The Lady Still Lords It


As we approach the 30th anniversary of Margaret Thatcher’s rise to power there is a huge swell in the National Press about her legacy which will delight many Conservatives across the country. A new poll published by YouGov has yielded some suprising results which I thought I’d share with you. A crude analysis would argue that this poll confirms that which we already suspected: Margaret Thatcher remains Britains most influential but divisive post war Prime Minister.

What suprises me however is the fact that this enduring division over Thatcher’s legacy does not neccessarily translate into unpopularity. Indeed Lady T is still regarded as Britains most popular post war Prime Minister trumping every contemporary politician. Even now in the face of the recession (bearing in mind the Tory record in regard to boom and bust is hardly squeaky clean) Mrs Thatcher is still the choice of the public as 47% of voters would prefer her to lead us through the crash as opposed to 37% for Brown.

Interestingly however Baroness Thatcher dominates when it comes to the ‘Tory popularity stakes’ as 49 per cent prefer her to David Cameron, compared to only 24 per cent backing the current Tory leader. So what does this poll tell us? Well it continues a trend that has been going on for years; Mrs Thatcher remains unsuprisingly by far our most divisive Prime Minister yet interestingly she is also our most respected. There is also continued consensus that no-one who has followed her holds a candle to her and given the choice a clear majority of those polled would prefer her as Prime Minister today than Brown or indeed Cameron. Therefore in terms of public approval the Lady still lords it…


17 thoughts on “The Lady Still Lords It

  1. It’s also interesting to note that a majority (53%) think that she would make a worse PM than Brown or about the same. So from your poll, 53% think that Brown does hold a candle to her.

    As a general supporter of Thatcherism myself, I think it is important for the Conservative party to remember just how bitterly divisive she and her policies were and how hated she was by a large portion of the electorate. This is the less glamorous side of her legacy.

  2. Thats a tad misleading Daniel. The results were:

    32% think Thatcher would make a MUCH BETTER PM

    16% think Thatcher would be SLIGHTLY better

    10% said about the same

    So that is 58% who think Thatcher would be better or about the same. That result doesnt even take in to account the other 9% who are undecided which would likelly pick Thatcher aswell if push came to shove as anyone with common sense can see she is better than Brown.

    Compare the other side of the results:

    27% think Thacher would be a MUCH WORSE PM

    7% think Thatcher would be SLIGHTLY WORSE

    10% say About the same

    Including the ‘about the same category’ we can see Browns result still remains lower than Thatchers as he scores 44% as opposed to her 58%.

    However excluding the don’t know and about the same categories only 34% think Thatcher would be slightly worse or much worse. While 48% think she would be much better or slightly better. We can’t take those that ‘don’t know’ in to account because its pure speculation and ‘about the same’ could go either way. So you should look at the ‘extremes’ the ones who actually have an informed opinion.

    The ‘extremes’ clearly favour Thatcher. This combined with the fact that a majority of respondants in the same poll (which is not shown here) believe Thatcher would be their choice to lead them out of the recession, 47% to Browns 37%.

    And Jack in a curious way I actually agree with you. But perhaps I think of it from a slightly different angle. You say the two US administrations that ended most chaoticaly were arguably the best in hindsight. I agree and I think the same applies to Thatcher. It was chaotic at times, it was tough at times and she was indeed hated at times (and still is by some) but the legacy she left was one of great prosperity and stability and her name served to inspire an entire generation of politicians while her economics dominated the last 30 years. As far as I am concerned greatness and controversey go hand in hand. Lincoln was perhaps Americas Greatest and most popular US President, even more the Obama, but at the time he was actively hated by a large swathe of his people.

    Lincoln paid for doing what he believed to be right for his people with his life, Thatcher paid with her reputation, although had the IRA had their way she would have paid for it with her life too. Also the link you posted above directing us to the wikipedia page shows that which we already suspected, Thatcher either tops or comes close to top in every one of the polls of the greatest or most popular Prime Minister of the 20th Century. She ranks along the likes of Attlee, Lloyd George and Churchill as she should. She was one of our great revolutionaries who defined an age and for that Gordon Brown can never hold a candle to her.

  3. Sorry, I hold my hands up. I over-looked the ‘don’t knows’.

    I have to say I’m not surprised Thatcher does well in these polls. Gordon Brown is very unpopular and memories of the Thatcher government are fading. That said, Matthew is right to point out that Thatcher remains highly divisive.

    I also agree with Jack that Government’s have their records reappraised. Thatcher was severely unpopular towards the end of her prime ministership and I think remained unpopular for the rest of the 1990s. It’s not surprising that on the back of a failing Labour government and a Conservative revival that Thatcher is being reassessed.

    Personally, I think it’s important to judge her record as it was not how it is perceived nostalgically. To me the polls that matter are the ones that were taken while she was Prime Minister.

