In Defense of Margaret Thatcher

It’s no secret that Margaret Thatcher is one of the most controversial Prime Ministers in U.K. history. The controversy has only continued since her resignation in 1990. She is loathed among progressives, who view her as a cold woman who spitefully slashed social programs in the 1980s, while conservatives laud her as a hero who lifted the U.K. out of desolation. Controversial as she may be, Thatcher was a deeply human, complex, important, and admirable individual. Her contributions as Prime Minister essentially crafted the U.K. we are familiar with today.  As the first female Prime Minister, and perhaps the most industrious one, she should serve as an inspiration to all individuals, as she demonstrated what an individual could achieve through hard work and dedication. Additionally, her personal and political philosophy surrounding individual rights and freedoms promotes the foundational doctrines of Western democracy.

However, as previously mentioned, her controversial political career has discounted her among many, particularly those who believe her economic policies purposefully harmed the poor, especially poor women. Recently, in light of The Crown‘s depiction of Thatcher, some have questioned the validity and moral implications of humanizing conservative women like Thatcher. A Time article titled “Why is Margaret Thatcher always Crying in The Crown?” (an oddly sexist title for a “Feminist” article) argued that a humanizing depiction of Thatcher was all too forgiving, as her impact on the U.K. interfered with the rights and advancement of women, and is therefore anti-Feminist. The article, poorly researched and filled with logical fallacies, serves as an accurate representation of the modern conception of Thatcher and her legacy, depicting her as a “cold-hearted capitalist” without actually knowing much about her career. In fact, the article contained little, if any, information regarding Thatcher’s policies. While Thatcher may not be “Capital-F Feminist,” meaning she doesn’t adhere to the political/ideological movement, I believe she is inherently “Lower Case-f feminist,” meaning she advocates for the equal rights and treatment of women and men. Her worldview was based on individual merit and responsibility, and to describe it as anything other than that is to misunderstand the woman herself.

The fact that Thatcher’s legacy has recently been tarnished by articles like the one mentioned above is a shame for a variety of reasons. Although I may not agree with all of her political decisions, including the Falklands War and her opposition to sanctions against South Africa amid the Apartheid, I respect her for her passion and dedication to her work. Am I morally compromised for admiring her for her conscientiousness? Thatcher was an inherently political figure (obviously), but beyond that, she was a person, and an inspiring one at that. Thatcher’s legacy both as a political icon and as an individual should be respected and accurately represented; her advocacy for individual rights and freedoms speaks to the core of Western values, which, in my opinion, liberates women more than policies that hinge upon the female identity, rather than the individual merits of each individual. As such, Thatcher’s greatness as a person, regardless of her political affiliation, deserves respect.

As she ascended to the office of Prime Minister of the U.K. in 1979, Margaret Thatcher had a lot of work ahead of her, to say the least. Britain in the late 1970s was a mess, much like modern day Los Angeles. The U.K. experienced what is known as “stagflation,” the simultaneous rise of inflation and unemployment rates, while wages remained stagnant, causing trash to pile up, crime to increase, and prices of essential commodities such as milk and bread to skyrocket. At the same time, labor unions continually went on strike for better pay, meaning essential work went undone, contributing to the country’s desolation. Emily Hardy of This is Money wrote, “Streets were lined with litter, some dead went unburied and parents rushed to feed their own ill children in the hospital as everyone from rubbish collectors to grave diggers and nurses went out on strike.” Dirty, gritty, crime infested, and poor, the country was in desperate need of a fierce leader to guide them to recovery–a leader who was willing to offer the country something different. Thatcher was that leader, opting for admittedly unpopular policies that ultimately established the wealth of modern-day U.K.

British Life During the 1970s - Discover Walks Blog

Thatcher’s policies, which involved cutting the federal budget, did create some collateral damage. The unemployment rate rose during her first few years in office, before dipping again toward the end of her reign. Additionally, she cut social programs, such as government daycare services, that many believed had helped the poor; however, given the financial situation the country was in, these cuts were arguably necessary to provide wealth to the nation as a whole by decreasing the country’s debt and creating more value for the British Pound. Furthermore, long-term social programs can often do more harm than good, as argued by economists like Thomas Sowell and the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Sowell and Moynihan contend that social welfare can incentivize single-parent households, which can have a negative impact on the mental health and well-being of children raised under such conditions; on a large scale, this can contribute to more citizens living in poverty and more crime and imprisonment. Because caring for children is so difficult, it would be more beneficial to create a system that incentivizes two-parent households in which two parents can work together to rear children, instead of having a single parent (oftentimes, single mothers) relying on the government for assistance, with little opportunity for class mobility. 

