The Darker Side of the Iron Lady

"All you have to do is to look around the scene and ask yourself who is the mightiest woman of our time, and that would be Margaret Thatcher...yet Harvard has not seen fit to honor her in any way."

--Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield '53

Margaret Thatcher is no longer a mighty woman, of course; the last I heard, she was stumping in the midwest of America for the Republican party, which has fallen so far from mightiness itself that it is currently engaged in telling Americans how enraged they should be about oral sex.

Born in London in 1979, I was a Thatcher baby, and, notwithstanding John Major's brief and uninspired coda to Conservative rule, I lived in Thatcher's England for 12 years. The daughter of a greengrocer, Thatcher gave liberals on both sides of the Atlantic pause as the first working class female leader of a major Western power. She was mighty, once, of course. But less ambiguously, I would simply say that she was One Tough Lady.

The question then becomes, naturally, whether Harvard should be honoring people solely on their qualifications as Tough Ladies. Thatcher ran rampage through the political, social and economic structures of Britain throughout her rule with little notion of what she was doing. Never a master of realpolitik, and without a Kissinger, she "declared war" on the Irish Republican Army, precipitating a fresh onslaught of terrorist bombings in both Northern Ireland and England. We are still recovering from the radicalization of Irish politics--and the death toll that ensued--that she precipitated.


As One Tough Lady in South America in the early eighties, she waged a foolish, destabilizing and poorly executed war in the Faulklands with disproportionate loss of life and no apparent point; the economy in the territories that we captured is listed in the CIA World Factbook as deriving mostly from the sale of postage stamps.

Eschewing diplomatic means in favor of brute, destructive force was at the fundament of her politics; when Britain was faced with the decline of the coal industry, she "broke the unions" and killed off any possibility of an efficient transfer of employment for the thousands of coal miners who lost their jobs. Those miners went on to join the ever-growing ranks of the British unemployed, which kept well above 10 percent for most of her rule.

At the second general election, halfway through her blundering inability to think seriously or act cautiously at a critical time in Britain's history, Thatcher, in an ignorance of reality so great that even her own party blushed, she proclaimed that Britain had become "a classless society." And yet she slashed education and research funding, pinching Oxford as tightly as the network of polytechnic schools that might have eased Britain's working classes into the new era. She was directly responsible for Britain's "brain drain"; at a time when the rest of the Western world was swelling with emigres from the East, scientists and scholars fled the country for America and Europe. In great part thanks to Thatcher, you can spend your sections gazing wistfully at your perfectly accented British teaching fellow.

Should Harvard--an institution founded on the principle that one can only serve one's country after having "Enter[ed] to Grow in Wisdom"--honor Margaret Thatcher? It is said in the Bible that he who causes discord in his own house shall inherit the wind. The void of vision in Britain now, backed by legions of unimpressive Tory and Labor back-benchers unable to deal with the mess she has made, is, in the end, Thatcher's only legacy to the British people.

Simon J. DeDeon '00 is an astronomy and astrophysics concentrator in Mather House.