Remembering Mrs Thatcher
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th July, 2008
For those of us who lived politically through the Thatcher years, it’s hard to realise that younger souls see the Iron Lady as history. This afternoon, the news editor of Gaydar Radio, Joanne Oatts, came round to interview me for a programme she is making about Britain’s only female Prime Minister. My début as a political candidate was in the first direct elections to the European Parliament in June 1979, just a month after Mrs Thatcher and the Conservatives had swept to power, and she dominated the scene for the next decade. She was deeply unpopular by early 1982, when the political pendulum seemed to swinging in the direction of the new Liberal/SDP Alliance. But the Falklands War was her making, at least in the short term, and a body-blow to the Alliance’s prospects.
With hindsight, I recognise that Mrs T did some necessary things in the early part of her period in office, though like most people of the centre-left, I disliked her at the time. And for LGBT people — the main focus of this afternoon’s interview — Clause 28 and the stance taken by some Conservative traditionalists, for whom ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone’s GLC and its special interest groups were anathema, were very negative. Nonetheless, behind the scenes, British social attitudes were changing in a more tolerant direction, even among many Conservatives.
I remember organising a Writers Day in Bromley Civic Centre — I was a local councillor at the time — in 1989, at the very end of Mrs Thatcher’s rule. Alan Hollinghurst came to talk about the idiosyncratic 1920s gay novelist Ronald Firbank (who was raised in Chislehurst) and Hanif Kureishi (who grew up in Bromley) read an extract from his novel in progress ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’. There was a stunned silence amongst the many Conservative councillors in the audience when the latter finished, as if in disbelief that such things could emerge from this most respectable of Tory-controlled London boroughs. But then the wife of the Mayor broke the ice by declaring loudly, ‘Well! That was different!’