Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Margaret Thatcher leaves polarizing legacy

 In this June 23, 1982 file photo, Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher answers a reporters question during a news conference at the United Nations.

Associated Press

In this June 23, 1982 file photo, Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher answers a reporters question during a news conference at the United Nations.

Since Margaret Thatcher's death last week, you've no doubt heard how great she was.

"Great lady," is the specific phrase favored by my English father-in-law, High Point resident Bernard Booth.

My wife, Laura, on the other hand, remembers Thatcher from even before she was prime minister, and that as a cabinet member in the early 1970s she helped cut the free milk allotment for some schoolchildren.

"Milk-snatcher Thatcher," my wife likes to call her.

Polarizing. Splitting a nation by class and generation. I'm sure you've heard about that, too.

I didn't have to hear.

I married into an English family. I've witnessed the Thatcher fault line open up repeatedly over Friday night curry dinners for 20 years.

Let's start with the first big splash Thatcher made in the world press, the invasion of the Falkland Islands.

Bernard showed me his carefully preserved June 15, 1982, edition of the conservative tabloid, the Daily Express, which announced the war's end. Its front page is mostly covered by a portrait of Thatcher framed in a large "V'' for victory.

"It was a wonderful operation, the distance involved and how quickly it was all put together," Bernard said. "It was a great boost for the nation. … If Labour had been in power, we would have lost the Falklands."

My wife's reaction? So what?

The Falklands was an insignificant blob of land in the south Atlantic that no one had heard of or cared about. The war needlessly cost the lives of hundreds of British and Argentinian soldiers. It was "imperialism … Margaret Thatcher's grandstanding. We thought it was crazy," said my wife, who is 51.

In the early 1980s, she was a college student and community education worker who protested against the Thatcher-approved expansion of U.S. military bases in England. She was part of an anti-Thatcher youth culture — joined by such artists as Elvis Costello and Billy Bragg — that gained energy as Thatcher destroyed the traditional culture of labor.

Trades in England were identities, ones that workers adopted as teenage apprentices. Towns and neighborhoods were organized around unions and workingman's clubs.

Laura remembers police escorting scabs to break strikes and wading through picket lines on horseback, bloodying workers with their batons.

"Thatcher took the rug from under the feet of entire communities," she said.

My father-in-law, 84, was a middle-age businessman in the 1980s, and from his point of view unions were "ruining — ruining! — the country."

"Of course the coal miners always struck in winter. And their leader, (Arthur) Scargill, was an out-and-out Communist," he said.

While on a sales call to the working-class stronghold of Newcastle, Bernard watched union picketers pelt passing cars with oranges and apples, he said, "anything of size and a bit hard."

Among the workers striking in sympathy with the miners were grave diggers, he said, "so you even had dead bodies piling up."

By shutting down unprofitable mines, by protecting nonunion workers, Thatcher "sorted out" labor leaders and sent the message that they couldn't hold the country hostage.

"She did a great job, and don't let Laura tell you otherwise," Bernard said, though he did concede that Thatcher "was rough on the miners. Some of the those families were near starvation."

My wife is no longer a Doc Martens-wearing firebrand. As a business owner, she can see that some of the union demands were unreasonable.

But she's not going to forget the bloodied miners and the milk-deprived children. And I'm quite sure she'll never call Margaret Thatcher "great."

Margaret Thatcher leaves polarizing legacy 04/13/13 [Last modified: Friday, April 12, 2013 8:12pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Florida reverses decision to shield information from nursing home inspection reports


    TALLAHASSEE — Florida regulators decided Friday they will abandon the use of software that allowed them to heavily redact key words from nursing home inspection reports posted online, choosing instead to link to the more complete reports available on a federal site.

    Officials for the state Agency for Health Care Administration said Friday they will no longer use software that allowed them to heavily redact key words from nursing home inspection reports posted online. The agency has been under increased scrutiny since Sept. 13, when eight residents of The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, pictured here, died after power was lost to an air-conditioning system during Hurricane Irma. Two more residents died this week. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]
  2. Trump's travel ban to be replaced by restrictions tailored to certain countries


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's ban on travelers from six majority-Muslim countries is set to be replaced as soon as this weekend with more targeted restrictions on visits to the United States that would vary by country, officials familiar with the plans told the New York Times on Friday.

  3. Maria: Clearwater Coast Guard plane aids rescue near Puerto Rico


    Eight minutes. That's how long it took the Petty Officer 3rd Class Darryn Manley of the Coast Guard said it took him to spot the boat that capsized off a Puerto Rican island on Thursday.

  4. Mom of girl who died looking for candy seeks to keep husband away

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Eight days after her 4-year-old daughter died in the care of paternal grandparents, pregnant Lizette Hernandez sat in a Hillsborough County courthouse Friday, attempting to seek full-time custody of her 19-month-old son.

    Lizette Hernandez, 22, above, completes paperwork Friday for a motion for protection from domestic violence against her husband, Shane Zoller. Their daughter, Yanelly, 4, left, died in a gun accident at the home of Zoller’s parents.
  5. New owners take over downtown St. Petersburg's Hofbräuhaus


    ST. PETERSBURG — The downtown German beer-hall Hofbräuhaus St. Petersburg has been bought by a partnership led by former Checkers Drive-In Restaurants president Keith Sirois.

    The Hofbrauhaus, St. Petersburg, located in the former historic Tramor Cafeteria, St. Petersburg, is under new ownership.