Margaret Thatcher is dead, yet even in death she arouses strong, even vitriolic passions. At the time she was a crude hate figure (although somebody must have liked her, otherwise she wouldn’t have kept getting elected). At the time I was on the side of the anti-Thatcher brigade, but I was younger and things were simpler then.
For the record, I never voted for Thatcher, but I have modified my view of her as a politician and a person. And, yes, I worry when, forty years after she entered the Cabinet and twenty-three years after she left office, people still see her as a crude hate figure on whom they can project the blame for anything and everything.
Firstly, I admire Margaret Roberts. I admire the working-class, non-conformist parents who encouraged their children to work hard and take up the educational opportunities that they had never had (her father left school at 13). I admire the girl who worked hard to get into grammar school, to get into Oxford and to become a chemist.
Secondly, I support some of the things that she did as Education Secretary.
She was right to abolish free (compulsory) school milk. It was introduced at a time of food rationing, when many people were living in substandard housing and few households had fridges. By the time I went to school in the 1960s, rationing was long gone, families had fridges and people had milk on their breakfast cereals, in milk puddings, as cheese and were practically drowning in custard. By 1971, school milk had more than passed its sell-by date. Anyone who disagrees has probably never been forced to drink the wretched stuff.
She saved the Open University from being strangled at birth. The OU was the brainchild of the Labour Party (notably Jennie Lee). The Conservative government that was elected in 1970, just before the OU’s launch, was committed to abandoning the project, but, in a typically Thatcherite move, the new Education Secretary ignored party policy and allowed it to go ahead.
She gave us a day off school when Princess Anne got married.