Thatcher is dead. But for years she was a shadow of her former self. After her fall from power in 1990 she slowly faded away from public life and when she did wander back onto the public stage the contrast between her frailty and the formidable figure of collective memory made these occasional spectacles almost surreal.
How we should respond when this elderly, diminished woman finally went to meet her maker has for some time been a minor talking point on the left. It is often said that we should not celebrate her passing. Not just because to do so would be distasteful, but because it is Thatcherism the idea not Thatcher the person that is the real enemy. This is of course true. Thatcher was no intellectual and did not invent what became known as Thatcherism. But neither was Thatcherism just some objectionable set of ideas to which the woman who lent it her name regrettably subscribed. Neoliberalism was, and is, a political project requiring political agency to achieve its hegemony; and in Britain it was Margaret Thatcher more than anyone who was responsible for transforming the neoliberal dreams of men like Hayek and Friedman into a waking political nightmare.
Margaret Hilda Thatcher was born in the Midlands town of Grantham in Lincolnshire on 13 October 1925, the second daughter of Alfred and Beatrice Roberts. Her father, whom she greatly admired, even idealised, was a local politician and lay preacher who owned and ran a grocery store in the town. The young Margaret Roberts was not close to her mother and once when asked about her only remarked, ‘Mother was marvellous – she helped Father.’
Her upbringing, though relatively privileged, was hardly the classic stuff of the British ruling class, and this fact doubtless strengthened her populist instincts and credentials. Both admirers and critics have attributed Thatcher’s politics to her small town, petty bourgeois roots. In 1983 the journalist Peter Riddell wrote that:
Thatcherism is essentially an instinct, a sense of moral values and an approach to leadership rather than ideology. It is an expression of Mrs Thatcher’s upbringing in Grantham, her background of hard work and family responsibility, ambition and postponed satisfaction, duty and patriotism.
This rather romantic view of Thatcher’s politics was no doubt one that she herself shared. In The Path To Power, she wrote: ‘There is no better course for understanding free-market economics than life in a corner shop.’ That the ‘free market’ pol