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‘Iron Lady? Rust in peace’


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OVER a week after her death, Margaret Thatcher continues to divide Britain much as she did during her 12 years in power. Against a backdrop of praise in Parliament, and hundreds of newspaper columns and editorials, she is also being vilified by large sections of society.

Perhaps the best indicator of her divisive legacy is the popularity of the old song ‘Ding dong, the witch is dead’ from the old musical The Wizard of Oz. People are downloading the ditty at a rate that has put it among the Top Ten. Many see this as deeply disrespectful to a towering figure, widely accepted as being Britain’s most influential politician since Winston Churchill.

When news of her death first broke, every newspaper rushed out special supplements full of articles and photos depicting her life and times. The Iron Lady – the title given her by a Soviet journalist, and one that stuck – was admired and respected on the right for the way she transformed Britain. On the left, she continues to be reviled for her dismantling of unions and her destructive policies towards industry.

Another reaction to the news of her death were spontaneous parties to celebrate the occasion. As with Bhutto in Pakistan, the mere mention of her name still ignites furious arguments. A heroine to the well-off who flourished due to her policies, she is a hate figure to miners and factory workers who lost their jobs in her terms of office.

There is a debate on now over whether her liberalisation of the financial sector led to the current recession. It is certainly true that when she deregulated the city, she unleashed a tremendous amount of pent-up energy and greed. London’s financial district rapidly became a global centre for deals, trades and mergers. Millions were quickly made, and multinational banks from around the world set up shop here.

The downside to this feeding frenzy was a disregard for the normal caution that used to be the British banker’s hallmark. Hugo Young, in an obituary written before his death, described the hardness that came into British society due to Thatcher’s encouragement of individualism. He saw this selfish streak as being now embedded at the centre of British life, over 20 years after she was forced out of office by a rebellion launched by her Tory colleagues.

Ken Livingstone, the left-wing ex-mayor of London, writes in the Guardian:

“Thatcher’s destruction of industry, combined with financial deregulation and the ‘big bang’, began the decline of saving and accumulation of private- and private-sector debt that led directly to the banking crisis of 2008. The idea that bankers would allocate resources for all our benefit was always a big lie. Now the overwhelming majority are paying the price through the bailout of bank shareholders.”

In Margaret Thatcher’s long political career, two things stand out more than her other policies: one was to take on the miners when they went on strike in 1984, and the other was the decision to send in the Royal Navy to neutralise the Argentine threat to take over the Falkland Islands. By confronting the National Union of Miners when they resisted the job losses that would accompany modernising Britain’s subsidised coal mines, and went on strike, Thatcher responded with a firmness bordering on brutality.

Thousands of policemen were deployed to arrest striking miners who tried to prevent workers from outside from entering the mineshafts. Many miners were injured as mounted policemen charged their ranks. Thatcher had earlier ordered for coal to be stockpiled to minimise the impact of the strike, and for some powerhouses to be converted to oil. In 1985, when the strike finally ended, the entire industry had been devastated. Today, it is virtually moribund.

In the Falkland war, Thatcher resisted the advice of her own cabinet colleagues, as well as counsel from Washington. Despite the dangers inherent in fighting a distant war, Thatcher prevailed, and her stock rose among a cheering British public that had witnessed the steady decline of their nation after the Second World War.

After her death, many of her ex-colleagues have spoken about her dogged determination to finish the task she set her mind to. With her grasp of the ways of the bureaucracy, she pushed and prodded until she got her way. Famously, she once remarked: “I’m the only man in my cabinet.”

Even those who opposed her policies at the time acknowledge her contribution in reviving the economy and putting Britain back among the ranks of significant players on the world stage. In this, she was helped by her friendship with Ronald Reagan, the US president in the 1980’s. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, Thatcher encouraged the senior Bush to launch the first Gulf war.

In some ways, Thatcher was admirable in her total disregard for other people’s opinion of her. In an era when politicians resort to focus groups and opinion polls, and avoid unpopular decisions, Thatcher did what she thought was right, often dragging her cabinet behind her, kicking and screaming.

Her crackdown on IRA separatists made her deeply unpopular in Ireland. When some IRA prisoners went on hunger strike, she is reported to have callously said they should be allowed to starve themselves to death if they wanted to. One epitaph for the dead prime minister summed up these feelings in a graffito that appeared on a Belfast wall: “Iron Lady? Rust in peace.”

