Was it Treachery ?


I recently watched with John a programme showing the late Margaret Thatcher giving her views on her fall from power and on her colleagues’ conduct.   The interview took place after she had resigned her office but in the period when she was still lucid and before her final illness over-whelmed her.


I of course have little sympathy for Mrs Thatcher’s views on anything, but even I was quite astonished at her state of mind and point of view.   She appeared to believe that she – and only she – was capable of leading Britain.    During the last few months of her premiership,  it seemed that she  accepted no counsel – not even from distinguished advisors with a reputation for integrity such as Lord Carrington – nor did it  seem to occur to her she might ever be wrong about anything.


Her reaction to events was surprisingly subjective.   She seemed to believe that because she had appointed ministers to posts, they owed her a personal loyalty.   She described members of her cabinet bitterly as traitors and committers of treachery.    Yet these men were like herself ministers of state, members of parliament, responsible to the country and the electorate, and did not owe her that personal loyalty.   They were entitled to judge her on her performance in office and act accordingly.   She had no detached overview.    It was all intensely personal.


Somewhat alarmingly, she complained that some of the worst ‘traitors’ had once been ‘believers’.   Believers in what, one wondered?   Did she actually suppose that the laissez-faire, free market, I’m all right Jack, mumbo jumbo cod philosophy associated with her times was a worthwhile creed that intelligent and sensible men could have faith in?    If  so, perhaps we should have doubted in her  sanity sooner than we did.


She was spiteful and petty in her desire to belittle anyone who opposed her.   When you considered what  she said, she did not seem to be in a balanced or sensible frame of mind; and though in truth I think her cabinet colleagues conspired to be rid of her because they could no longer tolerate her arrogance and rudeness, and they played on the party’s fears over her growing unpopularity, she was by that time unfit to make decisions on our behalf and her removal was in the national interest.   Regrettably this appears eventually to become the case with almost every long serving prime minister.


She didn’t appear to acknowledge, even retrospectively, her own stupidity in failing to recognise danger.    She appeared to consider that John Major owed such a debt of loyalty to her that he was rendered impotent and harmless, whereas in the programme he always appeared slightly sinister in his colourless anonymity.   She was embarrassingly snobbish about his intellect and education, though he out-manoeuvred her;  and however you look at it her elocution-class accent (which mainly reveals you are ashamed of your oigins) and nanny-knows-best outbursts in Europe were never a class act.    From a feminine perspective, she emulated in many ways the worst aspects of (some) men’s behaviour (bullying, sarcasm, ruthlessness) and she could dish out very hard blows, yet when it came to her turn to be attacked, she would lapse into ‘femininity’ and cry.   This is not a good example of dignified womanly behaviour.


Her contempt for the mild-mannered Geoffrey Howe, which she made no effort to conceal, was also an error of judgement.   His eventual calm and effective evisceration of her was  a notable illustration of the English at their deadliest.   In many ways, Mrs Thatcher’s behaviour  was not typically English.


Her view appeared to be that she was entirely right about everything;  that everybody  (including we ourselves) owed her;  that she was entitled to be Prime Minister for so long as she chose;  that we had all betrayed her, and that she had been shabbily treated.   She did not appear to recognise that whereas she may have been more powerful than any single opponent, she could not withstand a unified attack and in her over confidence and contempt for others she did not calculate  that men like Nigel Lawson and Geoffrey Howe would commence the process of her destruction, and men who were not intimidated by her personally, such as Ken Clark and Malcolm Rifkind would stiffen the resolve of weaker troops, and that men of  devious cunning whom in her complacency she had failed to spot (John Major) would emerge from the shadows and seize the prize.   Why all the whinging anyway?   Was this not more or less what she or her agents had done to Edward Heath?


Personally I thought it was all over for Mrs Thatcher when she emerged from No 10 and announced, “We have become a grandmother” – and though there is no logic to that feeling, in only a few months she was gone.   It’s a mantra well worth remembering that when times are good for you, you must keep your feet on the ground;   and when times are bad, you must keep your head above water.    Mrs Thatcher didn’t follow this sage counsel  – but people who are always right don’t need any advice, do they?