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Goodbye, Maggie! The End of a Lady Politician

I don’t remember much of the early 1980s TV, but when Gorbachev came to power in 1985 he was rather quickly drawn into the global political arena, and we began to regularly hear the names of Helmut Kohl, Ronald Reagan, and, of course, Margaret Thatcher. Only much later did it emerge that this triumvirate somehow managed to lead Gorbachev into a deal that effectively dissolved Socialist Europe and ran the final nail into the USSR’s coffin. However, Thatcher’s policy being totally unknown to me at the time, she nonetheless looked proper, beautiful, immaculate – every inch a lady.

I shared one of her sayings here some time ago: Being powerful is like being a lady: if you have to tell people that you are then you aren’t.

Years followed; I came to specialise in British History, and although not in the 20th c., I still had to delve deeper into Thatcher’s three ministeries. Then I went to live in England, in Manchester of all places, which was severely affected by the various measures brought about by her cabinets. In all 7 years in the UK I met dozens of people who were waiting to dance on her grave.

Last week they finally rejoiced: Baroness Thatcher died from a stroke. Somebody on Twitter made “the best typo ever”, substituting “stroke” with “strike”. The Ding Dong song climbed to no.2 on iTunes. Tributes, insults, and analyses all followed.

The possession of power suggests that it should be delegated, and delegated it is – but not always to those who are ready to follow the course. Whether it is corruption or a mere inability to do things, both start with a specific person involved. It is in the nature of the leader to take responsibility for the course of action, even if the implementation does not rest entirely with him. And in this respect Thatcher’s many actions were good as ideas, yet in practice they did not yield the expected results.

As ruthless as she was, she was right in one simple thing – every person is a leader of their own life, and it rests with them what they do to attain the life they want. These adages are now printed in zillions of books, and more people are willing to try, but back in 1970s-80s this was quite implausible. The situation is similar in Russia today. Many people believe there are only two ways of doing business or offering a good service, both by avoiding the law. Either you work single-handedly and break the law, or you find people who break the law for you. I am continuously being told that there is no way to be a law-abiding leader in Russia. Psychopathy is served in place of psychotherapy. You come to a psychotherapist as an ill person and together you study other ill people so you can get better. In case with Russia, you come to a psychopath as a healthy person, and he teaches you that in this country you should not, and should never be, healthy. Still many more people believe the State must look after all its subjects.

I know this will sound strange but in this particular climate I would certainly want to have Margaret Thatcher, or one of her kind, to rule Russia now. When the majority prefer to scold every initiative while sitting on the backbench, the only thing to do is to destroy the backbench. In a way this is precisely what happened in late 1980s-early 1990s when everyone was given a carte-blanche at business and other ventures, while being thrown in the open waters of market economy. Most people who bit the bullet had many twists and turns, but they were never bored. Out of pocket, or exiled, but never the victims of the bourgeois ennui that has marked the faces of many Russians since the Noughties.

Many words will be said about the good and bad traits of this remarkable woman, of successes and failures of her policy. But one thing she did not lack was the ability to make a decision and to stand by it. It could be an unpopular decision, but she still remained firm. Take all bad overtones away, and we’re left with an amazing quality of taking responsibility for the chosen course. Today’s leaders have turned into celebrities who depend on the electorate, like a pop star depends on her fans. Before Thatcher was betrayed by her own Party she’d won the General Elections three times! How does that sit together with the growing disdain for her policy? And given the mark she’s left on the Tories, how does this explain the willingness of young Brits from Labour families to vote for David Cameron in 2010? It is this power that emanated from her in all years since she’d become the Prime Minister, and it remained strong even when she was suffering from dementia.

Strictly speaking, there was no need to celebrate the news of her death. Suffering from dementia in the last 10 years of her life, Margaret Thatcher was gradually losing the power of mind that brought her from a rather modest background to the forefront of the world politics. Forgetting the dearest moments of her life could be the worst punishment, if she had to be punished. As for me, since I cannot change the course of events since 1985, I decide to learn the best she could teach me. We can all choose a different course, but will we be able to stick to it?

Below is my favourite photo of Baroness Thatcher. I own this copy of The Sunday Times Magazine from 2004 where her photographs by Lord Snowdon featured.

Margaret Thatcher by Lord Snowdon (The Sunday Times Magazine)

I previously mentioned Margaret Thatcher in this post: Who’s On Top? A New Look At the Body Politic.

(And just for those who want to vent their splin at the now late Baroness, there’s that famous story about Joan Crawford and Betty Davis who were famous rivals. When Crawford died in 1977, Davis said: “You should never say bad things about the dead, you should only say good. Joan Crawford is dead. Good.”)

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