A and I have just come back from a week in Devon, staying at the delightful Honeysuckle Hideaway just outside Cullompton. It took us 5 years, but we got back finally (ok, that's a small fib because I took my parents there for a couple of days last summer, but we stayed in Rose Retreat, the larger cottage). It was lovely to be there again, looking at the sheep, although the weather was pretty lousy - cold, windy and a fair bit of rain. However, never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be sharing my holiday with Margaret Thatcher. At times it seemed like we talked of nothing else.
To give a little background, A and I have differing political views. I'm a wishy-washy liberal, with splinters in my bum and a crick in my neck (too much sitting on the fence and seeing things from both sides) that generally feels a country with a welfare service and the NHS is A Good Thing. The joke about A, on the other hand, was that if you cut him in half, ToryBoy was written through him like a stick of Blackpool Rock. I believe in social housing and community; he believes in capitalism. However we are both clearly Thatcher's children - we were 9 when she came to power, 20 when she was forced to resign. Love her or loathe her, you couldn't ignore the way she influenced our political views as we grew up. I am not a fan of many of her policies and her treatment of some northern cities in the 80s was nothing short of appalling (remember, I've lived in the North West now longer than I ever lived in Oxfordshire), but I find myself at the end of this week feeling very uncomfortable about some of the things that have been said and the way some people have behaved.
Thatcher was a divisive politician, of that there is no doubt, and although there were moments of financial strain in our working class household as I grew up, our lives weren't turned upside down like those of mining communities up and down the country. However some elements of the British public seem to have decided that the implementation of these, and other, hard line policies give them the right to ignore the fact that she was a person with a family who are left behind. Let me put this into perspective - this week, a frail 87 year old woman, who suffered a number of strokes and quite possibly wasn't aware of much of the outside world any more, died. Whether you supported her policies or thought her the worst thing to happen to Britain ever, she was still someone's mother, someone's granny. Ding, dong the witch is dead? Really? From where I'm standing, that reaction looks insensitive at best and vituperative at worst.
I can't help wondering what the reaction would have been had we been marking the passing of a former Prime Minister who had introduced exactly the same policies, made the same polarising decisions and won three General Elections but was male, not female. Would the vitriol still be flowing? I don't know the answer to that but there's a tiny little voice that can't be silenced that says "No". And that both saddens and worries me, because looking at the young men (who let's be honest are barely old enough to have been born whilst Thatcher was in Number10) dancing in the streets this week, I wonder how they would cope with a woman in power now.