|Meryl Streep and Margaret Thatcher|
While walking round Dublin of a crisp, pre-Christmas morning, you couldn’t help but be taken aback by some of the posters adorning the city buses. As if the sharp Arctic air wouldn’t take the breath out of you easily enough, seeing Meryl Streep made up uncannily like Margaret Thatcher for her latest film would wind a man for sure.
The film in which Streep plays "The Iron Lady" is being released this very week, which is as intriguing as Meryl Streep’s makeover is terrifying.
She’s a fascinating character, a woman who more than anyone in the last few decades molded the political landscape into her own graven image, who prompted die-hard loyalty and incandescent rage in equal measure, and the manner in which she relinquished power is worthy of Shakespeare.
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It was inevitable given Thatcher’s propensity for evoking strong feeling that a film would be made about her career one day, and as she gets increasingly old and frail thoughts on her legacy are coming into sharper focus. Ironically enough though, the increased publicity and focus a film provides may only serve to distort.
The Iron Lady is being publicised as the story of a no-nonsense woman who made it in a man’s world, whereas in reality Thatcher was no vanguard feminist. In fact, save for herself, the only other woman at cabinet in the eleven years she was in power was paleo-conservative Baroness Janet Young.
Discussion about whether she was Britain’s savior or Satan’s own envoy on earth will probably never cease, but Thatcher’s objective legacy boils down to a single statement: she knew her own mind, but little else.
She was a conviction politician without parallel, but she had a disregard for nuance that was terrifying. No matter what the issue, be it Northern Ireland, the Falklands, inner-city discord, economic theory (and accompanying strife) or Europe, she almost made being closed off to ideas that weren’t hers into an art-form. And some of her ideas, for example suggesting “The Cromwell Solution” to Northern Ireland, were insane.
Most damning of all though is that she failed in her driving mission. Thatcher wanted a return to a Great Britain that was essentially Victorian: frugal, modest, respectful, upright, rebelling in private enterprise. Instead, what she helped create, along with Ronald Reagan and monetarist economists, was a world order that codified selfishness, glamorized wanton materialism and, with her abysmal claim that there was no such thing as society, detached a social bedding that has set in motion a range of problems we grapple with today.
Margaret Thatcher was without doubt a towering presence on the world stage and an immensely influential figure for longer than that, but while she may be seen by supporters as a wondrous counterweight for morally bankrupt politicians with malleable ideals, she ran right past steadfast and careered towards wrong-headedness. On matters of political delicacy, be it the Unions of the far left she detested or the “wet” Tory moderates in her own cabinet she dismissed, she destroyed what needed to be finessed. Her binary world view is summed up by some of her most well-known statements when in power: “Out, Out, Out” in reference to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, “Crime Is Crime Is Crime” on the issue of political prisoners, and “No, No, No” on Europe, the position which would be her undoing.
Influential as she was, memorable mantras and a simplistic world view do not a successful political leader make, irrespective of personal drive. It is that simple truth that ought to shape the Thatcher legacy: for a woman with such vision, she was incredibly short-sighted.