The Thatcher Effect
What effect will her death, funeral and its media coverage have on British politics? Not much, I suspect, despite a tiny flurry of interest in this morning’s YouGov poll, which showed the Labour lead at seven points – the lowest since, oh, three months ago. That is well within the margin of variation you would expect in 19 out of 20 polls (roughly, if Labour’s lead is 10 points, that margin would be from a lead of four points to one of 16).
The contrast between the opinion polls and the tone of media coverage over the past 10 days has been striking. Her popularity among a large and passionate minority is balanced by a smaller and equally passionate minority who disliked her, and another group in the middle who range from mild antipathy to not being sure who she was. The Independent on Sunday’s poll by ComRes put David Cameron’s description of her, “the greatest British peacetime prime minister”, to the public, and 41 per cent disagreed, as against 33 per cent who agreed. She won three elections all right, but remember that the second was against Michael Foot and the third was against Neil Kinnock – brave as he was, he had no chance in 1987.
Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian makes a good case for why the outpouring of Tory admiration means trouble for David Cameron. The Prime Minister is “damned if he is too much like her; damned if he does not resemble her enough”. He has tried to straddle Thatcherite effusion and centre-ground moderation, and not done it very well. His “we are all Thatcherites now” this morning got the tone wrong, and, although the extravagance of the whole show was all Tony Blair’s fault (the arrangements were approved by Blair and then Gordon Brown years ago), Cameron could have turned down the pageantometer a nidge or two.
It is also true that Ed Miliband has been “unruffled” by the whole thing – and that his tribute in the House of Commons last week was unusually well-judged.
But the net effect of the whole thing is probably neutral. The paying of respects to the household goddess of the Tory core vote, and even the shedding of a tear during Bishop Chartres’s sermon by George Osborne, allows the Conservative leadership to close a chapter of the party’s history. (I did like Chartres’s inversion of her catchphrase, saying that now “she is one of us”.)
Having paid their respects, Cameron and Osborne can now get on with the business of persuading voters who didn’t care for her much that the Government is on their side. It puts the Thatcher myths, so divisive in the Tory party, let alone in the nation as a whole, firmly into the file marked “history”, where we historians can argue over them, while practical people of politics can get on with the business of trying to win elections. Which was, of course, something she understood.Tagged in: margaret thatcher
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