From 1979 to 1990 Margaret Thatcher sat in 10 Downing Street, leading Britain at home and abroad. For most of this time, I was going to school in a small town in Sussex, south east England, watching as her governments set about remaking Britain. Sussex was about as Tory and pro-Thatcher as you could get, although our home was a Labour outpost where the Guardian was usurped for the Telegraph only when grandparents arrived.
What do I remember of this place and time? For me the overwhelming memory of her Government is of conflict. From images of the fleet sailing to the South Atlantic to recapture a colonial outpost I had never heard of, to protesters at Greenham Common chanting against Britain becoming an American missile base, to police on horseback charging down the miners, to students rioting in Trafalgar square over the imposition of the “poll tax.” These were the images that came to our home each night on the tiny television screen — it all seemed far removed from the seclusion of a small Sussex village.
But even there, the policies started to bite. It seems like our teachers were always either on strike or working to rule — no after school sports, no teacher evenings, and a constant grumble in the hallways.
I was the last class who went up to University with full tuition and a student grant — imagine that. Truly free education. By the time I had left, the student loan had come in — ironically more than one student took out a loan to buy shares from public companies that the Tories had privatized — not sure it was meant to work that way. Now you’re looking at £9,000 a year in top-up fees alone!
She was variously the milk snatcher, the witch, the iron lady, a wicked caricature on Spitting Image, and latterly a knighted Lady. Think what you may of her policies, you have to admire her (perhaps grudgingly) for the strength of her convictions. It’s also clear after 20 years and with 5,000 miles distance that the policies she started and in many ways the Labour Government continued, remade Britain — when I go back now its certainly a more affluent country so perhaps it was for the better after all. But the path taken during those 11 years was one of conflict and violence. It’s not a path I would want to go down again.