Of course, the impact of Thatcher’s policies can be debated, but Thatcher had no ill-intention in her policies. She was fierce in her desire to lift up the poor, but viewed the solution as long-term and more complex than social welfare systems. Thatcher explained it best when she was confronted in her last days in office by a progressive MP who accused her of harming poor people due to the increased wealth gap (this MP did recognize that by virtually every other metric, Thatcher successfully lifted the country up economically). Thatcher pointed out that, “All levels of income [were] better off [in 1990] than they were in 1979. What the honorable member is saying is he would rather the poor be poorer provided the rich were less rich. That way, you will never create the wealth for better social services as we have!” Furthermore, her steadfast dedication to working non-stop for her country demonstrated her desire to improve living standards for all Brits–why would someone work countless hours, often working into the dead of night, if he or she did not care about the outcome? 

In addition to having helpful intentions for the British working class, Thatcher’s staunch anti-communism demonstrated her care for the poor suffering in the Soviet Bloc. According to her authorized biographer Charles Moore, Thatcher viewed communism as an evil system known for the oppression of its own people. A brief history lesson on the mass starvation, torture, and killings of Russians in the Soviet Union under leaders and high-ranking officials like Lenin, Stalin, Brezhnev, Beria, Yagoda, and more will demonstrate that. Thatcher recognized the dangers of communism, placing her sympathies with those restricted by communism in the Soviet Bloc, reminding her cabinet “Let us not forget that Prague and Budapest are great European cities.” Thatcher’s empathy for the poor living under communist regimes was particularly strong for those in Poland, which she visited in 1988, along with Moscow, Armenia, and Ukraine. Each of her visits attracted large crowds, excited to see the Iron Lady bravely tackle communist journalists on live television.

Thatcher’s policies were derived from her individualistic philosophy. Note that “individualistic” does not mean “selfish,” but instead means that all individuals have inherent rights and freedoms, and with these rights and freedoms comes responsibility. As she worked hard each day of her life, she expected her fellow Brits to do the same, as she knew that was the best way to advance the country. Furthermore, her emphasis on individuality is perhaps more “feminist” than the modern understanding of “Feminism.” Rather than women like herself, for example, being defined by one aspect of their identity (gender, in this case), individuals (including women) are liberated from such labels and have the ability to define themselves through their personal merits. Obviously, the effectiveness of Thatcher’s political decisions can remain up for debate, but her philosophy, intentions, and dedication to improving the state of her nation are what makes her important and admirable, and should not be forgotten in light of political disagreements.

The recent, critically acclaimed depiction of Thatcher in Netflix’s The Crown deserves the praise it has received. Although the show leans heavily on Thatcher’s image as “The Iron Lady,” I believe the show runners and Gillian Anderson accurately captured Thatcher’s complexity, depicting her as what she was–human. A notoriously tough woman, The Crown chose to depict some of her more emotional moments, including when Thatcher’s son went missing and she was forced to resign from a position she loved. However, Time recently ran an article by Eliana Dockterman titled “Why is Margaret Thatcher Always Crying in The Crown?” criticizing the portrayal for being overly empathetic towards a woman who supposedly restricted the rights of women. In my opinion, the article is just plain silly, poorly researched, and quite obviously biased, as the writer sees Anderson’s portrayal of Thatcher through an ideologically Feminist lens. 

The author argues that, “Attempts to locate empathy [for politically conservative women] in the name of feminism can overshadow the need for accountability when it comes to the real-world impact of these women’s beliefs and actions.” Firstly, Dockterman’s insistence on the immorality of painting Thatcher in an empathetic light is dangerously naive. It’s important to “locate empathy” for all, as in a world where evil figures exist, it is ingenuous to pretend that those who are truly evil, like Hitler and Stalin, were simply one-off exceptions. We need to understand that they were complex and often charismatic people, because if we do not, we risk being manipulated by the same sort of evil people in the future. This is not to say that Thatcher was on par with Hitler and Stalin, no matter how many times the author refers to Thatcher as “coldhearted.” Rather, it is to point out the silliness of this portion of Dockterman’s criticism of Thatcher herself and The Crown’s depiction of Thatcher. What’s more coldhearted? Being a capitalist, or brutally killing more than 10 million of your own people?