Thatcher’s rejection of the African National Council that was fighting apartheid in South Africa, and her dismissal of Nelson Mandela as a “terrorist” made her a hated figure around the world. In addition, her friendship with Pinochet, the Chilean dictator, raised questions about her democratic credentials. One brief letter in the Guardian expressed this loathing for Thatcher: “A friend of Pinochet. An enemy of Mandela. Enough said.”

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (35) Closed

Shakeel Apr 15, 2013 07:29am
Tasteless and a ghoulish choice for a title. Sorry mate, not funny. Imagine reading Be-zameer for Benazir!
sja Apr 15, 2013 06:53am
The title IRON LADY and your prayer for a dead -- Rust in peace? that is true secularism, and only MADE IN UK the dead bodies now you say rust in peace instead of resting in peace---- poor iron lady and leader of the rusting monarchy of Britain what else can a citizen say about a compatriot in memoriam.
musheir Apr 15, 2013 07:28am
thatcher said 'there is no such thing as society' how much more can you be anti-intellectual. since the dawn of civilisation mankind has been trying to create decent society. otherwise there is law of jungle.
Asher Apr 15, 2013 03:57am
Most important lesson of history - "No one learns from history"
Shafiq Khan Apr 15, 2013 06:31pm
My recollections of her period are of factories closing, high interest rates, over two and a half million workers unemployed and selling off national industries to her supporters. We better not forget the sale of council houses but not building any social housing. Old Mac thought of it as selling family silver. Is it left or right of politics, you decide, these are the facts of her period. Then crying on the steps of the Dawning Street when pushed out of job by her Tory MPs.
NMA Apr 15, 2013 11:38am
When did this paper become the whining ground for left wingers. The thing with Thatcher was that she was a "leader", instead of just politician like all those after her (including most we have in Pakistan). Mr Hussain makes no mention of the fact that it was the unions who made industries like mining completely uncompetitive; Thatcher just stopped throwing hard earned taxpayer money into them. Yes you are quick to quote a number of left wing politicians and quotes from the guardian, but the there is a lot more press out there, and a lot more people in the UK (who are doing real jobs instead of being on the dole and coming out to the streets complaining about Thatcher). If only we had a Thatcher in Pakistan!!!!
Palvasha von Hassell Apr 15, 2013 12:06pm
Thatcher does indeed divide opinion, always has. I was studying at Cambridge in 1985, so remember the atmosphere well. But whatever she did, she did from a deep love of country. That and her determination are a shining example to others.
G.A. Apr 15, 2013 12:02pm
@Shakeel - you could've expressed it without slandering Benazir. Atleast Mr. Hussain quoted a news heading. Title was not his. What is your excuse?
G.A. Apr 15, 2013 11:59am
The writer quoted a news heading. Please check your facts before criticizing. Did you not see the quotes around it?
Zaib ALI Apr 15, 2013 11:25am
She was also a good friend of Dictator Gen.Zia in Pakistan who ousted democraticially elected Bhutto government was later hanged.
shan Apr 15, 2013 10:03am
The title was in very bad taste ,in a way shocking! never expected this from Irfan Hussain.
S Bara Apr 15, 2013 09:14am
Iron eventually RUSTS. No problem.
khanm Apr 15, 2013 08:58am
A very controversial political figure.... but brainy indeed
Asif Apr 15, 2013 03:40am
she was lucky she wasn't a pakistani politician or she would be no more than a 'mohtarma'.
Mo Apr 15, 2013 12:32pm
In one of her speeches, she famously said: "You turn if you want to, the lady is not for turning". Well, the lady is not for turning, but for burning because she is going to be cremated. Well done Irfan for a well written piece. Those who've expressed their shock here don't really understand British democracy. We do not consider our politicians to be demi-Gods as some people do in other parts of the world.
S Bara (UK) Apr 15, 2013 01:07pm
Any body parts that could be recycled and money put back into the economy.
Xulf Apr 15, 2013 07:55pm
Well there is no mining industry left now!! Thanks to her stubborness.. If one loses the common touch with the social aspects of a society,one can never reach greatness. UK today is not more than a sidekick to US, largely because of her economic/foreign policies. She single handedly made UK irrelevant to the rest of the world..We dont want Thatcher here!!
Ram Krishan Sharma Apr 15, 2013 01:53pm
She will definitely Top the list of 100 Great women of this modern era who left a mark in history. Many people were jealous of her intellect ,leadership, and charm with which she could influence Russian and American leaders . It may take another 1000 years before a women like her will appear in this world including India and Pakistan.
