Magazine article Newsweek International

Rethinking the Iron Lady : Major -- and Others -- Take Aim at Baroness Thatcher

Magazine article Newsweek International

Rethinking the Iron Lady : Major -- and Others -- Take Aim at Baroness Thatcher

Article excerpt

The message of Margaret Thatcher's prime ministership was trim and uncomplicated, like the trademark no-nonsense handbag she donated to Cambridge University. "I am in politics," she once said, "because of the conflict between good and evil, and I believe that in the end good will triumph." She triumphed along with her policies, and her iconic status in Britain is only rarely rocked. Get ready for a rocket. In a taped BBC documentary to be aired on Oct. 11, Thatcher's Tory successor, John Major, takes her to task publicly for backing a rival to his party leadership in 1995 and weakening the Tories' election chances against Labour two years later. "In retrospect," he says, "I think her behavior was intolerable."

Ordinarily, this sort of political squabble would quickly fade away. But Thatcher is no ordinary politician, and for her these are not ordinary times. On the eve of her 74th birthday, nine years out of power, and 20 years after she first became prime minister, Britons are reassessing the Iron Lady. On the one hand, she is the person whose enduring political influence is unequaled in postwar Britain, the recipient of solicitous phone calls from Prime Minister Tony Blair, leader of the Labour Party she has long despised. On the other hand, she is the prime minister turned baroness in decline, a "grande dame who is seen as slightly batty," says her onetime biographer, Hugo Young.

Britain is coming to terms with what one of her friends calls "the Thatcher paradox." Thatcher herself is an increasingly less visible ex-politician in her declining years. "She has almost disappeared off the radar screen," says Maurice Fraser of the London School of Economics. She gave more than 100 speeches in 1997, earning over $100,000 apiece for some. This year she will give 20 or so, and only three in Britain. She is also not the room- electrifying life force she once was. …

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