It is easy to knock Margaret Thatcher. The crushing of the print unions, the miners’ strike, the Falklands War and the evolution of the eco-centric Yuppie all came on her watch.
As a woman, I find it hard to commend the actions of Britain’s first female Prime Minister. But as a passionate supporter of design, I feel we owe her for at least acknowledging design’s potential as a ‘wealth creator’ – a phrase popular in the 1980s boom for City traders before Tony Blair’s New Labour spoke of Cool Britannia and Chancellor Gordon Brown identified design’s ability to give the UK a competitive edge on the global stage.
Thatcher appointed the late John Butcher as the UK’s first ‘design minister’ in the mid 1980s, putting design on the agenda of the then Department of Trade and Industry. A spate of Tory design ministers followed, under the auspices of her successor, John Major. In 1993 one of these, former rally driver Baroness Denton, asked John Sorrell to rethink the Design Council, setting the scene for the design industry as we now know it.
So while the Iron Lady and I have little in common, I have to agree with Butcher’s view that ‘the Thatcher administration was the first Government to recognise the importance of design. We mustn't let the impetus of those years slow down’. Too bad that for all their laments at Thatcher’s passing, David Cameron’s crew have done exactly that. At least under her, design appeared assured of a future.
Lynda Relph-Knight is a design writer and consultant.