Talking Politics: Thatcher made us who we are?

Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher on a walkabout in Elland in 1978.
Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher on a walkabout in Elland in 1978.

Over the last two weeks, I’m sure that most of us have been thinking back over the “Thatcher Years”, why she came to prominence, what she did, and what’s happened since then.

Love her or hate her, she certainly invoked strong feelings which have come to the fore again now that she’s died. My personal memories of the seventies was a period of considerable upheaval with changes of government, three-day weeks, power cuts. I was doing my social work training and having children so it was a busy but unnerving time. Then began the run of the Conservative governments, first under Margaret Thatcher and then John Major, before a similar run of Labour governments, under Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown.

What seem to characterise both of these was strong leadership (to the point of imperiousness) until they were toppled. First a period of enormous upheaval and change, followed by apparent prosperity. Now we’re paying the price. By the time that Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, my family was already politically active in the Liberal and then the Liberal Democrat party. What shaped my beliefs then (and still holds true) was the importance of balancing the needs of individuals with that of the community and society at large. This was spurred on by Margaret Thatcher’s apparent famous saying about “there’s no such thing as society, only individuals”. Whether or not she did actually make that statement, it certainly seemed to fit her strident views about people needing to look after themselves. And that’s what we’re still struggling with now: how much should we care for and support people through the Welfare State (health, education, social housing, Benefits), what responsibility we’ve got for each other, what’s affordable, let alone what works (as in the punishment and rehabilitative roles of prisons). But we can only do all of this if we have a thriving economy, and that means supporting industry and business so that we are earning money, providing jobs, and able to fund public services. As a committed Liberal Democrat, it’s been a hard couple of years since the euphoria of the 2010 General Election and “I agree with Nick”.

We’ve had to face up to the hard choice about what role to play in government, feeling uncomfortable being in government with the Conservatives but determined to get the best out of it following our values and policies. We’re aiming for a stronger economy and a fairer society: raising the tax threshold is the most visible. And locally, we’re working closely with the Labour party to run Calderdale – similarly trying to do our best for local people and local services.

I wonder how time will judge us ?