Thatcher was like Marmite, love her or hate her
Rev Tom Chapman reflects on the legacy of Britain's first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.
In a corner shop in Grantham, Mr Roberts the grocer sold a certain beef stock spread. Strong and salty, you either love it or hate, so they say.
As we say goodbye to his daughter, we can agree at least on this. Margaret was Marmite, no fawning focus-group follower; she made her case and you loved it or loathed it but your certainly didn't ignore it. You were, as someone else said of himself, either with her or against her.
I know why I'm supposed to hate her. I grew up under her, a teacher's kid and a poll-tax student, so how could I not? She divided the country, devastated communities and broke hearts. She started her reign with the prayer of St Francis – and ended with the poll tax riots.
But I also know why I'm supposed to love her. A basket-case country, rust-bucket industries and Jurassic-Park unions, I don't recall anyone else offering a realistic solution for our woes. She started her reign with a nation on the ropes, and ended with a nation with its head held high.
Margaret Thatcher brought her famous iron will and concrete convictions to bear on a question faced by all humanity. What do we do when there is a conflict of interest between the institutions and structures of a society – its economy, or an industry, for example – and particular members and communities within it?
Alright I will come clean; I am not an economic Thatcherite - I think Mrs Thatcher exacted too high a price from individuals and communities to “fix” our nation’s ills, and failed to foster human compassion and social cohesion let alone financial investment. But was her approach inherently, demonstrably un-Christian?
Love is not the opposite of pain. Hard problems require tough solutions; if you're going to fix things, somewhere down the line it hurts. Someone won't like it, and somehow you have to decide where the line will fall.
In other words, we may disagree with what Mrs Thatcher actually did, but we should respect the fact that she did it. Either that, or stop complaining that our leaders have no conviction! The political marketplace is better if Marmite is still available in the corner shop, alongside the mild curry. Name a young person interested in politics (who doesn't go to Eton!) In the unlikely event you can, it's Marmite that inspires them, not syrup.
So goodbye Maggie! We all agree that to become the first female Prime Minister was a success and that the poll tax was a disaster; apart from that we all disagree with someone in the room about something you did. We can say, safely and sadly, there will never be another.
It’s up to a new generation now to wrestle with the Marmite challenge if they dare. What's to do when something is severely amiss yet the solution is going to hurt? When the right thing seems to contradict with the kind thing? Or to put it in more familiar theological terms, when the demands of justice and mercy cannot be reconciled?
I don't know any political solution. Our leaders will always err on one side or the other. But you can't avoid the facts: if something is to work, somewhere down the line, someone has to pay.
But what about a leader who pays the price for us? Now there's a thought.
Rev Tom Chapman is Pastor of Surrey Chapel in Norwich.
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