When I first came to Britain to live September 1, 1980, Margaret Thatcher had been The First Among Equals for 16 months. My very first visit to Britain has been from mid November 1978 till early December of that year. Little did I know it at the time, but negotiations between the unions and the government over the amount of pay rises were critical at that time and would eventually lead to the devastating strikes that would become known as 'The Winter of Discontent'. Strikes that would arguably lead to the unexpected election of The Iron Lady.
Upon my first visit I was warned that the unions had a habit of one day strikes -- especially affecting public transportation -- and indeed that did prove to be the case. However, in general I was not unduly affected by industrial action. My love life brought me back to Britain only 6 months later -- in June. So in the interim, Mrs. Thatcher would have been newly elected -- but on that visit political history made no impact on me at all! I had to live here before that would happen.
The move to England came in September 1980. This novice American had quite a shock as she watched the annual political conferences shortly after arrival! Words like 'manifesto' instead of 'platform' were used by both parties without the innuendo of 'communism'! The Labour party conference addressed its delegates as 'comrades'. You don't hear that word used by the Labour Party any more!
Then in November Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States -- and 'the die was cast'...
Around September 1981 we moved to the town of Southport in the north west of England from Diss in Norfolk -- just after the Toxteth riots in Liverpool. Margaret Thatcher and her government were facing down the unions and the battles had begun. A newcomer to British politics, I was an enthralled witness to a very different kind of political drama than what I was accustomed to in the United States. Battles between the 'right' and the 'left' would be violent and prolonged. The miners were convinced they had the power to bring down the government -- as they had once before. Mrs. Thatcher was determined to stand firm and she did not flinch. The cost to the miners is still being felt today.
My politics do not coincide with those of Margaret Thatcher. I did not like her stridency. Her hectoring voice could give me a headache, while her attempts to sound calm and reasonable seemed false and insincere. But I did admire her forth right candour and her toughness. . She was right about Gorbachev, who I greatly admire, and I give her credit for the influence she had on Reagan.
There were moments when she took my breath away -- such as her strength of character after the Brighton bombing. I agreed with her when she demanded that Europe pay back the money Britain had owing -- and which ironically still has not been paid. Her appearance when she appeared in Parliament for the last time was phenomenal.
I believe that Mrs. Thatcher exhausted those of us who had to live with her. I can remember the feeling of relief when John Major with his authentically calm voice became Prime Minister. The arguments prevailing over her upcoming funeral bring it all back -- Her premiership was eleven years of that kind of vitriol -- and whether she was right or she was wrong, it was exhausting.But I don't believe she was 'evil'. Perhaps her policies were a necessary evil -- and even though I and many others think there could have been 'better ways', we will never know, because things just are what they are. She was a force of nature and she changed everything. I do believe history will be kind to her.