Margaret Thatcher, uber-moderniser

November 20, 2012

Tim Montgomerie is running an interesting series on the “wrong right” this week, looking at the problems that are facing the Conservatives.

This morning he has an interesting piece on why working class voters in 2012 are not the same as in 1979.

That’s surely true. But I think there’s a wider point here about how the right has forgotten or misremembered the history of the Thatcher years. The history of Thatcherism has been strongly coloured by her final years, and the years after she left Downing Street.

Thatcherism was most popular at the start – Mrs T won her largest share of the vote (44 per cent) in 1979.

But because of the tenor of her final years, some people on the right now think Mrs T was just a solid-iron, no-compromise, truth-telling ideological warrior.

It’s true that she was those things, at least sometimes. And that’s why she was the most effective PM of my lifetime.

But this version of the story misses her attempts to reach out to groups who had never voted Tory before. To appeal more to women, ethnic minorities, those who depend on public services, and even trade union members. In short, the right has forgotten that she was the original Tory moderniser.

Don’t believe it? Perhaps some old adverts from the late 1970s and early 1980s can help us recall that Thatcherism was also about:

Reaching out to ethnic minorities…

Appealing to female voters…

And trade union members…

Promising to improve public services…

And trying to reduce unemployment:

… And regenerate the inner cities

(this last one isn’t an ad, but a famous image from Thatcher’s “walk in the wilderness” in Teeside)

Like all successful political leaders, Mrs T at her best balanced toughness and compassion. Ideological leadership, and an attempt to reach out to the unconverted.

So the next time that you see someone writing about how Mrs Thatcher would never have put up with all of this modernising rubbish about ethnic minorities, women, public sector workers and so on… don’t believe it.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Telegraph’s website

Poster images courtesy of the Conservative Party Archive – their collection can be viewed here.

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