Maggie and Me: How Thatcher Changed Britain

John Cassidy in The New Yorker:

Margaret-thatcher-cassidy-580When Margaret Hilda Thatcher took over as Prime Minister, in May, 1979, I was sixteen. To Britons of my generation, she wasn’t merely a famous Conservative politician, a champion of the free market, and a vocal supporter of Ronald Reagan: she was part of our mental furniture, and always will be. The day after her electoral triumph, Mr. Hill, my fifth form English teacher, an avuncular fellow with longish hair and a mustache, who had never previously expressed any political opinions, came into the classroom and shouted, “Right, you lot. Shut up and get down to work. It’s a new regime.” My father, a lifelong Labour Party voter, was equally aghast, especially when he discovered that my mother had voted for Mrs. T., on the grounds that “it’s about time we had a woman in charge.”

The Iron Lady, a sobriquet that some Soviet journalists would subsequently bestow upon her, was already inside 10 Downing Street, laying down the law. On her way in, famously, she stopped and quoted St. Francis of Assisi about bringing harmony where there was doubt—a statement that I and many others came to see as the first of her many outrages. How could such a divisive, bellicose, and heartless figure have the gall to talk like that? But this morning, watching for the first time in many years some footage of what she said, I realized that she wasn’t actually trying to portray herself as a conciliator. Mrs. Thatcher—and despite the life peerage that gave her the title of baroness, no one in Britain would call her anything else—was sending a sterner message about what lay ahead. Flanked by two burly policemen, her blonde hair swept back and lacquered into immobility, she also recited several more of St. Francis’s lines: “Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.” Then, quoting the late Airey Neave, her aristocratic mentor in the Conservative Party, whom the I.R.A. had blown up just weeks earlier, she added in a voice that, even today, thirty-four years later, can set my teeth grating: “There is now work to be done.”

More here.