Thatcher back in Downing Street

 Daniel Cowdrill











Yesterday Dan O’Doherty sent me a link to this contemporary piece by Richard Stone of Margaret Thatcher. Impeccable, upright, and with a glare that conceals the pent-up rage of middle England. This is Thatcher after her defeat of General Galtieri, in her Gloriana Imperatrix days.

Thatcher was a creature of the Tory right. For her and many others in the Conservative party, the post-war ‘settlement’ was never properly settled. Mounting concerns about trade unionism, inflation and nationalisation, had been steadily provoking Conservative society. The Right looked back with nostalgia to the otherwise much maligned 1930s, before Macmillan, before Atlee and before the devastation of Churchill’s 1945 defeat.

With the end of the post-war boom in the early 1970s, the failure of the Philips Curve, and levels of strike activity not seen since the General Strike, the Right broke ranks. Keith Joseph was the first senior politician to go over the top, publicly repudiating Conservative policy. Margaret Thatcher challenged Edward Heath and in Powell’s words, “didn’t funk it.” 

When the new Prime Minister quoted St.Francis of Assisi on the steps of downing street, it was only partly a last-minute PR stunt. It was also a perfect evocation of what Thatcherism was about. To Thatcher and her acolytes, agencies of society were failing to function normally. Trade unions were interfering in the political sphere with undemocratic and unjust consequences. Nationalisation was interfering in business decisions to the detriment of competition and productivity. And the State was interfering in the market with damaging consequences for work incentives. Collectivist ideology was destroying conservative society, and Thatcher’s task was to reinstate societal order and harmony.

As such, Milton Freidman was off the mark when he said that Thatcher was not a Tory. On the contrary, Thatcherism was a profound expression of Conservatism. Sharp, erudite, female, and Conservative, Thatcher was the left’s worst enemy. 

It is ironic to say the least that Gordon Brown, a Labour Prime Minister, should pay homage to the Tory right by hanging a personally commissioned portrait of Thatcher in Downing Street. What kind of man, who owes his career to the Labour movement, choses to commission a painting of Margaret Thatcher instead of Harold Wilson or Clement Atlee?

It was the Labour party that paid for Brown’s subscription, Labour activists who campaigned for him, Labour voters who elected him, and the Labour Party that promoted him to public office. Now he poses for the cameras with Margaret Thatcher. 

Thatcher was indeed a ‘conviction politician’. Brown should learn from her example.


19 thoughts on “Thatcher back in Downing Street

  1. Gordon Brown does not owe his career to Margaret Thatcher.

    Brown stood in the 1979 General Election, before the Thatcher reforms had happened. He entered Parliament in 1983, becoming opposition spokesman for trade and industry in 1985, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 1987, Shadow Secretary for Trade and Industry in 1989, and then Shadow Chancellor in 1992.

    Apart from his own abilities, I was right to say that it was the Labour party who he owes his “career” to. Brown and the New Labour may have acknowledged the Thatcher reforms in the economic sphere, but Brown would have had a major role in any Labour government.

  2. The fact is he owes his current job to her as does Tony Blair. Lets face it… had Labour not come to terms with the ‘Thatcher revolution’… it is quite likely they would still be in opposition. So you are right… he owes Labour alot… but New Labour owe Thatcher alot.

  3. Aside from his own abilities, it is the Labour party who he owes his position to. It is the Labour party who campaigned for him, before Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. It is the Labour leadership who promoted him on several occasions.

    As for New Labour, they owe nothing to Margaret Thatcher. As I said, they recognised some of the Thatcher reforms, and were fortunate in that the wider Labour party were prepared to allow change. They were simply pragmatists, adapting Labour ideology to new cirumstances.

  4. yeh… within the paradigms determined by the Thatcher governments. Brown had to u-turn on ALL of his criticisms. Don’t forget he was one of her most vocal critics… until he realised he was talking sh*t and fell in to line. His greatest success has been AFTER he accepted her reforms… not before. No politician or party owes there carer entirely to one person… but in this case they owe her a great deal as she forced them to change. Just as it can be argued New Tories owe new Labour a deal for making us change.

  5. Brown departed from Thatcherism on a number fo fronts that I’ve already described. What dan forgets is that much of Major’s britain was created between 1945 and 1951. We could argue that all modern politicians owe a lot to robert Peel or that he owed a lot in a long line back to Edward I. Had Major not come to terms with some of the failings of Thatcherism, he would not have kept his job.

  6. Another Thatcher blog.
    I should stop complaining really and get my arse into gear and write one myself.

    Also, I’m with Cowdrill on this. surprise surprise, I always tend to be with Cowdrill.

  7. Well said Laura lol. Besides.. it might be a Thatcher blog… but it isnt mine lol. Bloody good portrait though dont you think lol?

  8. One should also remember that NO other Prime Minister has an official portrait in doning street. They all have the little ones on the stairs but Thatcher will be the first to get a full size portrait which will sit in pride of place in the Diplomatic reception room, also known as the Thatcher room, where Gordon Brown hosts foreign dignitaries.

  9. I’ve got my eyes on that brooch- love it!

    I think the point made by Dan is rational since former PMs (especially those who are radical in their approach) really do shape the careers of future politicians! No doubt! So yes, New Labour certainly does owe a lot to The Lady.


  10. I don’t think this is a rational point at all. On this logic New Labour surely owe Clement Atlee a great deal, or David Lloyd George? Maybe Brown should commission a portrait of John Major for losing the 1997 election so catastrophically?

  11. Of course there are other reasons as to why Thatchers portrait is more desirable than Major’s or the other Labour PMs you mentioned but in my opinion the link Dan makes is relevant.


  12. haha… Hush your noise Howard. Now this may suprise you… but I actually agree Atlee was a good Prime Minister for the time. Unprecedented times require unprecented policies. However I wouldn’t go so far as to say he was the best Prime Minister we’ve ever had. In fact I think it is foolish to claim any prime minister is the best weve ever had. You can say… in ‘my opinion…’ just as in my opinion Thatcher is the best but you can’t claim it to be an actual fact. I believe which side of the fence you sit on will determine who your ‘best PM’ will be with Atlee and Thatcher at opposing ends of the spectrum. Left will pick Atlee, right will pick Thatcher.

    Mine is Thatcher because I find myself 99.9% in agreement with everything she did. As much as I admire Atlee… I cant bring myself to claim he is ‘the best’ because I disagree with nationalisation and certain elements of the welfare state on principle. That doesnt mean I dont recognise he was an important and distinguished political figure… but the best? In my opinion no.

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