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She was never being boring: The wit and wisdom of Margaret Thatcher

Gosh. Guess who died ten years ago today. 

When I heard the big news that Monday lunchtime in April 2013 I was at the apartment in Richmond-upon-Thames, sharing it with a young chap called CJ.

Bizarrely, only the night before I’d posted something on my Facebook profile — a photo of an old Evening Standard newspaper that a charity shop in The Quadrant, our local high street, had in its window, and which bore the legendary headline


Yup, it was the London local rag in an edition from November 1990 announcing the then Prime Minister was quitting her job. Such was the depth of feeling on all sides about the longest serving PM of the 20th century that a Facebook friend offered a typically barbed comment in response.

“Is the old bitch still alive?”

“Only from some angles.”

Anyone who is “connected” with me on the good old bad old socials will know that the “angles” quip is one of my stock responses, purloined from an episode of Fawlty Towers when the Welsh couple were desperately trying to get in their room.

Of course, in the cold light of day the next morning having switched on the news I didn’t exactly laugh out loud at my sardonic sideswipe, realising that as I was posting it the person was drawing their last breaths.

Andy Molloy — for it was he, a local teacher (and, by extension, obviously a died in the wool socialist) and actually the ex boyfriend of CJ — thought it hilarious and questioned whether I should consider a new career in clairvoyance. 

Me? I guess you could say I had a complicated relationship with the Iron Lady, the “Empress of Evil”, “the woman that saved Britain”, whatever you want to call her. 

The first and longest serving female leader in British political history, she will always be a controversial character. Marmite Thatcher, my parents called her. Indeed, with her abrasive conviction and zealous work ethic, she provoked such strong opinions that received wisdom will have you believe that there is no fence sitting when it comes to evaluating her legacy. You either love her or hate her.

Prepare yourself for a shock.

I love and hate Margaret Thatcher.

One of the most formidable figures of the twentieth century, Margaret Thatcher was a divisive and polarising force in British politics – some say she saved us from economic ruin, while others blame her for unemployment and generations of poverty. 

For better or worse, the Iron one changed the United Kingdom with a massively modernising, capitalist programme. Thatcher also dramatically shifted the direction of politics, not just in 1980s Britain but across the world, its effects still seen and debated today.

But in doing so, she sharply divided her country and for many, despite her lasting personal and political achievements by 1990 Thatch was so unpopular that she was deposed by an internal coup by her own Conservative party, despite never having lost a general election. 

She remained the UK’s only female PM until Theresa May was inexplicably anointed following Britain’s Brexit horror of 2016.

One thing is for certain, she was never being boring.

In fact, when the BBC did a news round-up of the year a month later they showed the now infamous footage of “Maggie” getting emotional as she departed Downing Street “for the last time” — and they couldn’t resist soundtracking it to the chorus of Being Boring, the Pet Shop Boys song that, with delicious synchronicity, was in the charts at the time of her enforced resignation.

Never had pop and politics been so simpatico. 

If you don’t know it, the single is one of Tennant & Lowe’s most perfect creations, a sublime masterpieces, with that chorus so utterly perfect that as you saw the crimson ogress leaving the place that had been home and work for “eleven and a half wonderful years” good old Aunty Beeb overlaid the clip with Neil Tennant’s unmistakable dulcet tones, almost whispering apologetically

“And we were never being boring

We were never being bored.”

A tireless workhorse (or dictatorial demagogue if you’re unkind), Thatcher survived on four hours sleep a night and by the end of her increasingly uncompromising tenure had come to refer to herself ever more often in royal “we” terms, most famously the cringeworthy “We are now a grandmother” proclamation outside No. 10.

Just a year and a half later, she was making a rather more emotional speech.

It was the most spectacular, the most stunning political demise we had ever witnessed. No one could quite believe Margaret Thatcher was going. Yet she did so quickly, forced to pack up her things at No. 10 in a matter of days for a rather quieter life in sleepy Dulwich Village. Well, we knew that wouldn’t last.

I watched the grand exit with my mother live on morning television. “She’s crying!,” I observed, slightly aghast. We could not believe what we were seeing. The Iron Lady’s composure melting faster than a Mr Whippy ice cream in a funeral pyre. 

She was human after all then.

“And we’re happy to leave the UK in a very much better state than when we came here eleven and a half years ago.”

I remember at the time thinking that comment was unnecessary and a little bitchy, but then I was 21, had never voted, and had little interest in doing so. 

But the drama of her downfall stirred some kind of political awareness in me. I would vote in five subsequent British General Elections (1992 to 2010, fact fans) before cynicism and malaise set in for good. Curiously, not one time did I ever vote Conservative, and only twice was it for the Labour Party.

A Liberal Democrat social democrat European at heart then, not that I care to define myself in political party terms.

In fact, I utterly loathe party politics. Though, if you know me, you know I developed a tremendous respect for Thatcher personally, for her ceaseless drive, determination and guts, not to mention the courage of her convictions. 

As Gillian Anderson’s astonishing portrayal of her in The Crown demonstrates, never in modern times had a Prime Minister managed to mould the UK in their image quite as forcefully as her. Whatever their faults (and their were many), Britain in the 1980s kind of belonged to two women: one died at The Ritz in London, the other just after talking refuge at The Ritz in Paris. 

Controversial even in death, after Thatcher’s hotly debated televised state funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral there was a private interment at Mortlake Crematorium just a mile from Richmond. I called my parents after it was all over. I never expected my mother to shock me but she kind of did.

“Did you watch the funeral?”

“Yes Mum.”

“It went well, didn’t it?”

“You watched it? But you and Dad hated her.”

“Well, time moves on. She always came across as cold, didn’t she?”

Curiously, after The Queen died nine years later, someone commented how impressed they were with Theresa May’s speech in the commons. The one about the cheese.

“She was funny and warm, and human. Why didn’t she show any of those qualities while she was Prime Minister?” I was asked, slightly rhetorically.

The answer is pretty much the same and if you asked that of Thatcher or even that six-week nightmare that was Liz Truss.

They were women in a man’s world — politics — when occupying the highest office in the land they had to don that “power” suit of armour to survive, or get ripped to shreds by the media, Westminster, whoever. It made them no end of enemies but let’s be honest, would the country have been better if Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock been the prime ministers through the eighties?

Thatcher was clearly the best man for the job.

Long may he reign.

Steve Pafford

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