THE reason Margaret Thatcher’s death has so divided Yorkshire nearly 25 years after she left Downing Street for the final time is a very simple one: her polarising style of leadership meant that people actually engaged in politics.
Her no-nonsense approach, imploring the country to roll up its sleeves and strive for better, couldn’t provide a sharper contrast to the blandness of today’s leaders and their capacity for spouting empty platitudes that are motivated more by a short-term desire to provide media-friendly soundbites than any deep-rooted ideological conviction.
Because Parliamentary proceedings were not televised until November 1989, a year before Baroness Thatcher was ousted from office by a mutinous Tory party, every visit, television interview or speech by Britain’s first female premier became a significant event – for the simple reason that her views were black and white, with none of the blurring of the lines between the two that we see today.
Now the dominance of the 24-hour news media has diluted the impact of politicians’ words. Their ubiquity dictates that they are no longer imbued with the same gravitas as on those occasions when Mrs Thatcher conducted combative, but revealing hour-long interviews with great inquisitors of the calibre of Sir Robin Day or Brian Walden.
Yet, while it is clear that Baroness Thatcher will never be forgiven by some – former Labour minister David Blunkett included – for presiding over the decline of Yorkshire’s manufacturing base, there are important lessons for contemporary politicians to learn from her era in power.
One of the reasons why the Tories faced 13 years in the electoral wilderness after 1997 was because they took for granted those voters in the pivotal blue collar Yorkshire marginals who put their faith in Mrs Thatcher’s aspirational agenda. If the Tories are to win the 2015 election, this is a timely warning that David Cameron must now heed.
As for Labour, the question is this: if the Thatcher government was so damaging, both socially and economically, why did Tony Blair and Gordon Brown not do more to reverse this failure? Could it be that they took the votes of working class communities for granted, rather than actually putting in place policies that would enable such areas to prosper? After all, given that Baroness Thatcher has not been responsible for any legislation since November 1990, she cannot credibly be regarded as the scapegoat many now wish to paint her.