From the Vault: The Thatcher years: My shame

It’s 40 years today since Margaret Thatcher walked into Downing Street as Prime Minister.

There was an 11 year old girl in Inverness who was really excited by this – especially by the notion that a woman could become Prime Minister was a very powerful one.

Ten years ago, for the 30th anniversary, I wrote this post describing my shame. I suppose, in my defence, I have spent most of my time since fighting the forces of small state, selfish conservatism.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but thirty years ago tonight, I, a fairly innocent 11 year old, went to bed and prayed for Mrs Thatcher to win the 1979 election.

I really didn’t understand much about politics then – the geekery and obsession didn’t take hold until about a year and a half later, when I had had enough time to rue my earlier enthusiasm. I did know that I wasn’t keen on Labour – there seemed to be nothing but strikes, and my dad hadn’t had a properly stable job for a good couple of years. My parents and Grandma were all enthusiastic Tories and it seemed that life would get better with a new Government.

I quite liked the Liberal Party. The MP for Inverness, Russell Johnston, seemed to me to be a good man and the fact that a primary school child like me knew who he was was quite positive. He was also in favour of home rule for Scotland, which I always thought was a good thing. However, my staunch Catholic grandfather had told me time and time again, from the moment David Steel became Liberal leader, that he didn’t want babies to be born, so he had the same appeal for me as the Daleks. I literally would watch him on tv from behind a cushion. When I grew up and understood the issues involved, he became a lot less scary, but I actually thought he would pass a law forbidding people to have babies. Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous, but in my defence, I had heard that in China you were only allowed to have one child, and I was only 11.

To a young girl at that time, without knowing the details of what the parties were saying, it seemed very much that the Tories were the progressive lot, giving us the first woman Prime Minister – and surely, she would encourage other women to follow in her footsteps instead of pulling the ladder up behind her as she did.

Maybe it was being so badly let down by Thatcher that made me so sceptical of Blair. Maybe it was just that I was old enough and wise enough not to be taken in by him, but I never, ever trusted him.

When Thatcher recited that St Francis of Assisi stuff on the steps of Number Ten, I really did believe that she was going to make the world a more liberal and compassionate place. I always wanted a liberal world, I guess, but my mistake was trusting the wrong person to deliver it.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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7 Comments

  • Yeovil Yokel 4th May '19 - 11:11am

    Coming from a true-Blue Tory background, I voted Conservative in my first ever GE in 1979. When Mrs. Thatcher gave her ‘St. Francis of Assissi’ Speech on triumphantly entering 10 Downing Street for the first time I thought to myself, “I don’t believe this nonsense – what have I done?”
    I beg the great Paddy in the Sky for his eternal forgiveness, I have been trying to make amends ever since…..

  • Phil Beesley 4th May '19 - 11:35am

    Such different times. I know people who voted Conservative back in 1983, when it was clear what Thatcher represented and how much pain her government inflicted, who still defend the decision. They are decent people who later voted Lib Dem or New Labour, but continue to believe that Thatcherism was necessary.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th May '19 - 1:20pm

    Why shame Caron?! Admirable you cared at such an age. I am the same , age wise, but became a Labour member two years after that. But I, like our current deputy and now in my view deserved next leader, Jo Swinson, supported a statue for Thatcher based on achievement, not our liking for her policies.

    Thatcher was a hugely talented woman, brilliant. A scientist and barrister , a wife, mother, of real dedication and feeling. A persuasive communicator to rival Reagan, her political soul mate, but without his more regular preference for , need of a script.

    If you watch her online now, she seems a world away from the mediocre lack of ability we get often.

    I marched against her, policies, spoke against her stances, got elected president of a student union then in the latter years of her premiership. But some of what was achieved was needed. This country was run by top down bossy bullyboys, union demagogues, tin pot officiousness. She went too far in most areas , but was not a bad person , and was a politician of conviction. She never cut benefits, demonised the unemployed or the disabled. She believed in a society of generous individuals, she was a Gladstone liberal in the classical sense , far more than a Disraeli Tory in the social sense. She apparently regretted how selfish people got to be then, and said she thought freed of the statism, they could became more philanthropist in inclined attitude. Biographers reveal a varied and less one dimensional motive and person. I rate her highly, though disagree with her politically.

    Shame you feel shame Caron, many do not for doing far worse.

  • John Marriott 4th May '19 - 3:18pm

    The first time I voted in a General Election was in 1970, when I voted in Newark for the Tory candidate, Norfolk farmer, David Cargill, who was opposing the incumbent, Ted, later Lord Bishop (they later named a local pub, The Lord Ted, after him. I noted that, over a decade later, Mr Cargill emerged as a candidate for the SDP. Again, as in 1970, he failed to win a seat. I wonder what happened to him?

    Talking of Lady Thatcher, I often wonder if Jim ‘Crisis? What crisis?’ Callaghan had gone to the country in the autumn of 1978 before the ‘Winter of Discontent’, whether we might have been spared the Thatcher years. Instead of using the massively increasing receipts from the North Sea Oil bonanza to finance the decimation of large sections of British industry prior to the ‘Big Bang’ we might, like Germany, have hung on to some, if not all, of the manufacturing capacity we once had.

    Mind you, if any subsequent Labour government had continued to handle our often militant Trades Unions with kid gloves, as it had done for most of the 1970s, aided and abetted by largely ineffectual management, we might still have come a cropper. Unfortunately, it was the grocer’s daughter from Grantham, who had the cojones to see that through.

  • Richard Underhill 4th May '19 - 3:55pm

    Regional tv station Granada thought that they had done an expose on ‘milk snatcher’ Margaret Thatcher MP, but she knew the selectorate of Tory MPs better than Granada did. She presented herself as a housewife with twins and the Tory MPs thought, wrongly, that they could control her.
    Her defence secretary said that she had a weakness for “men in uniform” when she launched a fleet without air cover.
    She was widely thought to be lying when she admitted that the Belgrano was steaming away from the Falklands, but it was a weapons platform with missiles that could fire back.
    A submarine came into harbour in England flying the pirates’ flag, the Jolly Roger, the skull and cross-bones. HMS Conqueror was honouring a WW1 tradition that using submarines was though to be cheating.
    She was commended by Enoch Powell.

  • Richard Underhill 4th May '19 - 6:16pm

    “the ghost of Alderman Roberts”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Roberts

  • BBC Parliament are rerunning the 1979 election result night programme from 9am today (and no doubt on iplayer after that) and its on youtube at

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9USm6g5eYgI for those impatient to know the result (!)

    Was it really 40 years ago?

    It seems a mere blink of an eye! Although David Dimbleby doesn’t seem to have aged!

    Peoples’ predictions for the next 40 years up to 2059?

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