Page 9, 28th June 2002

28th June 2002
Page 9
Page 9, 28th June 2002 — She's still not for turning

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She's still not for turning

Even now, Margaret Thatcher doesn't think she put a foot wrong, says Christina White Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World by Margaret Thatcher, HarperCollins £25 tiring the 1980s, Cardinal Basil Hume used to chant "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, out, out, out" whenever he ventured near the gates of Downing Street. He was not alone in his sentiments. Tories spoke, in quasi-biblical tones, of the new Genesis, the new era — but there was also the miners' strike, the felling of communities, the implosion of the inner cities and for many a sense of sheer hopelessness. Thatcher once said that "there is no such thing as society" (though she maintains that the remark was misunderstood). She certainly created her own society, her own vision of Middle Earth.

I was at school when she defeated first the Tory old guard and then the floundering Jim Callaghan and I recall well the formidable Miss Bruce informing us "gals" that we had a woman in power — at last. The inference being, in the words of New Labour two decades later, that things could only get better. But did they?

Statecraft: Strategies For A Changing World represents Lady Thatcher's musings on the challenges of the new millennium. There are those in the Press who have rejoiced at the silencing of Thatcher, not by media or political machination but by age and physical debilitation. I do not share that sense of victory; but she was distinctly of her age, a politician more at home with the domestic agenda than with the wider world stage.

Lady Thatcher's views on the challenges for a new political generation reflect the same absolute conviction which drove her political policy. We should be wary, she says, "of the doctrine of humanitarian interventionism as the main, let alone the only, justification for the use of force". Sovereign states have a right to self-defence, she says, and she attacks the "pious invocation of high principle" with which today's world leaders justify their actions.

She is, not surprisingly, passionate on the right of America, post-September 11, to protect the nation state and defend its people. "It is not mere rhetoric," she writes, "to state that democracy, liberty and tolerance are all under threat from violent Islamist fanatics embracing terror ism. But winning wars requires more than moral fervour: it demands clear thinking about targets and timetables, accurate estimates of the enemy's strength and intentions, preemptive action to minimise risks and guard against consequences."

The West is culpable, she insists, and should have done more to prevent Afghanistan becoming a political powder keg — an interesting observation from a politician who witnessed her own cities burning in the riots of the 80s. She comes across as a woman of conviction, but it smacks of Cold War posturing, of a time when politicians knew their enemy. Violence begets violence, as the tragedy of Israel demonstrates. For a woman who misquoted St Francis in support of her ideology, Thatcher picks her Christian motifs with care. Turning the other cheek was never an option for her.

In the old days she used to dominate photoshoots with European leaders, shoving them aside with her handbag. It was all very embarrassing. She still can't resist prodding them: "During my lifetime most of the problems the world has faced have come, in one fashion or other, from mainland Europe." She's interesting on De Gaulle: "He did not particularly like Britain but he understood us quite well," she says.

Thatcher infuriated some foreign statesmen, who were reduced to petty counter-snipes. "I am not prepared to accept the economics of a housewife," thundered Jacques Chirac after one bruising encounter.

Others were disarmed. "She has the lips of Monroe and the eyes of Caligula", said Francois Mitterand. She despised the European bullies; it takes one to know one.

This year she graciously unveiled a statue of herself complete with handbag. Isn't she afraid that the accessory will become her epitaph? It mocks the woman, love or loathe her, who has her place in history as our first female Prime Minister. Barbara Castle, who preceded her on to the domestic political stage, wouldn't have accepted such an insidious slight.

Lesser politicians, such as Alan Clark, have offered more insightful political musings. The problem with Margaret Thatcher is that she couldn't accept her own limitations and her intransigence brought about her downfall. As an attitude, "the lady's not for turning," both defined and destroyed her. That lack of reflection persists. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa — you won't find it here.

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