That Margaret Thatcher inspired strong emotions in supporters and opponents is an understatement.
She was greatly admired by millions, winning three elections and having a worldwide reputation. It is entirely right that even those who disagreed with her have expressed condolences on her death. It is right, too, that her achievements are recognised, not least as Britain’s first woman prime minister and one of the world’s first elected women leaders.
Under her leadership progressive measures were enacted, too: the abolition of corporal punishment and a recognition of the threat of global warming. Nor was she the anti-European of legend – she signed the act which created the European single market.
Some of the great upheavals, domestic and international, which characterised the 1980s, would have occurred under any government, although critics argued then and now that major changes could have been driven through with greater regard for the victims, especially in communities destroyed by industrial decline.
After all, the unemployment against which the Conservatives campaigned in 1979, when one million were affected, soared to three million, while the number of children living in poverty increased by 120 per cent, and pensioner poverty rose from 13 to 43 per cent. No developed nation saw such a rise in inequality. It was this context that made ‘No such thing as society’ take on such resonance.
She made the wrong judgment on apartheid-era South Africa, and on Chile’s former dictator General Pinochet, and it seems extraordinary now that as recently as the 1980s a government could introduce the hated, homophobic Section 28.
History does not repeat itself exactly and Margaret Thatcher was both a product of the post-war era, and a driver of change in what in many ways seems a very different era.
Yet that does not mean lessons cannot be learned, so after paying our respects we should not shy away from re-evaluating Margaret Thatcher’s legacy. That may not end in much consensus – but that, after all, is what she would have wanted.