Interest in Thatcher's life and ideas is greater than everby Andrew Roberts / April 9, 2013 / Leave a comment
The death of Margaret Thatcher has prompted the wholly expected battle over her legacy, evident from the way the newspapers of the right and left have chosen to memorialise her. The obituaries concentrate, entirely reasonably, on the past struggles that she fought, and her rightful place in history. The greatest woman in British history since Queen Elizabeth I, or the destroyer of “close-knit mining communities”? (Of course it’s perfectly possible to be both.) Yet whatever the verdict of history turns out to be—and even if it unexpectedly embraces the vituperative stance adopted by Ken Livingstone and George Galloway yesterday—I believe that that in a sense it is too late. Interest in her life and message is growing, and will continue to grow.
There have been relatively few prime ministers who can be termed weather-makers in British postwar history—perhaps only Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher truly fit that description. Certainly, other than Winston Churchill and Tony Blair there are no premiers who are so instantly recognisable to an American audience that the actor playing them could win an Oscar. Some premiers are almost instantly forgotten after their deaths: how many references are made in today’s politics to Andrew Bonar Law, Harold Wilson, Ted Heath or Jim Callaghan? Who believes that John Major or Gordon Brown will “live for the ages” once they’ve gone? Yet we can already be certain that Margaret Thatcher will not be one of those. Could any of the aforementioned premiers have been the subject of a movie played by the male equivalent of a Hollywood star as famous as Meryl Streep, as Margaret Thatcher was in The Iron Lady?
While several Thatcherite friends of mine deeply deplored the film for its insistence of concentrating on Lady Thatcher’s post-premiership physical frailties rather than her great moral and political strengths, it nonetheless heralded a very welcome recrudescence of interest in her and the causes for which she stood. Margaret Thatcher appointed me to take her place on the body that owns and curates her archive, the Margaret Thatcher Archive Trust. Chris Collins, the director of her website, tells me that it is receiving a hugely increased number of hits each month. One million pages of her papers have so far been digitised at vast expense by…