Margaret Thatcher not only broke a glass ceiling; she broke a class ceiling.
Today we say goodbye to a towering figure of the 20th century. With the passing of Margaret Thatcher, we’ve sadly lost the last living member of that great triumvirate that included Ronald Reagan and John Paul II – those giants who defeated the evil empire of Soviet Communism and allowed the liberation of its captive nations. We’ve also lost one of the great champions of economic freedom and democratic ideals.
Many will focus on the fact that Margaret Thatcher’s career was a collection of “firsts” for women – she was the first and youngest female Conservative-party member to stand for election, the first woman to hold the title Leader of the Opposition, and the first woman prime minister of the United Kingdom.
But Thatcher not only broke a glass ceiling; she broke a class ceiling. She was a grocer’s daughter from the back of beyond who advanced to the height of power in a class-conscious society. Like her friend Ronald Reagan, she was an underestimated underdog and political outsider. Simon Jenkins, the former editor of the Evening Standard, once said, “There was no Thatcher group within the Tory Party. . . . She was utterly and completely on her own. She simply was an outsider in every way.”
She was at heart a populist taking on the Conservative party’s old guard, who disdainfully referred to her as “That Woman.” The disdain was mutual. She referred to them as “the not so grand grandees.” As Thatcher later said, “It didn’t matter what they called me as long as I got the job done. I mean, to me they were ‘Those Grandees.’ They just don’t know what life is like. They haven’t been through it. And eventually if they didn’t help our cause, they had to go. But it didn’t bother me too much that they were patronizing like that. Frankly, the people, who are the true gentlemen, deal with others for what they are, not who their father was. Let’s face it: Maybe it took ‘That Woman’ to get things done, and the real reason why they said it was because they knew they just hadn’t got it within them to see things through.”
In taking on “Those Grandees,” she wasn’t afraid of having strong opinions and fighting for them – something the establishment often found distasteful. British ambassador Sir Anthony Parsons recalled a conversation about this: “She said, ‘You know, Tony, I’m very proud that I don’t belong to your class.’ I said, ‘Prime Minister, what class do you think I belong to?’ She said, ‘I’m talking of course about upper-middle-class intellectuals who see everybody else’s point of view and have none of their own.’” And, of course, like all conservatives and trailblazers, she had to endure more than her share of vicious media attacks. Sir Archie Hamilton once recounted how he asked Thatcher whether she read the daily newspapers. “‘Oh no!’ she replied, ‘They make …read more