  4. I think Peter Hennessy’s warning that “we play the game of
    celestial chief justice at our peril” is apt in terms of ranking Prime Ministers. To constantly reassure ourselves, as Conservatives, that Thatcher ‘still lords it’ fails to recognise and to learn from her mistakes.

  5. Thatcher was the very epitome of human nature: unique, strong, competitive and yes flawed. Yet her flaws are what makes her human. We should try to look beyond the flaws and look at what she achieved for the nation and beyond. By all standards she was an exceptional politician.

    Her policies provided the framework for unprecedented economic success and stability. She did what almost every politician before her had failed to do: convince the other side to follow her way. She convinced Ronald Reagan (by his own admission) to trust the soviet leader Gorbachev which ultimately ended the Cold War and freed the millions of slaves of communism. For many in America, Britain and most of all Eastern Europe, who suffered terribly under communism, Thatcher will always be seen as nothing short of a hero of the century.

    Further she defied not just chauvinist men in the Labour party but the Tory party. She had to watch her back even when she ‘should be amongst friends’. She fought on bravely against formidable odds and when others would have flinched she had the courage to remain true to her conviction. Although alas the great traits that raised her up brought her down. She failed to distinguish between friend and foe and stuck to policies she failed to think through. That is why she fell.

    Of course she made mistakes but ultimately as far as I am concerned the only opinion polls we should pay any heed to are the general elections. She won 3 of them with highly convicing majorities and due to the fact that others couldn’t ‘hold their nerve’ in the same way she did we will never know if she could have won a fourth. The polls had been against her many times beore and she still fought back. Yes they were bad but when faced with the prospect of a loony Labour government people might have thought twice. We will never know.

    (Oh and as a side note its not just Brown, when shes compared to other Prime Ministers like Blair she ranks consistantly favourably aswell)

    • Dan, you say that Thatcher was the mots popular Prime Minister in living memory when in fact that title belongs to Major (!).Dan, you should note that John Major recieved more votes in 1992 than Thatcher did in 1983 or 1987.

      You also talk about unprecedented economic stability when in fact average growth between 1979-1997 was lower than between 1974 and 1979. Infact it was the slowest period of growth since the war.

      Had Thatcher lead the Tories to defeat in 1992, I doubt that the Tories would have won in 1996/1997.

      First you overestimate the importance of Black Wednesday and then you missunderstand it. The polls din’t actually radicaly change until the arrival of Blair and the subject actually hardly played a role in the 1997 campaign. However what significance it had was due to the fact that the Tories had been in power for 13 years; they had no one else to blame.

      In my opinion things would have unfolded like this:(please note that no one can be sure of what would have happened.)

      Labour wins election, Thatcher reluctantly resigns and her support helps Douglas Hurd to narrowly beat Heseltine for the leadership.

      Britian drops out of the ERM. John Smith becomes public enemy no.1 and becomes less credible as a challenge to Kinnock.

      The debate over Maastricht begins. Labour gives it as much parliamentary time as possible allowing the conservative party to tear itself in two.

      John Smith dies. Public grief makes references to ‘Black Wednesday’ a little more difficult. Gordon Brown becomes Chancellor and gives the Bank of England independent control over interest rates.

      Cash for questions leads to the resignation of Graham Riddick from the front bench. Three months later Redwood resigns from the front bench over Hurd’s indicision on Europe.

      1996/1997 election: Strengthening economy that started in recession and is now booming, divided conservative party, united Labour party, complete lack of direction within the Tory ranks and Douglas Hurd leading the charge. Result: Labour majority of 134.

  6. Of course we should learn from previous mistakes, but also from our successes too.

    The truly divisive politics came before Thatcher from the labour government, after which she had no choice but to upset many people because they were convinced of some very wrong headed ideas.

    Maybe I’m just in a bad mood today but I feel tories should be proud of Thatcher and not afraid to tell those that seek to denigrate her exactly how wrong they are. We shouldn’t succumb to the lefts interpretation of history – no matter how often it gets on the BBC.

    PS. we’ve had floods and now pestilence since brown came to power, today I find the bee’s are dying off so maybe we’ll get famine as well.

  7. It is true that we should not succumb to the left’s interpretation of history, but we should also resist being being star-gazed by the right. I think it is important for political parties to be self-critical.

    And Dan, this idea of MPs not ‘holding their nerve’ is a historical insult. They were justified in their view that Thatcher would not win the next election and were justified in their concern that an un-reformed Labour party (to some extent) would regain power. Thatcher was sacked because she failed to lead her party competently.

    You underestimate Thatcher’s unpopularity in 1990 and the impact this was having on the Conservative Party. Your post-hoc analysis of Thatcher’s downfall is driven by your own bias and leads to a fictional version of the past. This is precisely the problem that Peter Hennessy was alluding to when he said that “we play the game of celestial chief justice at our peril”.

