The Historical Margaret Thatcher
James E. Cronin
It is difficult to believe that Margaret Thatcher is no longer prime minister. The habit of command came so naturally to her that it is almost impossible to imagine her without legions at her back and even harder to conceive of her successors--John Major for the moment--having at their disposal roughly the same power. Apparently Mrs. Thatcher has herself had trouble reconciling her exaggerated sense of self with her diminished political stature. That trouble manifests itself variously, depending on the moment: coming out in September 1992 as a resounding "I told you so" when the British government was forced to cut loose from the European Monetary System (EMS) and allow the pound to be devalued. Since Thatcher is unlikely to return to power, however, her interventions in the future are likely to center primarily upon the interpretation of her legacy. Having worked so hard and so successfully to control the world around her, Thatcher (and her supporters) will now fight to control history.
She is right to be concerned with her legacy. Though Thatcher dominated British politics and political discourse for over a decade, the tendency to forget is strong. Rival politicians, even among the Tories, are happy to have her gone and do not want to be reminded of how completely she controlled their fates. Officials are likewise relieved that she is no longer their boss. Thatcher was, after all, an abrasive presence who fit awkwardly into the chummy world of politics and elite journalism. Academics, moreover, have in a curious way abetted the self-interested forgetfulness of politicians, bureaucrats, and journalists. Scholars responded to Thatcher's election and to her early, ideologically aggressive initiatives with great fascination, and spent some years explaining this apparently novel political phenomenon that many chose to call "Thatcherism." Just what distinguished "Thatcherism"