Despite clearly laying out her thesis in the article, Dockterman tends to blur the lines between the political ideology of “Feminism” and the philosophy of “feminism.” At one point Dockterman writes that Feminism “doesn’t mean simply supporting all female political figures; it means supporting those who actually help women–and certainly not those whose views harm them” (without providing concrete evidence for how Thatcher’s views harm women). However, the author contradicts this original definition, opting for the basic definition of feminist philosophy that claims that feminism is about “promoting equal rights for women.” The two definitions are not compatible, which Dockterman doesn’t seem to realize. For example, she believes that the fact that Thatcher didn’t appoint other women to her cabinet is inherently anti-Feminist. Personally, I appreciate that Thatcher judged each candidate on their own merits, rather than granting women promotions simply for being women. To me, that would have been sexist. If the only way a woman could get a promotion was because she was a woman, would that not suggest that she was not truly capable? But for Dockterman, it would be sexist not to appoint women, even if there are no qualified women to choose from; she conveniently ignores that fact that granting a woman a promotion simply for her identity, not because she is qualified or deserving of the role, is actually infantilizing and communicates the notion that women can’t do anything on their own. Here, we see that Dockterman clearly adheres to the political ideology of “Feminism,” which relies on the likes of Affirmative Action. Despite adhering to Feminist ideology, Dockterman seems to be confused about what this ideology entails. Directly after slamming Thatcher for not advancing other female cabinet members, the author writes “Many people want to think of groundbreaking women like Thatcher as feminist icons, not women who actively disliked being defined by their gender…” Ironically, this line of reasoning demonstrates the flaws in the current iteration of ideological Feminism, as it demonstrates the necessity for women to be defined by their gender, rather than allowing women to be liberated from it. Ms. Dockterman, do you know what else forces women to be defined by their gender? Primogeniture, laws prohibiting women from opening their own bank account, a lack of suffrage. Philosophical feminism, rather, argues that to be equal to a man would mean that women are not limited to the confines of their womanhood and the challenges it presents. How in God’s name could being defined by one’s gender be feminist? Dockterman offers no explanation, and fails to see the irony of her argument that Thatcher is anti-Feminist because she abhorred being defined by her gender rather than her individual merits. 

Dockterman also seems to have difficulty keeping her own Feminist ideology straight; according to many modern day Feminists, all women are inherently subject to patriarchal oppression simply because they are women. As the author is an ardent Feminist, one would expect her to believe that Thatcher, the first female head of state of any major Western country in the world, was subject to patriarchal oppression, right? Wrong. The author notes that The Crown softens Thatcher’s character by “suggesting that Thatcher suffered at the hands of the patriarchy itself,” as if to say Thatcher did not face gender-based prejudice. Dockterman, here, is referring to scenes where Thatcher is portrayed discussing the condescension she experiences from her male colleagues, a textbook example of sexist behavior used by Feminists. Does this not qualify as sexism? What would she have to endure to qualify as an appropriate amount of oppression? Are not all women subject to oppression based on the Feminist ideology? As a woman born in 1925, Thatcher likely experienced situations that we would consider extremely sexist by today’s standards. Here, we see how flimsy Dockterman’s Feminist ideology really is; although, as she believes, all women are subject to patriarchal oppression, it is only appropriate to accept and relate to a woman’s oppression if that woman in question adheres to Dockterman’s Feminism. Instead of making the more logical argument of pointing out that women of all creeds could relate to Thatcher’s struggle as a woman, Dockterman confuses herself, tripping over her anti-conservatism. 

