It is fitting that the tributes to Baroness Thatcher that have flooded our news outlets over the past week have replaced the debate on welfare spending that raged the week before. In the 1980s her government spent huge amounts on welfare: social security spending was £25bn higher in real terms when she left office than when she entered in 1979. In nominal terms, she tripled it. These statistics put previous Labour governments to shame.
Indeed, we can go further. At its highest social security spending as a proportion of GDP was 12.4%, the same peak it reached under Tony Blair. When the Daily Mail screams that Mick Philpott was a “vile product of the welfare state”, it is her welfare state they speak of.
The NHS too, which we defend today with such vigour, never came under such attacks from dear Margaret Hilda – in 1987 alone she pumped an extra £101 million into our National Health Service. Her National Health Service.
Lady Thatcher was, of course, our only female prime minister to date. She may not have defined herself as a feminist and though many would be at pains to admit it, it is hard to dispute the facts: there are far more women working as MPs today than when she entered Number 10. In the Labour Party alone, the number of women MPs has risen eightfold: 85 if we hold South Shields. That’s her legacy. Thatcher’s own family clearly discarded outdated “traditional” gender roles – when asked who wears the trousers in their relationship, her husband Denis replied “I do; and I wash and iron them.”
Even her harshest critics admit she was a strong leader. Tony Benn once described her as “a signpost not a weather-vane” and true, if her son had inherited his mother’s innate sense of purpose and direction he would never have got lost in that desert.
Cameron said she had “lion-hearted love of her country”. Again, undeniable. The lions in Trafalgar Square, those paragons of great British bravery, pale in comparison to the courage of the Iron Lady’s convictions.
This is why Boris Johnson’s empty, career-driven calls for a statue of Thatcher in Trafalgar Square do not go far enough. The fourth plinth is simply inadequate. Let us pull down the Nelson effigy and replace it with one of the People’s Prime Minister, for his triumph in that Spanish Cape was nothing when one considers the dangers of communism in the 1980s. Had it not been for Margaret Thatcher, we’d all be speaking Russian. She fought the fascist junta in the Falklands, he sought to spread empire against a republic. Nelson can have the fourth plinth, if he must, while Maggie can stand atop the column, safe from the ire of braying Trots and the ardour of Mail editorials alike.
We may not agree with everything she did, but there is no perfect PM; those who claim Attlee as the greatest peacetime premier should recall that Bevan resigned from that particular Cabinet. This was a woman ousted by the Conservatives for her leftist record. It is time for us to claim her as our own.
Forget the death parties. Let’s walk down Whitehall and demand that erection. Fit it with a sensor so it plays ‘God Save The Queen’ every time someone walks past. The lady may not have been for turning but the tourists will. In fact, make u-turns a driving offence, in her honour. May the flags never flutter higher than half-mast. Stop the bells, forever. Make the floors of our fair country a permanent floral tribute. Rename the place too. She saved our country. Thatchfalgar Square. It’s only fitting.
Let her tower over British politics. She already does. All Thatcherites now? Some of us always were.