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.