Maggie’s legacy: Divisive Thatcher looms over Britain’s Tory race

Two men are in the running to become Britain’s next prime minister, but a third appearance depends on the competition: Margaret Thatcher.

The late former prime minister continued to dominate Britain in the 1980s, leaving behind a large and controversial legacy. Critics see him as a staunch thinker whose free market policies broke social bonds and destroyed the country’s industrial communities. But to the governing Conservative Party, Thatcher is a symbol, inspiration and spirit of presidency that made Britain fit for the modern era.

In the race to replace Boris Johnson as Conservative leader and prime minister, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak both claimed to embody the values ​​of Thatcher, who died in 2013 at the age of 87 Was.

When asked who was the greatest prime minister of Britain? Both candidates feel free to say Thatcher. Sunak gave a keynote speech in the late leader’s hometown of Grantham, in which he declared himself a proponent of “common sense Thatcherism”, while his wife and children took selfies in front of a bronze statue of the Iron Lady.

Truss talks about her own modest origins, invites comparisons to the grocer’s daughter Thatcher, and adopts the poses and outfits – bold blue dresses, pussy-bow blouses – typical of Britain’s first female prime minister. echo the style.

Historian Richard Winnon of King’s College London says Truss is an “Instagram Thatcher”. Victoria Heinemann, associate professor of British politics at the University of Leeds, says Thatcher is “a talisman” for conservatives. Robert Saunders, historian of modern Britain at Queen Mary University of London, believes that “she has become a creature of myth.” “Like Thor’s hammer, Thatcher’s handbag can bestow divine powers on those deemed worthy to carry it,” Saunders wrote on the Unheard website.

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In a sense, the Thatcher determination is easily explained. He led the Conservatives to three consecutive electoral victories and was never defeated in the ballot box. He was eventually brought down – like Johnson – by his own party, ousted in 1990 after 11 years in power.

“Every Conservative leader since Margaret Thatcher has failed,” said Winan, author of the book “Thatcher’s Britain.” John Major lost power to the party in 1997, and three of his subsequent leaders put the Tories in opposition. Prime Minister David Cameron gambled on the 2016 referendum which, against his will, took Britain out of the European Union. His successor Theresa May was defeated by an inside Brexit battle, and Johnson has been given the boot after months of moral scandals by conservative lawmakers.

Thatcher’s decade in power through war and peace, boom and bustle also provides a rich selection of acolytes to choose from. She was a wartime leader who defeated Argentina on the Falkland Islands, a democrat who stood up for the Soviet Union and saw the end of the Cold War, a union-bashing capitalist who unleashed the power of financial markets.

“You can basically cherry-pick whatever you want,” Heinemann said.

That selective memory is at work when today’s conservatives, who are highly pro-Brexit, say Thatcher would have supported the decision to leave the European Union. “It’s almost sacrilegious” to point it out, says Winan, but “Thatcher was really pro-European for most of his time in office.” Thatcher’s economic legacy has also been challenged. Truss and Sunak both claim to offer Thatcherite economics, but their policies are very different. Truss says it will boost borrowing and cut taxes to ease Britain’s living woes, while Sunak says it is important to get the country’s rising inflation rate under control first.

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Both can point to decisions made by Thatcher in support of his stance, although Winnan feels that Sunak’s inflation-busting focus is closer to Thatcher’s financially.

“She (didn’t) believe that as long as you didn’t cut spending, you could reduce taxes,” he said.

Britain’s new leader will be chosen by some 180,000 members of the Conservative Party, many of whom consider Thatcher to be a heroine. Millions of other British voters remember him differently.

Thatcher privatized state-owned industries, sold public housing, and defeated Britain’s coal miners after a year of bitter strike. Under his leadership, industries closed down and millions were laid off from work, especially in the north of England.

Johnson, whose Conservative hero is Winston Churchill instead of Thatcher, won a massive election victory in 2019 by winning over voters.

In the post-industrial cities of northern England that had never before considered supporting the Conservatives.

Hahnemann said it would be wise for Johnson’s successor not to praise Thatcher too loudly if they hope to hang on to northern districts where people still talk about closing factories and mines “and About the impact it had on their communities, about the way it ruined people’s lives.” “For some of these people it’s not ancient history,” she said. “It’s their lived experience.” 47 Those memories are not as vivid for Truss, then 42, when Sunak, now 42, was just 10 years old in 1990 when Thatcher stepped down.

But 84-year-old Conservative veteran Norman Fowler, who served in Thatcher’s government and later served as Speaker of the House of Lords, warned candidates against “overdoing it” with the worship of the Iron Lady.

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“I was in his cabinet, shadow and real, for 15 years,” Fowler told Times Radio. “I wouldn’t even say she was perfect in every way. And so, the party doesn’t have to model itself entirely on them. So I’ll give it a rest.”