Love her or hate her, you can’t feel complacent about the force that was Margaret Thatcher. A woman in a man’s world. Maybe she didn’t encourage other women into the cabinet or see herself as a feminist, but she did show by example that there was nothing a woman couldn’t do.
She was Prime Minister throughout my teenage years, the time I was politicised. I soon realised I would never vote Tory, especially during the miners’ strike (a backdrop I use in a chapter of The Generation Game). But I never questioned that I wouldn’t go to university, even though I was the first woman in my family to do so, at a time when only 6% of the population were going to university. That’s what I wanted to do, so I worked hard and I went. With a full grant and all my fees paid. I didn’t realise then how lucky I was.
I don’t like what Mrs’s T’s reign (and Reagan’s) did, the legacy she left; the way society has fractured, and the welfare state dismantled. She couldn’t understand non-achievers because she achieved everything she wanted. Her biggest failure was her inability to understand that not everyone had her brains, courage and vision. And yes, we were coming out of the winter of discontent, rubbish on the streets, the dead waiting to be buried, the unions acting undemocratically. But she went too far, selling off council housing, British Rail, everything except the gold (another PM did that…). She began the process of shifting the emphasis away from society and onto the individual. A process that has been unstoppable.
But one thing she fought for, being a woman and a mother, was child benefit as a universal benefit. She knew the ideological and practical importance of this small but regular income that could be spent on nappies, children’s shoes and the like.
This government, run by an old Etonian who has never had to struggle against the odds, is far more destructive and divisive than she ever was. I didn’t think that was possible but sadly it is.