Streep’s Shallow Take on Thatcher

Posted by on Dec 13, 2011 at 4:58 pm

The makers of “The Iron Lady” do little to disabuse the British of their visceral dislike of the woman they elected three times prime minister. Despite hiring Thatcher biographer John Campbell as an adviser, they appear not to have consulted him much. They have little understanding of politics, particularly Conservative politics, as it is played at Westminster. And they misunderstand what made Thatcher so different from her predecessors.

It was not just that she overthrew the male toffs who believed they were born to rule – after an interval of less than 20 years they have bounced back in force in David Cameron’s government – but she took the most successful political party in the western world, whose leaders would do and say anything to get elected, and burdened it with a Hayekian ideology.

It is in the context of Thatcher sharply reducing the size of the state that the violence between picketers and police and the poll tax riots that punctuated her reign can be best understood. There is a high political price to be paid for redrawing the boundaries between the private and public sectors, and for deliberately provoking a recession, in the face of well organized opposition. In “The Iron Lady,” the newsreel shots of cars burning and mounted police beating miners with batons are left unexplained.

Elements of Thatcher’s slow progress in the male-dominated party she chose to join are misrepresented. Her father was not a mean-minded shopkeeper spouting a free market mantra at the birth of the welfare state; on the contrary, he, like the rest of the wartime generation, wanted to avoid a return to the horrors of Thirties laissez-faire. Nor was Thatcher a petty bourgeois outsider pressing her nose against the mullioned windows of stately homes. Before she ran against Edward Heath for the Tory leadership in 1975, she had for 20 years been an Oxford accented Tory housewife-cum-MP, fully assimilated into the bourgeoisie.

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