Throughout the article, Dockterman does not try to conceal her bias, clearly laying out her ideological framework and failing to provide counter arguments for those with opposing worldviews; tell me–how is this considered journalism? As established, the article wreaks of this ideologically Feminist bias (despite the author’s incoherence), as Dockterman assumes that Thatcher’s policies obviously were wrong and harmed women, which, as mentioned earlier, is debatable. Rather than providing a counter argument that would illuminate the potential benefits of Thatcher’s policies, or even providing concrete examples to demonstrate exactly how Thatcher’s policies harmed women, the author offered passing nods to Thatcher’s poll tax and  only vaguely described Thatcher’s conservatism. Her inability to make this argument using any sort of evidence demonstrates the author’s lack of understanding on the subject, communicating to me that she is uninformed. She is, after all, an American, who may not have learned the ins and outs of Thatcher’s political career. That would be okay if this were an argument made to a friend or if her argument did not hinge upon the very notion that Thatcher’s policies were inherently sexist and therefore made her undesirable and contemptible. For example, I briefly touched upon how Thatcher’s policies could be interpreted as beneficial, but leave that up for debate; additionally, my argument sets Thatcher’s politics aside, as I believe we should admire her for her worldview and philosophy toward hard work, dedication, and individualism. However, Dockterman’s article is published in Time Magazine and depends on using Thatcher’s policies to paint her as anti-Feminist and “coldhearted;” an article like this should have some semblance of professionalism. As a self-proclaimed journalist, who presumably has taken a handful of writing courses throughout her academic career, Dockterman should know better than to lazily paint Thatcher’s policies as harmful to women without actually mentioning what those policies were and how they functioned. 

By the same token, the Time article is poorly researched, containing provably false details, further illuminating the ignorance of those, like Dockterman, who hold negative opinions about Thatcher simply because of her conservatism. For example, the author claims that Thatcher was “Germanphobic,” suggesting the Prime Minister had a prejudice toward Germans. This is verifiably, laughably false. Authorized biographer Charles Moore clearly contradicts Dockterman’s claim; while Thatcher did hold contempt for East Germany, her contempt stemmed from her hatred of the communist government, not the East German people. Claiming she was Germanphobic for abhorring the East German government is like claiming FDR and Churchill were Germanphobic because they abhorred the Nazi German government. As mentioned previously, Thatcher often toured communist countries like East Germany and was welcomed by the people with open arms. Does that sound like Germanphobia to you? In general, it seemed that the author had trouble with facts, as she made false claims about other conservative women, including Amy Coney Barrett, to whom she compared Thatcher. The author claims that Barrett does not believe women should be guaranteed rights under the U.S. Constitution, hyperlinking to an article where another poorly-informed writer says “based on her legal writings,” Barrett does not believe women should have equal rights, without providing any further evidence (say, from the legal writings?). I researched this extensively to find the origin of this claim and to see if Barret had in fact written such a thing (which Dockterman should have done for her own article), only to find that no, Barret does not believe that women do not have constitutional rights. Rather, according to an article by The Hill, Barrett is a strict constructionist or originalist, someone who believes that the Constitution should be taken at face value and should not be interpreted further. A little further research (or even a fifth grade education for that matter) would demonstrate that women obviously do have Constitutional writes, as the Constitution contains the 19th Amendment, which states that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Even more research, and one would discover that Barrett does not believe in overturning “super-precedent” cases such as Roe v. Wade, as “Not even originalists claim a responsibility to exhume and rectify every nonoriginalist precedent in the United States Reports.” 

Overall, Docketerman serves as a glaring example of many young people who hold contempt for Thatcher for her politics, despite having little concrete information regarding her political career or her philosophy on which to base their opinions. Rather, many, like Dockterman, assume that because Thatcher does not fit the ideologically Feminist mold, she is “coldhearted,” and maliciously damaged the poor in the U.K. In fact, Thatcher’s emphasis on individual rights and responsibility, as well as hard work, both represent the core ideas of Western Democracy and perfectly align to Lower-case-f feminist philosophy. Thatcher wanted women, and all individuals, to be judged on their individual merit, and conducted her political career accordingly. As a woman, as a human, Thatcher was complex, and deserved a depiction as magnificent as herself, regardless of political affiliation. In my opinion, The Crown gave that to her, and does not need to apologize for humanizing an extraordinary person as Thatcher, despite what uninformed ideologues at Time may think. I hope that in the near future, we may be able to laud Thatcher for her hard work, her spunk, her intelligence, and her other-worldly personality without feeling that others are questioning our morality. I hope that despite our political differences, we may be able to appreciate great individuals, regardless of their opinions on economic policies of the 1980s, for instance.

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