a candle to her.

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia