I realise that as a Labour candidate for Parliament, this might not be what some would expect me to write, but the truth is that Lady Thatcher was not only the first female British Prime Minister, but she also transformed British politics more than any Prime Minister since Clem Attlee (more on him in a moment).
I disagreed with many of Mrs Thatcher’s policies but, as one Labour Shadow Minister said yesterday, she is a reminder in this more cynical age of the ‘power of politics’. She was an icon and her significance to the British political scene was enormous.
As a female candidate for Parliament, Mrs Thatcher’s conquering of what was then a very male-dominated world to become Britain’s first female party leader, and then Prime Minister, is – whether or not you agree with what she did when she got there – both fascinating and inspiring.
I suspect it goes without saying that there are other female political figures who I admire for different reasons, such as Labour’s Barbara Castle, about whom I’ve just finished reading a fantastic biography.
However, at a time when women are still woefully under-represented in British politics (they make up just 22% of current MPs), whether you think she changed Britain for the better or not, it is inescapable that Lady Thatcher shattered through the top-most glass ceiling of all. And, what’s more, she won three general elections. For that, she deserves respect.
Reflecting on her death, I was reminded of a film I saw over Easter: The Spirit of ’45 about the impact of Clem Attlee’s post-war government. Like Thatcher, Attlee wrought huge social, economic and political change on the nation, with reforms such as the introduction of the National Health Service, the decolonisation of India and the nationalisation of key industries such as the railways.
Like Thatcher, Attlee had detractors as well as admirers (although I’d argue the former was considerably more divisive), and like Thatcher in 1979, Attlee was able to achieve many of his reforms because of a sense in 1945 that Britain needed and was ready for something very different.
Though the reformist zeal and attitudes of leaders such as Attlee and Thatcher may not be as effective or translate as well in today’s age of soundbites and instant reaction, both Prime Ministers are reminders that we elect politicians not only to represent us, but also to really lead.
In many ways the scale of the problems that will face Britain in 2015 are as great as they were in 1979 or 1945 – to confront them, and to seize the opportunity to change Britain for the better, our political leaders ought to be bold.