I was nursing a hot chocolate in a small café beneath one of the North Yorkshire peaks when someone told me that Margaret Thatcher had died. There were no rumblings in the nearby mountains, no lighting strikes and the rain didn’t stop falling, but it was possible nonetheless to feel a sense of the profound. We all of us, after all, live in a country whose political environment she has largely ordered, and the acres of print and online commentary which followed the announcement of her death was all produced by men and women whose own political outlook was shaped by her. We are all Children of Thatcher. Progressives and reactionaries, lovers and haters, nationalists and internationalists, we have all had our political consciousness defined by the woman whose funeral procession will move along the Strand and Fleet Street and up to St Paul’s this morning. It is an extraordinary reflection of her impact. Just as politics seemed to be retreating into blandness, and fewer people want to be bothered with political argument, it all comes flooding back. Thanks to her.
My own earliest political memories and actions are to do with the Lady. I canvassed for her, as a member of a relatively political family, in 1979; rejoiced in her triumph at a preternaturally early age on that sunny May day; went on to join the Young Conservatives where Thatcher would be greeted by enthusiastic ovations on the last day of the national conference, even while it was in the hands of some distinctly non-Thatcherite Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen. And even when I started to move away from the Thatcherite creed, I never doubted – no one did – the impact of this woman who had taken Britain by the scruff of the neck in 1979 and sought to re-boot it. Meeting her in person was a defining moment, even if she did spend some time attacking the profession – teaching – that I had recently joined. But then that was – and is – the point about Margaret Thatcher. She had no time for false niceties. She was blunt in her opinions and her actions, in the black and white world she looked upon, and she expected others to be the same.
There is an irony in the Ding Dong brigade being so triumphalist. You can sing Ding Dong Socialism’s dead. Or Communism. Or militant trade unionism. And you’d be right in those instances. Indeed, if you really must, you can remind everyone via a 1930s Munchkin song that the Lady herself is dead. But her ideas aren’t. Her legacy isn’t. Enjoy the song while you can, you preening lefties, for Thatcherism has survived everything you sought to protect.
But of course, she also managed to destroy One Nation Conservatism, the creed of this very blog. She gave it lip service, commenting that “We must learn again to be one nation, otherwise we shall end up as no nation”, but that wasn’t really a commitment to what we understand as One Nation Conservatism. She was as happy to spell the end of a brand of conservatism that she considered weak and inarticulate as she was the trade unionism which had halted much of Britain in the months before her march on power. Yet even for us, the last remaining outpost of old Toryism, her death is an event to provoke respect and to stimulate reflection.
Why should we respect her? Why should we draw ourselves to mark her passing on this funeral day? Because she is of a rare breed. She is of a breed that sees politics as a can-do vocation. A breed that allows no obstacle to stand in the way of political passion. A breed that comes to political maturity at just the time they are needed, to change things, whether through conflict or persuasion, because actually, the change is so very needed. A breed that makes the political world seem so much larger and so much more important because the scale of their own thinking and activity is so monumental. We mark her passing because we know very well that she will be one of only a handful of political leaders whose name will remain part of the common currency of discussion and memory a century or more hence. That is what makes her passing worth marking.
When this day is done the passions won’t much die down, and her name and legacy will still inspire furious argument on either side. But we will return to the sometimes dead-ended politics of today and may occasionally wonder what could happen if another person of the Lady’s ilk were to bestride the political nation again. We might have some nostalgia for a time when ideas really seemed to matter, or we might be grateful for our less troublesome, more mediocre politicians. But we will know that the era to which Margaret Thatcher gave her name was indeed an extraordinary one in the annals of British politics. And we are still living in its shadow.