Almost a quarter-century removed from elected office, it was indicative of how divisive a figure Margaret Thatcher remained that anyone with access to a keyboard seemed to be typing fond remembrances or vicious denunciations of the former British prime minister when her death was announced Monday.
If you want a rough indication of how polarized opinions are about the onetime “Iron Lady,” one need only compare the fond encomium penned by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, who wrote that Thatcher “opened the door for modern Britain,” and then head over to the Salon website, and read a piece written by Alex Pareene, the thesis of which is that Thatcher “ruined Britain.”
James Callaghan, her predecessor, did not receive nearly as much ink upon his death in 2005, and nor will her successor, John Major, when his time comes.
Trying to arrive at any kind of broad consensus on Thatcher and her legacy might be impossible or, at the very least, might not be possible for several more decades. But there are probably two areas in which both her detractors and her admirers should be able to find common ground: Thatcher was a trailblazer for female participation in politics; and she helped make British politics much more meritocratic.
When she became head of the Conservative Party in 1975, and then prime minister four years after that, it was just 60 years after women over the age of 30 received the right to vote in Britain, and just 50 years after women over the age of 21 were able to exercise their franchise. And Tory politics had traditionally been hidebound and clubby, dominated by an upper-crust, old-boy network. When Thatcher was born in 1925, the notion that a grocer’s daughter born in the English provinces could become prime minister would have seemed laughable, at the very least. But she ultimately became the first female leader of a Western power. If Hillary Clinton becomes president in 2016, she will undoubtedly borrow some ideas from the Thatcher playbook, even if Clinton is hardly Thatcher’s ideological soul mate.
Love her or loathe her, Margaret Thatcher will surely not be soon forgotten.