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The Iron Lady’s sin of divisiveness

By Philip Lillingston - posted Thursday, 18 April 2013

While we are currently burying former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher it is worthwhile to reflect on one of her alleged sins, as mentioned in the many obituaries being published, that of being divisive. Politicians are accused of many sins including mendacity, naivety, indifference to certain segments in our society or simply self interest, and her main sin was apparently that many felt a visceral hatred towards her.

One wonders how this “attribute” can indeed be held out to be a wrong at all. Why is it your fault if a group of people express a dislike towards you?  It certainly may be if most people who know you share that feeling, but otherwise it seems a strange judgement. Margaret Thatcher won three consecutive elections so it would seem that were also those who held a positive feeling for her. In fact during her final term in office many of her supporters developed a fixation to see their leader in the flesh and attendances at public meetings where she was appearing tended to increase significantly; to such an extent that newspaper wags started referring to it as “the adoration of the Maggie” 

The fact is that we are very much a diverse, heterogeneous society containing all manner of political persuasions. It is true that one can commit the cardinal sin of talking religion or politics at a dinner party, where the party could still proceed through all courses to the cheese platter while other subjects of common interest are discussed. However how ridiculous is it to criticise someone who manifests specific political pursuits, which can’t help but ruffle the feathers of those across the political divide, when it is her delivered mandate to do just that.


True, she ruffled more feathers than other contemporary leaders, but then she was also more loved. This divisiveness comes from the problem of the dichotomy of our electoral system. Unlike the market where if you don’t like the popular mouse trap on display you can always go the shop next door for a less known brand, in a unitary state there can only be one government. The voters who get their chosen one elected are never that many more than those who don’t. With winners come losers and the more the win is utilised the more the losers feel disenfranchised.

Thatcher had to be loyal either to the majority of voters who happened to support here, or to the minority who voted for someone else. There was no other way. It is a furphy to say that you always govern for all. The nature of most legislation is that some will benefit (hopefully most) but at a loss to others. For those celebrating, instead of dancing on her grave why not criticise the Iron Lady for the actual details of what she did to the country, not because she didn’t represent your specific interests.

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About the Author

Philip Lillingston, has previously taught political science and now maintains the website Why Not Proportional Representation?

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