Why I softened towards the Iron Lady

Scheenagh Harrington reacts to the news of the death of a political icon.

It’s been on the cards for some time, but when news broke today that former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had died aged 87, following a stroke, it took me a moment to decide how it made me feel.

I am a child of the Thatcherite era, when the TV was filled with images of bemulleted blokes in bad jeans doing battle with police during the miners’ strike, and the Falklands War opened my eyes to the fact that conflict can break out anywhere over what seemed (to an 11-year-old me) to be absolutely nothing.

As I grew older, Thatcher and the Tories hit a lot closer to home – politicising me for the first time with their loathed Poll Tax. It had me and some of my student friends so furious that we all piled into a coach and headed to London for the day, bellowing “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, out, out, out” at the tops of our voices (while at the same time, a headline-grabbing riot broke out in Trafalgar Square).

She was, I always believed, someone who could have done so much for women in politics, furthered the cause for gender equality in what had been, and still was, even at the height of her premiership, very much a man’s world.

Instead, I believed she put us back generations, with her iron-hard hairdo and even harder stance on bread-and-butter politics.

I never saw a lady, whether she was for turning or not. I saw someone who refused to give even the tiniest concession to the working classes (of which I’m still firmly a member, even if I have middle-class aspirations).

But after she fell from grace, booted out by ambitious and rapacious colleagues – I remember smiling and thinking at the time  “good riddance” – Margaret Thatcher never really entered my thoughts, save for the odd mental argument with my other half, or if she popped up, looking increasingly frail on occasional news bulletins.

 My opinion of her softened a little thanks to Meryl Streep’s Oscar-winning turn in the 2011 Hollywoodised examination of her life The Iron Lady, but that was mostly because Streep turned her from the stern, unlikeable carping figure I was used to hearing and seeing, to a flesh-and-blood person, with thoughts and feelings, hopes and fears.

It didn’t change my opinion of what I percieved as her damaging policies or her party’s practices, but it did make me realise there was a real woman behind the office of Prime Minister.

As the obituary writers get to work today,  I won’t be mourning Margaret Thatcher. And yet, while I’m neither heartbroken nor delighted that she has died, I know for certain that the anger and hatred she once sparked in me is no longer there.

 Perhaps, for such a divisive politician, that’s the best she can hope for?