Margaret Thatcher - cold-blooded, callous and cantankerous?
Margaret Thatcher was as hard as nails. Harder, even. She was a callous witch; brutal, indifferent, unfriendly and unemotional. Often merciless, cantankerous and obdurate. Ruthless, heartless and unfeeling, too. Her blood was cold; her tears were ice. In fact, she is warmer in death than she ever was in life.
Such is real myth surrounding the character of the late Baroness Thatcher. Her opponents crafted this caricature, spurred on by Spitting Image, and it endures still in the popular consciousness propagated by the BBC-Guardian, and in the narrow worldview of certain left-wing bishops. Any appreciation of her politics is dimissed as a 'tide of eulogy and propaganda'. Any exposition of her economics is viewed as morally deficient or sociologically warped. Sincere expressions of grief and mourning are 'hysteria'.
John Whittingdale MP, her former political aide, said those who worked for Baroness Thatcher saw a different side to the public figure. He said she was kind and compassionate, and inspired huge loyalty. Sir John Major spoke of her humanity and generosity of spirit. Matthew Parris, her correspondence secretary from 1977-79 wrote in this week's Spectator:
...it was her attitude to what we called ‘the poorlies’, members of the public who had turned to her in their personal troubles, that was unlike any other leader’s I’ve known.And here is a letter from one troubled young boy 'of no account':
Mrs T (as we all called her) insisted we show her anything we thought needed her personal touch; she was meticulous and unsparing in dealing with these, even when we ourselves felt she had better things to do than sit up late, her blue felt-tip in hand, penning sympathy, advice and reassurance.
I’ll never forget one such: her reply to a lady who, grief-stricken by the loss of her husband, wanted the comfort of knowing that the Conservative leader believed in heaven. In Mrs T’s otherwise consoling letter, her answer to this question itself stood bleakly out as oddly tortured, almost legalistic: ‘Christians believe in the Afterlife, and I am a Christian.’
I loved her for the trouble she took with people of no account...
The story is recounted in the Mail. Here is Margaret Thatcher's personal response:
'However good we try to be, we can never be as kind, gentle and wise as Jesus,' she wrote. 'There will be times when we say or do something we wish we hadn’t done and we shall be sorry and try not to do it again! We do our best, but our best is not as good as his daily life. If you and I were to paint a picture it wouldn’t be as good as the picture of great artists. No our lives can’t be as good as the life of Jesus.'
She concluded: 'As Prime Minister, I try very hard to do things right and because Jesus gave us a perfect example I try even harder. But your father is right in saying that we can never be as perfect as He was.'
Margaret Thatcher may have made mistakes: God knows she was not perfect. But there is this letter, and in the kindness and compassion recalled by Matthew Parris, an undeniable capacity to reach out to those 'of no account'. She really cared about 'nobodies' and 'poorlies', and writing to a 9-year-old boy rather suggests that it wasn't always with one eye fixed on an imminent election. She took the trouble because it was the right thing to do. Her values were Christian virtues. She tried to do good because God is good. Her tenderness was inspired by Jesus's love.
Even after 30 years, those on the left may impugn her character and deride her motives. But the facts rather speak for themselves. Perhaps she was occasionally cold-blooded, callous and cantankerous. In our day-to-day dealings with irritating humanity, we all can be. But Margaret Thatcher was also charitable, humane, kindhearted, sympathetic and merciful. One or two Tories today might learn from her example.