Is Baroness Thatcher a national treasure?

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Former UK PM, Margaret ThatcherThe recent release of The Iron Lady has re-ignited the debate around one of the most divisive Prime Ministers in history. Love her or hate her, Margaret Thatcher made a lasting impression. So how has time treated her? Has the consensus turned to admiration for the lady who would not be turned? Or will she forever remain in our consciousness as a formidable leader who wouldn't back down - at the cost of the country?

Damian Wilson in the 'yes' camp argues for Thatcher's legacy and Eric Ninn in the 'no' explains why Britain is still paying the price for her leadership.

Yes - Maggie is a national treasure
Prime Minister David Cameron was being interviewed on Radio 4's Today programme on Friday and in a lighthearted aside he was asked his thoughts on the movie The Iron Lady and who he thought might play him if a film was made of his life.

Sensibly he shied away saying he doubted that movie would ever be made. The truth is, he's probably right.

Because movies are made of heroic figures, despots, villains and national treasures. Not everyman kinda guys like him.

And if you take that as a given then you understand why Meryl Streep is being lauded for her role as Margaret Thatcher, who as Britain's first female PM, is absolutely plum for a feature movie.

Despite what you think of her as PM or even what you might think you know of her as a person, Britain is envied because of her place in our history.


Okay, other nations have had strong female leaders, look at Indira Ghandi in India or Israel's Golda Meir, but neither of those are remembered for their killer soundbites – "This lady's not for turning" – or their ability to reduce cynical politicians to wretched schoolboys who, even now well into their retirement years, still speak of 'Margaret' with trembling reverence.

She changed the face of unions in this country. She took us to war. She did more for women's liberation than a busload of burning bras.

Even her enemies have to concede that her transformation from a strait-laced grocer's daughter from Grantham into a feared international figure armed with an ice-cold glare and sensible handbag was something to behold.

Still now she sports the same twinsets, brushback hairstyle and pursed lips that had US and Russian presidents doling out to her an amount of respect that other British PMs since can only ever dream of.

No - and we're still paying the price
Margaret Thatcher swept into Number 10 after a winter of discontent. However she never really shook the discontent during her 11 year premiership. Her first years in government in the early 1980s were blighted by riots, civil unrest and social decline. As Cabinet papers recently exhumed from the government archives showed in 1981, Thatcherism began to take shape with the annihilation of the Tory left or 'wets' and callous discussions took place describing the "managed decline" of Britain's inner cities and social policy.

Like many leaders in crisis, she needed a distraction to galvanise public opinion. So in 1982 she decided to whip up national fervour by declaring war on Argentina over a small number of islands hardly anyone had heard of or really cared about. A battle for the sovereignty of the Falklands allowed the British public, and the tabloids, to focus their anger and frustration towards a supposed overseas enemy. The 30th anniversary of the conflict this year has already reopened scars with the Argentine people and other Latin American countries are beginning to voice their support for the 'Malvinas' cause yet again.

For those who venerate the Iron Lady, the truth of her legacy is that we are still suffering today from her policies. Her loathing of the unions stemmed from her pathological hatred of the Left. All unions were a hotbed for Trotskyite insurrection and 'fifth columnists' funded by Moscow, she believed, which culminated in her ferocity towards the Miner's Strike. However she dismantled the fundamental elements of the UK's manufacturing heartland and pushed primary industries into extinction. Her actions undermined the community spirit, which had helped bind major cities north of Watford, the bedrocks of Britain's industrial powerhouse.

After destroying the miners and British Leyland, she then allowed a free market and monetarist regime to run free and invited foreign investment, particularly from the US, to infiltrate the UK economy. Financial services were the future, while building things was just so old school.

Famously she hated the arts (as a student of chemistry she had no time for the humanities) and instilled a culture of selfishness dressed up as 'independence'. The City opened its arms to the Wall St Gordon Gekko wannabes and the age of 'Loadsamoney' philistines guzzled champagne and converted their council houses into castles with moats!

The lone woman who stood among the men in suits at the State Opening of Parliament never bothered to break the glass ceiling and surround herself with other women who might support her cause. Finally those Hollow Men stabbed her in the back.

Thatcher's children ended up running the banks that are now bust. The UK makes nothing and watches the rise of Indian and Chinese imports. She gave media moguls such as Rupert Murdoch free reign to build their empires and exploit their power. She derided the welfare state, and slowly pushed the mentally ill out of hospital to roam the streets under the guise of 'care in the community'.

David Cameron has said he is proud to be an acolyte of Thatcher but this will drive a wedge further between him and the north of England. The Lady never turned, and in the long term, Britain paid the price.

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