Let us now praise famous women, and they don’t come much more famous than Mrs. Thatcher. Yes, she was Baroness Thatcher, titled as befits a former British prime minister, but she was one of the people and plain Mrs. fits very well. Her father was a grocer in a small way, and he taught her those qualities for which Britain was once respected the world over, decency, thrift, fair dealing, standing up for what is right. She believed that making choices for yourself is the way to a fulfilled and happy life, and the state can’t do that for you. Under her influence, those time-honored British qualities had one more flourish.
Like every past British prime minister until her woeful successors, she believed in helping friends and punishing enemies. Up with Ronald Reagan and John Howard, down with General Galtieri and Saddam Hussein. She gave Mikhail Gorbachev a long-running tutorial. Her one mistake was to commit Britain further to the European Union. When she tried to correct this, the French president François Mitterand said she had the mouth of Marilyn Monroe and the eyes of Caligula. Her ministers were unable to deal with this combination of looks and brains. In return she would say that she could do wonders for Britain if only her ministers were not so wet and defeatist and she had half a dozen of them to rely on.
Philip Larkin, the one great poet at the time, was asked on a television program how he could possibly be a capital C Conservative since that meant supporting Mrs. Thatcher. She was so intelligent, he said blinking owlishly, and so sexy. Inviting him to Downing Street, Mrs. Thatcher said she liked his poems. Quote one, he replied, and she came out with his line about being as sharp as a drawer full of knives. I heard her once discussing a dramatization for the stage of a Dostoevsky novel. Her comprehension of issues and her power to summarize them set her apart. A really good argument toned her up for the rest of the day.
Post-1945, socialism was deconstructing Britain and everything it represented. The ruling class kept on making the same misjudgment, that the reason for decline and ruin was that the country did not have enough socialism. More state control, more egalitarian leveling down, more regulation! Mrs. Thatcher did her best to destroy the machinery of socialism. How the intellectuals hated her for it, and still do. Their petulance, the bigotry, the vituperative nastiness, knows no bounds. Oxford, the university where she had studied chemistry, childishly refused to give her the honorary degree that all previous Oxford-educated prime ministers had received. Baroness Warnock, preeminent moral philosopher of the Left, reproached her for wearing blouses bought from Marks and Spenser, the popular chain store. I ask you, which of these two is the snob?
Socialists struggle to regain control of public opinion, and every day do what they can to hand over to the state the responsibility for the kind of lives “ordinary people” are to be allowed. Mrs. Thatcher’s legacy stands in their way.