Commentary (The Times)

MT: “Slimeballs always hate a strong woman” (Julie Burchill)

Document type: Press
Source: The Times , 14 November 2004
Journalist: Julie Burchill
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2,100
Themes: Conservatism, Family, Women

Slimeballs always hate a strong woman

Margaret Thatcher’s style is fashion’s hottest look, and an exhibition inspired by her opens next week. But the best people always adored her, says our correspondent

I’VE HAD SOME inappropriate liaisons in my time, but somewhere in the Eighties, I slipped, tripped and fell like a ton of bricks into the mother of all crushes. And this time, the object of my affections was supremely unsuitable — a woman, married, much older than me. And, if a good number of my friends were to be believed, the Antichrist.

Margaret Thatcher! Even the very name can still set me on fire/set my teeth on edge. In 1984, when I first fell, I’d watch the latest communiques from the front lines of the miners’ strike on the TV news, and then I’d see those imperious eyes and that impervious mouth, and a line from an old Smokey Robinson song would jump, unbidden, into my mind: "I don’t like you — but I love you!" I didn’ t love her, of course. And I liked barely anything she did — apart from take the rise out of herself, like the time she walked into the meeting of the heads of the EC countries after the evil axis of France and Germany had been giving us a particularly hard time, and said: "Now, gentlemen— I’ve only got time to lose my temper and get my way." Oh, and her broad–mindedness and lack of finger–pointing when it came to private conduct and petty vices — I liked that too.

Perhaps, having married a divorc&eaute; at a time when nice girls didn’t do such things and also having a strong Protestant faith, she believed that only he/she who has no sin has the right to cast the first stone at people living in glass houses and all that jazz. Despite the left–wing slurs, sneers and witch–hunts, determined to find a neurotic repression at the root of all that bossiness, Mrs T was never an old–fashioned girl; voting for her, if you were part of the moral minority, was a bit like buying a Cliff Richard LP, getting it home and finding a Beastie Boys record inside.

If anything, she erred a little too much on the side of laissez faire lechery; she could never understand what all the fuss was about poor Cecil and the Daughtergate scandal, or even over Jeremy Thorpe, whom she barely knew yet defended hotly to more strait–laced colleagues. When a minor Tory whom she was not particularly close to was convicted of shoplifting during a funny turn, she sought him out the day his shame was splashed across the red–tops and paraded arm–in–arm with him through the lobby. She had, in short, the non–judgmental moral attitudes of a woman who is happy in her marriage — in every department, nudge nudge.

That’s another thing I liked about the Thatcher phenomenon — her marriage to her Denis. How modern and feminist–triumphalist was that! — Queen Bee and Old Buffer. And how strange to find such a gender–flexible marriage on the Right, when it has always ostensibly been the Left that championed the rights of women; the right to stand by your man making goo–goo eyes at him, bake cookies on TV and overlook his ceaseless adultery, it seemed, judging by the behaviour of Cherie Blair (the first of the above rights) and Hillary Clinton (all three, sad cow). Denis, on the other hand, was so supremely self–confident/drunk that he didn’t give a fig about being seen as an alpha woman’s consort; with the quiet, amused, ceaseless tolerance of the little woman’s little ways typical of the real man, he was a tower of strength disguised as a bumbling buffoon — never the cretinous yes–man caricature portrayed by some weird lefties who, while paying lip service to feminism, seemed decidedly uncomfortable at the sight of a man walking behind a woman.

Another thing I loved about her — she didn’t like a yes–man in any way, shape or form, unlike most prime ministers before and since. Arguing was a delight to her ("Be constructive, Enoch!"), contradicting the accepted wisdom that she was no sort of intellectual. Oh, and her philo–Semitism, always the mark of excellence in a Gentile. Not for Margaret Thatcher the sly, shameful sneers of Labour’s Old Etonian Tendency about the hidden powers of Jewish "cabals" or of the slimeball who said of her Jew–heavy Cabinet that it owed more to Lithuania than Leeds. Oh, and her sheer bloody–mindedness — a fine and rare thing in a woman.

OK, so I liked quite a lot of things about her. But what I liked more than anything was what she brought out in other people; how she just had to stand there being herself and they’d divest themselves of their civilised veneer, unbidden. A whole host of characters who had previously passed for decent revealed themselves as sneering snobs when they applied themselves to Thatcher. Mary Warnock said it made her feel sick to hear that Mrs T bought her a pussy–bow blouse at Marks & Spencer; Jonathan Miller whipped himself into a self–righteous frenzy over "her odious suburban gentility". A few years later, of course, he would be banging on about the ghastly "feral", ie working–class, children disturbing the peace of his precious N W Twee neighbourhood, as suburban as any retired colonel. And who can forget the caring, anti–sexist Labour Party and its 1983 "Ditch The Bitch" campaign? She got it from her own side, too — the drunken Tory grandee who asked her at a Number 10 luncheon while she was Edward Heath’s Education Minister if there was any truth in the rumour that she was a woman.

I didn’t like, of course, what she was doing to the miners. Since I was brought up a communist, my heart was with those heroes, fluttering with their beautiful banners, piping mournfully with their brass bands. But my head ... my head was somewhere else, mutinously thinking even as I cheered them on: "Well, is it REALLY the best way for men to live their lives, like trolls or moles in the dark, dying young of lung disease?" Hearing public schoolboys banging on about the importance of preserving the pits, I couldn’t help but wonder sourly why none of them was actively attempting to pursue a life lived underground and ending prematurely in a painful hacking death, coughing up bits of lung on the laps of their loved ones.

