Margaret Thatcher the Death of a Shopkeeper

By Heiko Khoo
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, April 9, 2013
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Flowers are laid outside the residence of Baroness Thatcher at the Chester Square in London, Britain, on April 8, 2013. [Xinhua]

Flowers are laid outside the residence of Baroness Thatcher at the Chester Square in London, Britain, on April 8, 2013. [Xinhua] 

Baroness Thatcher, Britain’s former Prime Minister died on April 8, 2013 at the age of 87. She was the UK Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990 and the most influential Conservative politician since Winston Churchill. Her single-minded self-assured determination earned her the label of the Iron Lady, inspiring awe, reverence and revulsion from her supporters and detractors alike.

Thatcher grew up in a classical English petty-bourgeois family. Her father owned two grocery shops in Grantham. He preached the word of God, was staunchly patriotic, and became the town’s Mayor from 1945-6. His self-confidence derived from selecting food that commanded a good price and turned a good profit. His daughter, Margaret, also formed her intellectual outlook around the petty proprietor’s fetish for the magical qualities of prices.

The English aristocratic bourgeoisie suffered irreparable damage to their standing in society during the Second World War. They were tainted by the economic crisis before the war and by their common sympathies with Adolf Hitler, whose supporters had included the former King, Edward VIII. This led to a landslide electoral victory for the Labour Party in 1945, and socialist measures in healthcare, education, housing and welfare, were combined with a significant extension of public ownership.

Margaret studied chemistry at Oxford, but she lacked outstanding intellectual gifts or innovative entrepreneurial talent. The egalitarian spirit of the post war era provided the opportunity for this determined and forceful young woman to secure herself leadership over the University’s Conservative Association providing a plebian face within their circle. Margaret had to struggle within this ambient for recognition by hard work. This was greatly helped by her ability to go without sleep. She once said, “Marxists get up early to further their cause. We must get up even earlier to defend our freedom.” Of course by freedom she meant the freedom of the bossy proprietor.

Her marriage to Dennis Thatcher in 1951 elevated her into the ranks of the bourgeoisie. He had inherited his wealth and felt that business distracted him from dabbling in amateur military escapades. He was generally seen as a blithering incompetent buffoon to be shunted out of ears reach, in case some bigoted diatribe escaped his lips, but Margaret dearly loved him and treasured the life opportunities his wealth had opened up for her. Dennis funded her career change from studying the chemical composition of ice cream, to studying to become a barrister; the traditional pathway to acquire the rhetorical skills and mindset required for a career in Westminster politics. She won a parliamentary seat for the Conservative Party in 1958 and quickly made her mark by voting to reinstate beating people with sticks as a form of corporal punishment.

The increasing power of the working class within society was reflected in their ability to extract and win concessions through trade union activism. Workers were no longer willing to be pushed around, to bow down to “their betters,” or to work as servants and maids for the elite. The emasculation of the Conservative aristocracy made Margaret Thatcher appear to acquire the ideal characteristics of what a “real conservative man” would be like – obstinate, determined, bigoted, and proud of it. Lessons to deepen her voice followed – all the better to gobble up her wimpish male colleagues in the future.

The 1960s were characterized by an entrenched social-democratic consensus whereby social and economic development was widely seen as the product of an alliance between the classes. Employment was easy to come by and wages rose, and public housing, health care and education expanded rapidly. This all smacked of communism to Margaret Thatcher, who was allowed to bark vitriol against socialism to the gleeful cheers of her bourgeois-aristocratic colleagues in parliament.

The victory of the mineworkers against the Conservative government in two strikes in 1972 and 1974 led to an election, which the then Prime Minister, Edward Heath, claimed would answer the question “who runs Britain?” He lost the election to a minority Labour government and Margaret Thatcher became the Conservative Party leader in 1975.

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