Today is truly the end of an era and I send my condolences to Baroness Thatcher’s family. When Margaret Thatcher stood down in 1990, I was at SOAS, reading the first year of my law degree. I remember coming out of a lecture, when a real buzz started going around. A huge group of us ran down to a room with a TV to a really powerful scene: friends of mine, students and professors, crying tears of joy.
I had grown up in Tottenham just a street away from the Broadwater Farm riots in 1985, and had been involved in campaigns against the miscarriages of justice that convicted the Tottenham Three. My friends and I at SOAS had been marching against the poll tax, campaigned for retrials for the Birmingham Six, had gone to the Court of Appeal when the Guildford Four were released. When Thatcher vowed to "fight on and fight to win" we thought we might never be rid of her – which is why we were so emotional when she finally went.
Yet, from this distance, we forget just how messy and difficult was life in 1970s Britain. Millions of days lost to constant strikes in the public and private sector; living standards dropping; the three day week – the sick man of Europe. Something needed to be done. Regardless of whether you agreed or disagreed with her analysis, she certainly stood up for what she believed in – she certainly got something done. She had guts and conviction – qualities which are much needed today.
Nobody needs to tell me how divisive her politics were on the ground. Tottenham in the mid-1980s was often not a fun place to be. Yet nobody can deny that she had a vision, as well as the strength and courage to see that vision become a reality. Those qualities are to be admired, regardless of the disagreements we may rightly have with the effects of her policies on the people we stand up for.