THATCHER black and white

Should you have the misfortune of tuning into the BBC’s most tired topical comedy shows – The News Quiz, The Now Show or Have I Got News For You, for example – it will only be a matter of time before the dread word is uttered: Thatcher.

Gawd, wasn’t she awful? She hated everyone. And what about that milk and selling everything, am I right? Compile a playlist of these comments and send them off to someone who had never heard of her, and they would conclude the woman in question must have been Britain’s first dictator, not a hugely successful election-winner.

Dislike for our first female prime minister is routinely used as the equivalent of a warrant card for the lazy left, flashed as swift confirmation that the speaker is a virtuous person, untainted by the grubby practicalities and mundanities of day to day human life, and immune to the false consciousness of the untouchables who vote Tory.

Thatcher’s continued use as a straw man points to her power as a politician and as a cultural figure. The left feel the need to go on about her – to keep rewriting her history and pummelling her reputation – precisely because they still cannot believe she defeated them so comprehensively and for so long. Not that they’d ever admit it, but her dominance was such that she moulded them, too, and many of them struggle to escape her shadow. (As Rafael Behr writes today in The Guardian, sometimes the modern left has little to unite it other than hatred.)

Her persistent power as a cultural and political icon was on display yesterday at Christie’s, when the first batch of clothing, books, pictures and other items from her estate was auctioned off (you can hear Marcus Brigstocke scribbling the inevitable gag about privatisation already, can’t you?). People from around the world battled for their chance to own a piece of Thatcher history, and such was the competition that one lot after another smashed all price expectations.

This was an illustration of her persistent star quality. She didn’t get everything right, nor was she perfect – but she was correct much more often than not, and she dominated and defined her age more than any politician has before or since. Which other modern Prime Minister performed such a feat?

The 1980s isn’t fashionable. Indeed, the trend is to sneer at the decade as a time shot through with embarrassing things like people supporting the defence of our country, ordinary men and women winning personal power at the expense of union bosses, and the masses wanting the best for their families. That the left still don’t seem to connect their snobbish dismissal of those values with their own repeated rejection by the electorate says it all. Even now she’s gone, Thatcher is still running rings round her opponents.

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