So even on this apparent sticking point, I was eventually in two minds. And I couldn’t help coming back to the fact that the level of criticism aimed at Margaret Thatcher was often unbelievably babyish and bullying. It highlighted a tendency that the Left has always pretended was a weakness of the Right — silliness about sex. I’ve noticed over the past few years that when some poor liberal clown wants to deal what he fondly imagines to be the "killer blow" to the Bush–Blair alliance, he’ll draw a cartoon of the Titan Two apparently bending, blowing, buggering and generally being gay with each other. In this easy assumption that calling him a homosexualist is the most devastating thing you can do to an enemy, certain sections of the Left reveal their shocking lack of sexual health and sophistication — no wonder some of them have hopped so easily into bed with woman–oppressing, gay–executing Islamic (funda)mentalists. Personally, I like Bush and Blair, and do you know what? If I thought they really were serving it to each other on a regular basis, I’d like ’em even more.

Similarly, Margaret Thatcher was often accused of being "in love" with Ronald Reagan; one monumentally silly poster portrayed them as Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara, him scooping her up in his arms. "She promised to follow him to the ends of the earth: he said that could easily be arranged!" scaremongered the slogan. (Quite ironic, the accusations of sabre–rattling thrown at Reagan and Thatcher, when we compare the relative level of world stability then to the Islam–induced mayhem now.) "Mrs Thatcher — you love Ronnie, you do!" sneered "socialist" pop stars from their tax exile in Switzerland. Believe me, as one who was there — that was the level of the debate in many circles.

Of course the lady had her faults. She wasn’t uncaring and cruel, as the liberals made out, but she was naive. She simply couldn’t comprehend how absolutely useless, helpless and hopeless quite a lot of people are, often through no fault of their own, and was cursed with an almost surreal optimism and romanticism regarding the capabilities of the individual. If she kicked away the crutches, it wasn’t for pleasure or profit — but because she genuinely believed that everyone had the ability to walk without them.

This messianic fervour meant that very early on in her premiership she became no longer a politician but a leader; like de Gaulle she was a master of illusion who could not fight crime or reduce the deficit but could make her country FEEL BIG. She moved to a place above politics, probably after we won the Falklands conflict, which may have been why she didn’t get along with the Queen; Olympus wasn’t big enough for both of them. She was the longest–serving British Prime Minister of the 20th century because she retained our vote long after we seriously expected the policies to work, because of what she meant to our sense of nation; quite rightly, she believed that Britain should see itself as an important world player, easily as hard as the US, France and Germany, rather than a country such as Belgium or Luxembourg whose finest hour was coming second in the Eurovision Song Contest.

And now she is merely the New Look; after all that blood, sweat and tears, she is a style statement, to be oohed and aahed over by a gaggle of frock–cutters. "First you’re another sloe–eyed vamp/ Then someone’s mother/ Then you’re camp," sang Stephen Sondheim’s superannuated starlet–survivor in the song I’m Still Here, and it has even happened to the Iron Lady. She has gone from being the fatal woman referred to so lasciviously by Fran¸ois Mitterrand as possessing "the mouth of Marilyn Monroe and the eyes of Caligula", to the solitary, widowed mater dolorosa making the headlines only when her useless son gets himself into hot water, to the fashion icon of whom Marc Jacobs said: "This season is all about finding the Margaret Thatcher look sexy" and whose straight skirts and pussycat bows are now being plucked off the rails at Zara, Hennes and Topshop by 16–year–old girls to whom she is history. But because of her, and only her, those 16–year–old girls have grown up knowing that there is no job in this country — outside the Church, shamefully — that they cannot do. Today they’re only dressing like her, but tomorrow ...

Margaret Thatcher has walked a hard and lonely path. She has done harsh things and had a great deal of faith in herself — and, being a woman, this more than anything is why she remains so unforgiven by certain sections of society. But that she is now mocked as a mad old bat, Miss Havisham forever frozen in time, waiting in her faded finery until her country calls to her once more, says more about the sheer woman–hating sliminess of her erstwhile enemies than it does about her.

It is said with relish by civilians that all political careers end in failure, but if Margaret Thatcher’s career can be judged a failure — to come from nothing, and do all that! — then only the good Lord knows how history will judge the rest of us and our miniature, mediocre achievements. Let us only hope, when we too reach the twilight of our years, that our critics will be more merciful to us than we have been to her.

A footnote: just a couple of weeks ago, Taki reported in The Spectator that, at a dinner given in her honour by Annabel Goldsmith, Lady Thatcher refused to say a word in criticism of the Government when the international white trash gathered round the table began to bitch about the number of immigrants being let in by Labour. Apparently, it is a rule of hers never to criticise the government of her country at social gatherings, which demonstrates to me an awesomely self–possessed and rare ability to know what is and what is not appropriate. It also doesn’t seem the type of discretion habitual to the deranged or drunk, as Lady Thatcher is so often cruelly and falsely accused of being.

All political careers end in failure? Perhaps. But if any British politician can claim, in the style of that other great fallen fighter, Muhammad Ali , to be "loser and still champ", it is this boldest, strangest and somehow most undefeated of women. God bless you, ma’am!