  8. I do not in any way underestimate Thatchers unpopularity by the end. But lest we forget in 1981 she was the most unpopular Prime Minister since records began by 1983 she was the most popular in living memory. The public are fickle and who knows she may have been able to turn it around as she had done before.

    Having said this I concede she most likely would have lost the next election but I feel we as a party robbed her of her dignity. She, after giving us unprecedented success, deserved to have her fate determined by the public and not the party. They betrayed her, they betrayed the country and they ultimately betrayed themselves because the end when it did come was far worse than it would have been had they given her the diginifed exit her premiership deserved. In hindsight we can all see that.

  9. I’m sorry, but her dignity was not as important as the dignity of the Conservative party itself. And if the country felt so betrayed, as you claim, then why did they react so favorably to her replacement by John Major? And, even if the country did ‘feel betrayed’, its kind of irrelevant because the MPs who voted against her clearly didn’t think the country would feel any sense of betrayal.

    Again, a rather fictional analysis littered with dramatic words like ‘robbed’, ‘dignity’, ‘betrayal’ and so on. It’s all a bit removed from the matter of fact. We’ll have this out when I next clap eyes on you!

  10. So favourably?! Thats the biggest misrepresentation of history ive ever heard. Major will always be remembered as the ‘grey man’ who could never cut it with the public He was a footnote to Thatcher. Of course the polls bounced after she left as they did with Brown but when the reality set in they hit rock bottom again. Besides lets face it Dan the Tory party at this point was riddled with corruption, sleaze and were frankly unfit for government.

    Some had a naieve view we could stay on forever. That we didnt need Thatcher, we were the Toooorriiieess, we were marvellous, the saviours of the nation. Such arrogance led us to depose our greatest leader in living memory and led us to 18 years of wilderness. You always deny the fact that it was wrong to remove Thatcher even when the ones who stabbed her in the back concede it did the party more damage than good.

    Read that Times article I directed you to above.

  11. “So favourably?! Thats the biggest misrepresentation of history ive ever heard.”

    If you look at the polling figures there was an impressive turnaround in Conservative performance immediately after Thatcher left Downing Street. Where is the sense of betrayal in these figures?

    “Some had a naieve view we could stay on forever.”

    Who had that view? Funnily enough I can only think of one individual who did – the woman who said “I intend to go on, and on, and on.” Oh and the woman who said, “Do not say it is time for something else! Thatcherism is not for a decade it is for centuries!”

    No-one thought the Conservative party could hold onto power ‘forever’, but they thought they could win the forthcoming election without Thatcher (and incidentally they did).

    “Even… the ones who stabbed her in the back concede it did the party more damage than good.”

    Some of them may express regret 20 years after the event, some of them stand by their decision. It’s all very well to engage in the counter-factual and argue that ‘if’ the Tories had lost the ’92 election Labour would have got the blame for Black Wednesday and we’d have been back in power by 1997. BUT, this isn’t how it happened.

  12. YES its isnt how it happened is it? Mores the pity. Thatcher should have led us in to the 1992 election, perhaps in to defeat but who knows, and then Labour could have crashed once again and we’d be back in 5 years while Labour would be well and truly finished. By contrast weve had 18 years of infighting, backbiting, wilderness, and political dominance at the hands of New Labour. Although some couldnt see it at the time they have the good grace to acknowlege it now: getting rid of Thatcher was a mistake. But I agree its all very well for them to say this in hindsight.

  13. And, because this is all counter-factual guff it’s not clear that it would have happened in the way you assume. In opposition it may have been required to manhandle Thatcher out of the leadership. This could have been just as bitter for the party with similar ramifications. The Labour party may have been able to depict Black Wednesday as the Tory inheritance. Etc, etc…

    Essentially we don’t know because it’s counter-factual. Your own version of events is more about trying, in vein, to prove that the party was wrong to sack her, rather than any honest analysis of Thatcher’s failure to lead.

  14. haha weve been here before Daniel. We go round and round. What matters is public perception even if that perception is wrong you can’t ignore it. The public have been known in the past to wholeheartedly support something that turns out to be completely false. In my gut I know Thatcher was the best leader of the last half century.

    She did more to change the direction, reputation, stability and prosperity of this country than any other. And for that yes I am willing to smooth over her obvious flaws. Incidently my support of Thatcher doesn’t mean Im not happy with Cameron and the direction he is taking. I understand the country needs change I just bitterly regret the way she fell.

    If you review that link I sent you above the vast majority of the incoming Conservative PPCs identify themselves as devoted Thatcherites yet fully support the direction Cameron is taking. I am of a simmilar mind.

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