We Started at the Same Time, Thatcher and I. She Created a Selfish Generation and I Saw the Emotional Aftermath of Her Policies; It Is 25 Years since Margaret Thatcher Took Office and Our Joan Burnie Became an Agony Aunt. Here She and Three Scots Affected by Her Policies Remember the Lady's Iron Grip on Scotland

Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), May 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

We Started at the Same Time, Thatcher and I. She Created a Selfish Generation and I Saw the Emotional Aftermath of Her Policies; It Is 25 Years since Margaret Thatcher Took Office and Our Joan Burnie Became an Agony Aunt. Here She and Three Scots Affected by Her Policies Remember the Lady's Iron Grip on Scotland


Byline: By Joan Burnie

WE began our new jobs on almost the same day Mrs Thatcher as Prime Minister and I as this paper's agony aunt.

After the General Election which swept her to power on May 3, 1979, she stood on the steps of Downing Street and repeated the words of St Francis of Assisi: 'Where there is discord, may we bring harmony, 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.'

Looking back over my 25 years as Just Joan, it wasn't such a bad ambition for both a new PM and a virgin agony aunt. Whether either of us lived up to the challenge is, however, a different matter. While I would not compare myself to her and her achievements even if we have both been called ball breakers it might well be argued that we both failed to live up to the Saint's fine words.

Certainly, 11 years later, in November 1990, when Thatcher was pushed out of office, not by the electorate but by her own party grandees, she was not thought to have spread much harmony or hope.

When she visited Liverpool after race riots had left the city devastated, its Bishop spoke of the need for people to have compassion. She replied: 'Compassion? That's not a word I use.'

She preferred confrontation. Maybe there have been times when I did too. When faced in my second week with a husband who thought it was his right to have sex on demand whether his wife was willing or not, I told him it was rape something the Law and the Courts took a little more time to accept.

Meanwhile, within two years of becoming PM, Mrs Thatcher and her Party which had campaigned under the slogan 'Labour isn't working' presided over a country where unemployment was twice as high as it had been under Labour, with 3,000,000 on the dole.

This, too, was reflected in the letters. Love has a habit of flying out the window when poverty knocks at the door. The lady who said that there was no such thing as society, while preaching the virtues of family values, did not seem to care that when husbands and fathers are forced to search for work miles away from their wives and kids, it doesn't do much for their relationships.

Meanwhile, the NHS and education budgets were cut and manufacturing industries were collapsing along with Thatcher's popularity.

IT was the Falklands War in 1982 which saved her. To some, if not all, it was her finest hour.

It was won at the cost of hundreds of British lives and considerably more Argentinian ones, including the 368 sailors who drowned when she ordered the sinking of the Belgrano as it headed away from the exclusion zone.

But as the Argentinians raised the white flag at Port Stanley, she was triumphant, exhorting the nation to: 'Rejoice, rejoice'.

The wave of patriotism which swept the country was still high a year later to sweep her back into power. It was no coincidence that the first photo opportunity of the 1983 election campaign was in the Falklands. By now Thatcher was ready to take on all comers, including the unions and in particular the NUM, led by Arthur Scargill, although first she had to stray slightly into my territory.

Her proteg, Cecil Parkinson, had made his secretary, Sarah Keays, pregnant and Ms Keays' father wrote to the Prime Minister asking her what she was intending to do about it.

Mrs T did not approve of divorce despite the fact that her own husband, the devoted Denis, had been married before he met her, and advised Parkinson to stay with his wife. Regretfully she also had to accept his resignation from her Government, although as far as she was concerned, it was all Keays' fault, something with which I do not agree. But then Margaret Thatcher did not like other women. She only ever appointed one to her cabinet in three terms of office and she, Baroness Young, only lasted a couple of years as Tory leader in the Lords. …

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We Started at the Same Time, Thatcher and I. She Created a Selfish Generation and I Saw the Emotional Aftermath of Her Policies; It Is 25 Years since Margaret Thatcher Took Office and Our Joan Burnie Became an Agony Aunt. Here She and Three Scots Affected by Her Policies Remember the Lady's Iron Grip on Scotland
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