Review: Margaret Thatcher – Death of a Revolutionary

by Stephen Tall on April 14, 2013

margaret revolutionary ch4Margaret – Death of a Revolutionary (7pm, 13 April, Channel 4: watch it online here).

‘Martin Durkin presents his controversial thesis that Margaret Thatcher was a working class revolutionary’. I just checked the meaning of thesis. One definition is:

A hypothetical proposition, especially one put forth without proof.

On that basis, I think it’s fair to say Martin Durkin’s appraisal was a thesis. I think I can more or less paraphrase its 90 minutes in a sentence: Some working class people made good so Margaret Thatcher was good for the working class.

To prove that thesis he visited various representatives of the working class, such as Kelvin McKenzie, Norman Tebbit and Cecil Parkinson as well as some people shopping in Basildon. They agreed with him: Margaret Thatcher was good for the working-class. Case proved.

Missing from the programme were any, what might be pedantically termed, facts. To present such a simplistic version of Margaret Thatcher or her time in office is to ignore reality: it’s why I made her both my Liberal Hero and my Liberal Villain over at CentreForum this week.

Michael Durkin assembled all the arguments on the credit side of the ledger: sale of council houses, trade union reforms, defence of the Falklands etc. He ignored the debit side: a housing crisis, escalating inequality, assets handed to private monopolies, a centralised state etc. But then a balanced, accurate picture wasn’t one he was interested in painting. This programme was as fuzzy as an impressionist, as recognisable as a cubist.

It’s true, of course, that Margaret Thatcher elbowed her way to the front of the Tory pack, with scant regard to her supposed second-class status as a woman from a middle-class background. She wasn’t, though, the first Tory leader to surmount disadvantage: her predecessor, Ted Heath, was the son of a carpenter and a maid; Disraeli’s parents were Jewish.

The true Thatcher revolution wasn’t personal (we have an Etonian Tory leader now; and the current favourite to succeed him, Boris Johnson, is also an Etonian); her true revolution was political.

Partly it was that she helped establish market economics as the UK’s default setting. Arguably, another Tory leader would have done the same; but that victory belongs squarely to her.

And partly it was to transform the Conservatives from a party which believes in power for its own sake to one which believes in power only in pursuit of ideology, such that the Tories now are more Thatcherite than Thatcher ever was.

The Thatcher story is a fascinating one: complex, paradoxical, nuanced. Everything, in fact, that Martin Durkin’s programme wasn’t.

And if you don’t think I’ve done enough to justify that concluding assertion — well, hey, let’s just call it a thesis.


There was a useful quote from one of Thatcher’s early speeches at the Oxford University Conservative Association in which she criticised the Conservative Party as the party of privilege, which I thought was pretty telling. Unfortunately I didn’t quite catch it all. Given that Durkin’s thesis is that the Conservatives threw her out because she didn’t fit the mould, it would be worth resurrecting.

by Paul K on April 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm. Reply #

For someone criticising a documentary maker for lack of facts (of which there were plenty to back up his arguments, they were not just anecdotal,) it might be a good idea to get his name right: “Michael Durkin assembled all the arguments on the credit side of the ledger: sale of council houses, trade union reforms, defence of the Falklands etc.”….

by Andrew Thomson on April 14, 2013 at 6:53 pm. Reply #

Thanks for spotting, Andrew. I would correct it, but that would spoil your comment so I’ll leave my error on show. I notice, though, that you didn’t mention I’d got his name right twice – showing about the same attention to facts that Martin Durkin displayed. (I made sure I got his name right that time, too.)

by Stephen Tall on April 14, 2013 at 7:13 pm. Reply #

Sorry I didn’t realise the times you got his name right were remarkable, I just took them for granted. This is a really rather pedantic and pointless exchange i’ll admit however, a lot like your review i’m afraid.

by Andrew Thomson on April 16, 2013 at 11:28 pm. Reply #

I really saw it as more of a refreshing alternative perspective to the typical leftist view of her as an establishment figure just helping the rich out and trampling all over working people. I grew up in a Conservative stronghold (Skipton & Ripon), in Yorkshire, and I can tell you that you'd get much the same response as those shoppers in Basildon hundreds of miles away. You seem to be trying to argue that because he only covered "some" that it proves your idea that many would disagree. If that's the case, then how did she win three consecutive elections so convincingly? Clearly a lot of people WERE on her side. MARTIN Durkin's documentary highlights all the things that the left refuses to talk about, as well as the things they do talk about that are basically just hypocritical nonsense. Inclusion of Lord Kinnock and the champagne socialist Polly Toynbee were particularly interesting.

I accept your idea that perhaps it was too "simple" and didn't demonstrate the nuance of the period. But then again, does ANY leftist view of the same period achieve that? Do you need more than one hand to account the number of such documentaries which could stand up to the same principle of scrutiny that you are using here? I think not. Should we perhaps just remember to take information from more than one source and make an informed judgment?

Thesis, in my mind, suggests something that is proposed and put forward, and then defended. I think your attempt to emphasize a lack of proof is fatuous at best, especially since Durkin puts forward a great deal of evidence to back up his claim. He is proposing a country argument to the litany of anti-thatcher rhetoric that has become so fashionable, and I think he did that very successfully.

by Tommy Longrigg on November 25, 2014 at 9:00 am. Reply #

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