Just Above Sunset
December 11, 2005 - Cameron and the Thatcher Legacy
Whoever controls the universe - God, Allah, blind chance, two alien life forms playing marbles, the Republicans - has the weirdest sense of humour. Last week, the legendary Northern Ireland and Manchester United footballer George Best, who spent the second half of his life in the throes of alcoholism, turning up as a drunken joke on live TV talk shows, passed away on the very day new legislation to allow 24-hour drinking came into effect. This week, on the day David Cameron was confirmed as the shiny new leader of the Conservative Party, former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, only a few weeks after her 80th birthday, was admitted to hospital after "feeling faint."
It could just have been an adverse reaction to hearing the result - it's hard to believe Thatcher would have backed Cameron's committed modernisation policies over those of his older Tory rival David Davis. But all in all, this has been a mixed week for the Thatcher clan; it's no wonder their matriarch should have taken to her sick bed.
Daughter Carol - previously best known for, erm, being the daughter of a former Prime Minister - emerged as the Queen of the Jungle on Survivor-like reality television show, I'm A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, thus becoming the first woman named Thatcher to win a popular vote for over a decade. And it was announced that son Mark's misadventures in Equatorial Guinea, where he was arrested on suspicion of aiding an attempt to overthrow the government, would be turned into a satirical comedy film, Coup! - to be shown on UK TV next year.
Mrs. Thatcher is expected to recover from this current bout of dizziness, but you can't help but think David Cameron's life as newly-elected Leader of the Opposition might be made a lot easier, at least politically, were the former Prime Minister to quietly disappear, taking her children - and her legacy - along with her.
The first task any new Conservative leader faces, even before establishing his or herself as a distinct political entity, is to stave off the legacy of the Thatcher years, ironically the Conservative Party's most successful moment in recent political history. Yet the popular understanding of the years between 1979 and 1990 isn't so good: mass unemployment, the demolition of Britain's industrial base (as typified by the closure of the country's mines), the beginnings of privatisation on a vast, irreversible and, in some cases, life-threatening scale.
Cameron's leadership campaign was built on taking the Conservative Party, previously regarded as the domain of pipe-smoking old gents and blue-rinsed matrons, into the 21st century. Indeed, in his first appearance at Prime Minister's Question Time in the House of Commons this week, Cameron did enough to suggest his chief influence - in terms of styling and attitude, if not policies - wasn't Thatcher, but a more modern figure like Blair himself. And when Cameron's first major policy initiative was announced this morning, it came on a "hip" issue, the environment.
There has been a real and renewed political optimism sparked by the Conservatives' choice of Cameron, not least as the Government's majority, previously thought unassailable, has of late come under serious attack - not least from New Labour's own backbenchers. On issues from identity cards and anti-terrorist measures to the ban on smoking in public places, Tony Blair has been left holding compromised legislation, and with the war in Iraq dragging on into one further winter, the need for constant, committed, viable opposition in the House of Commons has perhaps never been more necessary.
Cameron's performance at Prime Minister's Question Time reminded one of the sunny honeymoon Britain enjoyed when Blair first came to power, overcoming the Tories in the 1997 General Election. Blair, too, was once an up-and-coming young star of politics, and has found "growing up" in the debating chamber increasingly hard to handle as tough decisions came and went (and, in the case of Iraq, lingered on). Will the Thatcher legacy be Cameron's Iraq? Can he overturn political prejudice and apathy and shape his party to present a real alternative to the voting public? All this remains to be seen in the coming months and years. Expect fireworks.
December 9, 2005.
Copyright © 2005 – Mike McCahill
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Editor's Note: British spelling and punctuation retained here.
Editor's photograph a Thatcher-like woman in a large department store in Beverly Hills – all mirrors and no shame -
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