SSS Apr 15, 2013 02:21pm
Just because all are using a particular thought stream does not make a person of Irfan's stature to be following the herd.
Khota Apr 15, 2013 09:56pm
Thank God, we didn't have her in Pakistan. We are already full. We want no more trouble.
Khota Apr 15, 2013 10:10pm
How many times, I have to read the same comment. You don't have anything new to say. Or are you following the old grandma's who tell the same story to the children every night, until they stop listening.
noorilhuda Apr 15, 2013 07:41pm
Irrespective of her politics, Thatcher will be remembered as the best PM Britain ever had (Churchill may get a nod simply for the war-time but Thatcher was in power for far greater time and far transitional a period than Churchill and changed lives). Who didn't like Pinochet? US foreign policy ignored the massacres of Chilean dictator and Thatcher followed like any good British PM follows the US Prez on international relations! So she didn't like Mandela - she was the product of a different time, and thinking. And even white South Africa took it's time to like Mandela! No biggie. If she had been a man, she would have been admired for her 'decisiveness' which seems like 'aggressiveness' when in women.
Khota Apr 15, 2013 09:53pm
All of the body could be fed to the chicken, and some price recouped.
Rajiv Apr 15, 2013 04:32pm
see it hurts even if its an imaginary title.. thats the simple point he is making...
farid Apr 15, 2013 11:59pm
Miss Noorlihuda Get rid off your sexist world. We are talking about people's lives, racial equality and towering figure of Nelson Mandela and you are concerned about her sex. Nothing to do with her sex but it is well known that she was an imperialist, racist and a stooge of the upper British class. I hope you know that she was a grocer's daughter who never helped or protected corner shop owners. I hope you know what do they mean by corner shop owner in Britain?
farid Apr 16, 2013 12:03am
She used to describe Mujahideens(currently Talibans) as our Mujahideens and freedom fighters. What an error of judgement.
sunny Apr 16, 2013 02:58am
"She did from a deep love of country." So did Hitler and Stalin.
Agha Ata (USA) Apr 16, 2013 01:20pm
What can poor iron do except rusting? This is perhaps the best title of an article in 2013. :)
BEA Apr 16, 2013 05:31pm
get your facts right.
BEA Apr 16, 2013 05:32pm
and your point is what?
sanjay saksena Apr 16, 2013 05:42pm
A truly admirable figure who rescued large swathes of mankind in her steadfast espousal of free markets which contributed to the demise of socialism and liberated millions from the tyranny of that dreadful dogma. If communism has become a thing of the past and millions are basking in the sunshine of freedom, it is in no small measure due to the steely resolve and courage of conviction displayed by Thatcher and Raegan The only comparable sub continental politician is Indira Gandhi who had the courage to take on and dismember Pakistan and challenge the sikh murderers who had taken over the Golden Temple. In the modern day world of populist wimps, those who show the courage to fight for what they believe is right do stand out as somewhat odd characters.
sri1ram Apr 16, 2013 07:30pm
Come on. Had she been in power post 1998, Mujahideen and freedom fighters would have been ruthlessly targeted by the Brits. We all know the only entity that still supports those animals and tries to "distinguish" the good from the bad. This notion of "strategic depth" and blind support to rogue agencies may yet prove to be the demise of a nation with such potential.
BEA Apr 16, 2013 10:13pm
Pakistan would have been lucky to have someone like her in charge she would have turned that country around like she did with the UK when she first came in to power kicked out the trade unions and refused to negotiate with them because they had bought the country to its knees, love her or hate her i thought she was wonderful then you cannot please all of the people all of the time mistakes are made but the sucess she made was far more then the mistakes people here in the UK have had it too good for too long all we do is complain all the time, they should remember that idiot Blair who took us to 2 wars for no reason which we are still paying for now and will be for a very long time. Mrs T put Britain back on the map after she came into power she was a woman of great strerngth who would not be bullied by men in parliment if she wanted something done she got her way. if Pakistan had someone like her in power it would not be in the state it is in today with no money,food,fuel,corruption list goes on.
BEA Apr 16, 2013 10:19pm
you are talking soem rubbish.
BEA Apr 16, 2013 10:20pm
well said.