Legacy of Margaret Thatcher will live on for years

Few politicians inspired as much affection, and so much sheer hatred, as Margaret Hilda Thatcher writes Peter Rhodes.

Margaret Thatcher

On her rare visits to the Black Country, whether buying a handbag or meeting the jobless, she experienced both.

Even as Lady Thatcher, 87, lay in her hospital bed in November, the anti-Maggie zealots could find no mercy for the woman they blamed for so much.

One vicious emailer to the Sky TV website wrote: “Ah, the Thatcher years – repossessions, job losses, family breakdowns, sell off of our National Treasures, 87 years is too long in my book.”

It was a far cry from the glory days of 1979 when Mrs Thatcher led the Conservatives to victory.

Soon after entering Downing Street, she visited the washing machine company Servis UK, based in Darlaston.

She chatted and joked with workers and talked to trade union officials during the hour-long visit which was part of a two-day trip to the West Midlands.

Thirty years on, Servis has gone, a victim of New Labour globalisation rather than Thatcherite monetarism, and the woman who was so popular back then has bitter enemies now.

Another Sky emailer harangued the dying former premier for her stand against the IRA:

“She allowed the hunger strikers to die in 1981 in Ireland . She said crime is crime is crime in regards to the IRA.

“ The two-faced evil woman then let the killers of policewoman Yvonne Fletcher leave this country. All of a sudden crime was not crime when it involved oil and profit for her pals.”

Back in January 1987, the year of her third and final General Election victory Dudley council’s Labour leader, Councillor Fred Hunt, used more temperate language.

But he clearly objected to the Iron Lady being on his patch during a whistle-stop tour of the Black Country.

“When she came to power, unemployment was four per cent in this area,” he growled. “Now it is rising to 17 per cent.

“If she had been coming with a cheque in her hand I would have taken the time to meet her.”

But he didn’t. Maggie was surrounded by supporters as she blamed the West Midlands’ employment problems on restrictive practices and firms’ slowness to change. “There is no other country in Europe which has had to tackle the restrictive practices, over-manning, and hidden unemployment which we faced in Britain,’’ she said on a tour which took in the Dudley Innovation Centre, the Royal Brierley Crystal glass factory, C & C Bedding and Fullex, a company producing security locks, aluminium windows and glazing systems.

At the glass factory she angered management and workers alike by persistently referring to the area as “Birmingham”.

Later in the same year the Prime Minister got a flea in her ear from a young man who was bitter about life on the dole.

She was in Wolverhampton to launch the Government’s latest task force set up in the city centre.

Mrs Thatcher spoke to trainees including Leslie Dunn, aged 23, who had been jobless for four years.

He said he came from a family which traditionally voted Conservative but added: “I voted Liberal at the last election, and I don’t want to say more than that about politics.’’

After talking with Mrs Thatcher, he said: “She said there were jobs available - which is the same as everybody is telling me, but I’ve yet to find one. Sadly, I thought it was the same old story.’’

She chatted with staff at the Complete Lady hat and glove shop in Bow Street, Bilston where she took out a cheque book and spent £40 on a black, crocodile-style handbag and three diamante hatpins.

“The bag was the first one she looked at,’’ said a member of staff. “She said people were going in for large handbags now and the bag just suited her.’’

Although many blamed her policies for the demise of heavy engineering and the decline of the Black Country, it was her government which, in 1988, announced the Black Country Spine Road.

This new route, cutting through the heart of heavily-congested West Bromwich, Wednesbury and Bilston, opened up new land for development.

The Iron Lady made the road sound like the fulfilment of a personal pledge to the region by the party which stood for backbone. She declared: “When I went there a few months ago, the chairman of the urban development corporation said to me ‘Prime Minister, we must have a spine road’. So I thought, we are the party to come to for spine, so they are getting their spine road.”

It was stirring stuff. But within a couple of years the Thatcher era was over.

The Tories sensed they would lose the next General Election.

Michael Heseltine stood against her for leadership of the party and she refused to walk away from the fight.

On November 21, 1990, the Express & Star spoke for the nation as it commented: “Mrs Thatcher’s decision to contest the second ballot against Mr Heseltine was typical of the Prime Minister’s style. It was immediate, instinctive, autocratic - and totally wrong.

“ For the sake of her party and for the sake of this country, the lady has simply got to go. The Tories’ greatest asset has become their greatest liability. “

She was deposed amid tearful scenes in Downing Street.

John Major went on to win an unexpected and unprecedented fourth term for the Tories.

The lady who didn’t know the difference between Birmingham and the Black Country slipped into the backwaters of politics.

But after the unsure Major years, New Labour dawned and it brought a supreme irony.

For while her old Tory allies avoided her, both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown praised Mrs Thatcher.

In his autobiography Blair pays tribute to her “character, leadership and intelligence.”

In September 2007, Gordon Brown was delighted to welcome his old adversary to Downing Street, praising her as “a “conviction politician”.

That old Tory warrior Lord Tebbit, in a veiled swipe at David Cameron, suggested that Brown was the natural heir to Thatcher.

And when Cameron was unable to form a Conservative government in May of this year and climbed into bed with the Lib-Dems, the Tory-supporting magazine The Spectator hailed yet another heir to Mrs Thatcher.

But it wasn’t David Cameron. It was his Lib-Dem deputy, Nick Clegg.

“I was at university at the height of the Thatcher revolution and I recognise now something I did not at the time: that her victory over a vested interest, the trade unions, was immensely significant,” declared Clegg in an interview.

The Iron Lady may be gone but her legacy, in some unexpected quarters, will be with us for years.

Comments for: "Legacy of Margaret Thatcher will live on for years"

sd

RIP Maggie thatcher the best pm in my lifetime , wish she was running the country now at least she had backbone she would sort this country out !

Steve

RIP Maggie,

Whether you like her or loathed her, one thing you can say about her was that she believed and stood up for the country, not like these idiots that are in power now.

Dutch Wolf

Just look at the hatred and division in the UK. WHY? She was a keystone in that.

Andy

God bless Maggie and thank you for saving us from ruin. A politician of outstanding conviction and intellect who had the guts to face up to the nationalised industries, union power and out dated management. She literally kicked UK plc in the "nuts" and started an enterprise economy that thrives today and will continue.

Julie G

Maggie Thatcher , well she did a great job of killing off hundreds of jobs in the area by shutting down the mines in Cannock, Rugeley and Hednesford. wonderful legacy that.

South Coast Wolves

Makes you wonder why Labour didn't reverse all that in the 16 years they were in power after Thatcher dosn't it? The employment laws she bought in then (which pulled most of the teeth of the unions) are still in force today!

peter

She put millions out of work sold every thing off.give the banks a free hand

by deregulating them. Created the Yuppie put a tax on everyone's head, took us to war. sold off council houses, tried to privatise the NHS.it was about the only thing she didn't sell off. Yes what a great legacy

oatcake

Deplorable woman.

Set this country back years and we are still rocking from it.

Unemployment was her legacy to all of the young people like myself at the time.

Privatisation and rich getting richer. No jobs for young people at all.......

What a woman....

nigel

The best prime minister we ever had god bless you

Andy (Tauranga)NZ

Maggie Thatcher only speeded up the inevitble, the damage had already been done by the totally out of control unions and the sheep that followed them. She was a Great Leader with great foresight, but no social conscience, and showed no empathy or regret, but great leaders don't always win popularity contests and you can't please all the people all the time.