Peter Hitchens: True Conservatives Need to Come to Grips with the Failures of Margaret Thatcher

Roundup: Talking About History

Peter Hitchens is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday and author of The Rage Against God.

“The Iron Lady,” the cruel motion picture about Margaret Thatcher, makes much of her decline into bemused old age. It arouses sympathy for her among the undecided, and passionate sympathy among those who already revere her. No wonder. I cannot think of any other living person who could have been treated in this fashion. In a way it is a compliment to her that, even in the lonely, desolate weakness of her final years, her enemies—the unintelligent, intolerant left—continue to hate her.

With such people attacking her, it is hard not to rally to her side. But what about those of us who have an uncomfortable and growing suspicion that she was not as good as she is made out to have been? I am one of them. I still cannot resist the feeling that her reputation is not just inflated but damaging to the conservative cause....

...Thatcherolatry. The more of it I came across, the more I questioned my own more cautious enthusiasms. It was very much alive in the U.S. too, as I found one evening at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., when Lady Thatcher, by then out of office for nearly five years, performed to a paying audience. There was a tootling rendition of “God Save the Queen,” an embarrassingly sycophantic introduction, and a wretched fake-Churchillian speech about nothing very much. Then there was exaggerated applause, of the sort you get when people do not understand but want to worship. For me, it wouldn’t have been much worse if she had taken the stage alongside Bozo the Clown, or appeared in Union Jack tights on a high wire, singing “There’ll Always be an England.” But it was plain that the customers liked it.

Their adulation meant precisely nothing. Around that time, Britain was being thoroughly humiliated by the Clinton White House. I came to think that almost anything would have done for this purpose, but the chosen field of action was Ireland. President Clinton had decided to pay off some heavy debts to Irish Americans by boosting Gerry Adams and the IRA, a policy that would soon afterwards lead to a complete British surrender to Irish terrorism.

Now, if the United Kingdom was as important an ally and friend as it was supposed to be, this simply would not have happened. The repeated slighting and snubbing of the British Embassy in Washington, and the brusque and dismissive treatment of Mrs. Thatcher’s successor, John Major, were enormously educational to this Englishman, previously soothed and deceived by the supposed closeness of the Thatcher-Reagan relationship....

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