Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Lady Thatcher

The news of the death of Lady Thatcher this morning is an event which will clearly not pass without numerous appraisals and assessments of her career and impact on the country. I too feel I should write something about the passing of this remarkable woman.

I know people who hold her in adulation, and others who hold her in abhorrence, and often for the same reasons and causes. She was always a politician to arouse passions, and that shows no signs of abating at this time.

Margaret Thatcher was the most significant Prime Minister since Attlee in shaping the direction of the national life, and the choices with which she is associated continue to form much of the agenda of British politics. Through what she did here she set an example for Europe and the wider world in the sphere of deregulation and reformulation. What had been an idea, or dismissed as a pipe-dream, became a political reality, one which others hastened to emulate.

It is tempting to say her death marks the end of an era, but that would not, I think, be accurate. The Thatcher era as such ended when she left Downing Street in November 1990 - an event that reflected no credit on those who bought her down - but we are still in the post-Thatcher era, and going to remain so for a considerable time.

In some ways she and her legacy were well summed up by a comment made to me in March 1993 by a Fellow of Oriel "Don;'t you think Mrs Thatcher was wonderful - not Thatcherism, but Mrs Thatcher herself." I think there is much truth in that - the personal phenomenon of the woman was splendid and remarkable, the attempt to make it in her later years as Prime Minister into a political philosophy less successful, and tending to a doctrinaire attitude that is not English, or Tory, or indeed, I suspect , true of the Iron Lady herself.

From the time she took the Conservative party by the scruff of the neck in early 1975, and then the    nation by the scruff of the neck in April 1979 she seemed for years invulnerable, a figure inspiring awe (and dislike with others).

It is easy now to forget what that confident articulation of Conservative ideas did to enthuse many of us, and how we responded to someone who energised our minds and energies. In the 1970s she gave many people hope and belief in improvement that had hitherto been lacking. Thinking back to the Falklands War of 1982 is to recall how the country, for the vast majority, felt a shared sense of commitment that would have seemed unlikely a few years earlier. That campaign was a truly remarkable achievement by all those who were involved.Britain was serious about where she stood as a nation one more, and the ideas that governed her ones that had to be taken seriously.
I always supported her in General Elections, and on the big points of her programme. Some things she did I  did not agree with, and recall feeling unsure in the 1987 election campaign at her press conference comment "There is no such thing as society" - I think I knew what she actually meant, but I heard what she said and what it sounded like. Indeed after that things did lose the elasticity of earlier years, became more doctrinaire, and more accident prone.

In1989-90 her reaction to the fall of the Communism she so fervently hated in central Europe seemed more muted than one would have expected and her doubts as to German re-unification oddly hesitant - she was perhaps too much a child of the generation that had lived through the Second World War.

I am not sure if she foresaw what would always be the result of her policies. Somehow I suspect she thought in terms of restoring life as it had been in pre-war Grantham in a more prosperous form. Espousing Freedom as her battle cry she perhaps did not always allow for how too many people will use that freedom in selfish and foolish ways.

Nor, from stories I have read and heard am I too sure about her grasp of the details of history, or the importance of the humanities...but I can live with that. No-one is perfect.

I have described her as a phenomenon, and that she was. It is rather trite, but nonetheless appropriate, to say that we are unlikely to see her like again. Margaret Thatcher may not in life have been until her declining years a woman given to rest, but may she now rest in peace.

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