Regardless of whether you liked or loathed Margaret Thatcher as a politician, as Britain’s Prime Minister or even as a human being, it is difficult not to have a degree of admiration for what she achieved during her life and political career.
From the back streets of sleepy Grantham in Lincolnshire to the corridors of power on a world stage, Thatcher will go down in history as one of the world’s most famous leaders ranked alongside the likes of Kennedy, Gandhi, Mandela, Luther King and, by many, Genghis Khan.
But was she ultimately a great leader? Did she display any or all of the traits of a great leader of people? Perhaps if you take into consideration the way she was ultimately de-throned, with her cabinet turning on her and brutally kicking her out of Number 10, you could say that in the end she couldn’t have been a great leader of people. But then again politics is a dog eat dog world and the ultra-ambitious can turn on even the greatest and most influential people who at one time they served to serve their own ends.
But a leader is ultimately someone who leads people not only through the good times (pretty much anyone can do that) but through the hardest of times. A great leader is someone who leads people through change that they don’t necessarily want to be led through, for fear of what may be waiting for them on the otherside.
Already Thatcher is being remembered as the PM who changed Britain in the most radical way imaginable and much of that change was change that people didn’t necessarily see the need for, want or desire.
Few people actually like change. Human beings are, by and large, creatures of habit. People crave the familiar - that’s why we live in houses, go to the same job day in day out, eat pretty much the same five foods, wear the same types of clothes and so on. People don’t like too many risks in their lives, when they find something that works for them they don’t want it to change, even if how they live is becoming outdated. So, when Margaret Thatcher, a relatively young woman and mother from a working class background began some radical reforms to the very fabric of what many thought made Britain great it was no surprise that she divided opinions and many hated everything she stood for.
Just imagine if you were the owner and leader of a large advertising agency in the mid 90’s and you suggested to your management team you were getting rid of swathes of your creatives and art workers to free up cash to employ computer programmers because you ‘think this internet thing is going to be big’. No doubt there would have been much resistance, but wouldn’t your painful decision for change ultimately have been proved right some 10 years later?
The fact Thatcher was a woman also can’t have helped her as a leader. Remember this was the Eighties and Britain and it’s attitudes to women were very different to how they are today. Many of her reforms were centred on working class middle aged men, who I’m sure didn’t take kindly to being told by a woman how they were to live their lives in the future.
But has history ultimately proven that the change she forced through was absolutely necessary for Britain? She smashed the Trade Unions, which caused much civil unrest, but could a modern Britain have moved forward on a world stage as a nation of coal miners? While Britain’s great history and heritage is based on industry that didn’t mean that was also going to be its future.
Of course there was the Poll Tax, which may ultimately and unfortunately be what she is remembered for by many people for, particularly those who were the guinea pigs north of the border. That was surely the biggest misjudgment of her political career. I was only a teenager at the time, but was still faced with a Poll Tax bill of £600, which came as quite a shock to a young boy who was just getting used to having a wage in my pocket.
In conclusion, Margaret Thatcher will be remembered in many different ways depending on how your life was affected by her reforms and policies. But ultimately she has to be remembered as a great leader, not because she attained the highest political office possible, but because she enforced change when change was not necessarily wanted but desperately needed and I, personally, think the changes that she forced the nation through have enabled Britain to keep up with the rest of the world since she left power.
As you read this, just think what your life might look like had Margaret Thatcher never existed. Would it be any better?