Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Iron Lady only had partial rights to do what she did

Meryl Streep deserves great praise for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady", despite the screenplay itself lacking from its superficial coverage of each of the important events in Thatcher's political life (unfortunately a more fulsome coverage would have run for too long for the average Oscar contender). She shows the leadership qualities that gained Thatcher her steely reputation, but also exposed the arrogance that is a leader's greatest enemy.

The fine line between leadership and tyranny

We want our leaders to lead.  We don't want them to dominate, terrorise or control our lives.  I don't agree with Thatcher on a range of her policies and approaches, but I respect her for stating her perspective and for being elected by the British people.  What I don't respect is her belief that her way was the only way.

As a hard-line conservative, Thatcher believed that all people had a responsibility to work, to earn an income.  Yet she went further, by stating it as a duty. 
"when people come and say:"But what is the point of working? I can get as much on the dole!" You say:"Look" It is not from the dole. It is your neighbour who is supplying it and if you can earn your own living then really you have a duty to do it and you will feel very much better!" 1
This debate plays out in all democracies, and there is certainly truth to the sentiment - without people choosing to be productive, society would have no progress.  However, Thatcher puts her perspective as an absolute.  It is this "moral absolutism" that is of concern, rather than the view itself.

When leadership gives way to righteousness

Thatcher's downfall is often portrayed as the infamous cabinet meeting in which she chastised her colleagues as children.  While this obviously had a role to play, the (almost) equally famous resignation speech in the Commons by the Chancellor, Sir Geoffrey Howe, made it clear that it was Thatcher's refusal to consider any alternative views on integration with a European monetary union that was actually to blame.  As he said...
"Cabinet Government is all about trying to persuade one another from within". That was my commitment to Government by persuasion--persuading colleagues and the nation. I have tried to do that as Foreign Secretary and since, but I realise now that the task has become futile...The conflict of loyalty, of loyalty to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister--and, after all, in two decades together that instinct of loyalty is still very real--and of loyalty to what I perceive to be the true interests of the nation, has become all too great. I no longer believe it possible to resolve that conflict from within this Government. That is why I have resigned.

We can all take the lesson that leadership is no longer leadership when nobody is following any more.

Let me know what you think.

Mark S

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