Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Maggie's Legacy

Margaret Thatcher's death has been all over the news here in Britain. It's amazing how fast the media gets saturated--I found out on Facebook in the early afternoon, and all of the news sites already had the story on the front page. By 8:30pm, BBC One was showing a special about her. I wonder how long they've been putting that together. It must be upsetting to be a friend/relative of an aging celebrity and be asked to contribute to a documentary like this, before they're gone--before they're even ill.

Today the American version of Huffington Post has moved on, but on the UK version Thatcher completely covers the front page with coverage of reactions, reflections on her life, discussions of her legacy, etc. 

For me, as an American and as somebody under the age of 30, I don't feel I can add much to the discussion. I didn't live in 'Thatcher's Britain.' Until I came to the UK, in fact, I didn't know anything about her policies. I knew she was conservative, and had a good friendship with Reagan (who my firmly Democratic family actually liked, too), but above all else, I knew that she was the first female Prime Minister.

I can clearly remember being told about Britain as a little girl--age 4 or 5, because it was when we were still living in Missouri--and I remember being in awe of the fact that Britain had a Queen and a female Prime Minister. To a little girl being raised by a divorced mom and older sisters, this fact made Britain seem amazing. As the years went on, I admired Britain for electing a woman, and thought the US couldn't be far behind.   

Now imagine my disappointment when I came to the UK and found out that Thatcher was not a feminist, and that her policies did a lot of damage. She was especially hard on the north, my adopted home. 

In many ways, Thatcher made the UK more like the US--and not in good ways, either. Privatisation is the most obvious example of Americanisation under Thatcher. She privatised British Gas, which is why the utility companies reported record profits last year. She privatised the National Rail and that's why travelling by train on the continent is so much better & cheaper than it is here. Tories don't use public transport, apparently--maybe they don't like to ride amongst the great unwashed. (I kid, I kid...)

One of my loveliest British friends is a very active member of the Conservative party, and a leader in the youth branch Conservative Future. She met Baroness Thatcher at a reception a couple of years ago, and my heart goes out to her at this time. There were people celebrating Thatcher's death in Brixton and Glasgow, and a handful of places across the country last night. I know that must be hard for Thatcher's supporters to see. I'm genuinely sorry for Thatcher's family & friends, because death is painful for those left behind. It must be all the more painful when the media is saturated with it, too. 

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