The assassination of Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher in 1986. Photo © Laurence

SPOILER ALERT: This post contains general discussion of the fourth season of the television series The Crown, which debuted last week. If you like to watch a program without knowing what happens, come back at a later date after viewing the show.

This Brittanica article describes Margaret Thatcher as “The only British prime minister to win three consecutive terms and, at the time of her resignation, Britain’s longest continuously serving prime minister since 1827,” and the author — a Thatcher biographer —says she became “the most renowned British political leader since Winston Churchill.”

As someone who went through his early to mid adulthood during the 1980s, that’s how I remember Margaret Thatcher — a reformer and strong leader, similar to Ronald Reagan on this side of the Atlantic, and the two leaders became good friends. Much like Reagan, she pushed through a number of reforms over the objections of Chicken Little opponents who no doubt were shocked that the world did not end when they were implemented.

We have enjoyed the Netflix TV series The Crown and understand that all dramas “based on a true story” take liberty with the truth in the name of telling a story as forthrightly and economically as possible, but the version of Thatcher onscreen in the series’ fourth season crosses the line from well-intentioned representation to ill-intentioned fantasy.

The show portrays Thatcher as a simpering ideologue who exudes stubborn wrong-headedness and narcissism. Nothing in Gillian Anderson’s bizarre, stilted performance suggests how the woman could have won three elections and Churchill-level stature. Reagan is not even mentioned despite their friendship and the role they played together on the world stage during that decade.

A clue as to the reason for the hatchet job lies further along in the Brittanica piece, in the description of her philosophy.

“Thatcher advocated greater independence of the individual from the state; an end to allegedly excessive government interference in the economy; limitations on the printing of money in accord with the economic doctrine of monetarism; and legal restrictions on trade unions.”

Advocates for individual independence from the state and an end to excessive government interference in the economy — that is, people who challenge the collective — tend to be portrayed in contemporary life as unfeeling monsters, or worse, as non-persons who should be ignored and their opinions and achievements erased from view.

Fortunately, we have not yet reached the Orwellian stage where the facts completely disappear, so we can confirm (and here the disclaimer above must be repeated — Go watch the show first if you prefer surprises):

Thatcher’s son disappeared during a road rally and was later found safe in January 1984. The Falkland Islands incident began in April. The idea that the search for her son distracted her from the war to the point she ignored or dismissed her aides’ advice is a complete fabrication.

The disturbed man who managed to enter the queen’s bedroom undetected in 1985 was not a social justice warrior, and he and the queen did not have a conversation at all, let alone a discussion about intervening in Thatcher’s policies.

And again, Thatcher was a pleasant enough personality and savvy enough politician to earn three consecutive electoral victories and serve longer than anyone in the previous century and a half.

I’m not here to defend every aspect of Margaret Thatcher’s life and career. As I’ve written before, the whole concept of war baffles me, and the Falklands kerfuffle is among the silliest of the silly violent conflicts that world rulers have imposed on the rest of us over the years.

But I tired long ago of people who raise individual rights over the state being lampooned as cartoonish buffoons not worthy of serious consideration. Reagan said in his first inaugural address, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government IS the problem.” And part of that problem is the apologist for the state who is willing to caricature its foes beyond recognition. Big Brother need not manufacture false history when his toadies are willing to do the job for him.

This is not to say The Crown is trash. Red and I spent five nights enjoying the show, which continues to be one of the most well-crafted dramas in modern television. But it needs to be watched with full awareness that it is a fiction.

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