Every mom, new or old has gone through the process of answering a high pitched or calmly bemused voice beckoning them to carry out some form of the rescue operation. It often varies from a spouse holding the baby with a biologically armed diaper at arm’s length to an older sibling at the brink of their patience. In each scenario, mom is expected to save the day with little or no trace of the previous impending danger. The scene seems pretty much the same in Great Britain, with Theresa May coming to the rescue. Who knows if she will succeed and at what cost?
The above description is not designed to imply that men haven’t been elected into power in the midst of socio-economic mayhem, however, if history is to be relied on, one could imply that the corridors of power only makes room for female leadership only when hard pressed. Perhaps it is an indication of the female politicians’ physique narrow enough to pass through the camels’ eye or a reflection of her male counterparts’ physique; too robust to withstand a squeeze.
In 1979 Margaret Thatcher became the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom, taking over from James Callaghan after what is referred to as the winter of discontent. The mandate before her was difficult: to rescue the economy from an ongoing recession, high inflation rates, frequent trade union strikes and a disgruntled public.
Some strike action by sectors of public service included:
• Picket line blockades by nurses and ambulance drivers this resulted in hospitals attending only to emergency patients.
• Railways shut down to the public.
• Disruption of broadcasting services by the electricians’ union towards Christmas in 1978 taking both BBC One and BBC Two off the air, subsequently in August 1979 they switched off ITV for 75 days.
• Picketing of cemeteries by members of the GMWU union in Liverpool and Tameside, this proved very distressing as a factory in Liverpool was converted to a storage space for corpses.
• Equally disturbing was the piling of rubbish in the streets, a health hazard created by the rubbish collectors strike.
The odds were stacked against her, under public evaluation, she was bound to either fail on a monumental scale or succeed on a mediocre scale. This had less to do with her as a person and more to do with the changes needed to pull a society back from the brinks of economic depression. The changing economic climate across the western world, a move away from a labor intense to services/skill intense economy also played a major part in shaping Mrs. Thatcher’s economic reforms. Depending on whom you asked Margaret Thatchers time in office might be considered a blessing or ban on the British population. However certain factors remain true of her regime, and government, they managed to
• Tackle high inflation rates
• Re-position the country economically – it was no longer seen as the sick man of Europe
• Increase privatization leading to more efficiency in service.
• Pull back power from organized labor unions, ensuring they could no longer grind the country to a halt.
• Increased home ownership.
It is true that many of her policies crippled and in cases totally destroyed sectors of the economy (for example the closing down of mines and other industries dependent on state funds), increased social divides and fragments. These outcomes perhaps in hindsight could have been handled better, and impact on society curtailed, that being said it would be a dream for anyone to except positive socio-economic change without feeling the pinch in some way.
Stepping into July 2016, the United Kingdom embraces its second female prime minister after twenty-six years. Once again she is handed a mandate that would give Goliath mental fright, she and her government are required to
• Bridge peace both home and away
• Solicit new economic investors
• Mend fences with formal allies, reassuring them the nation isn’t a fickle friend to have.
• Build new fences with new allies
• And sustain the daily working of the country with austerity in view.
This might seem nothing like the mandate before Margaret Thatcher because it’s not, this time, Theresa May is fighting a battle on two different scenes home (Scotland’s hopes of leaving) and away (EU and all the other issues). Like Margaret, Theresa is bound to excel on certain fronts and doomed to hopefully attain mediocrity in some, we can only hope that she excels in the key areas that in hindsight leaves no doubt about the wisdom of taking such a path. Similar to the mum in the first paragraph, Theresa May will have to deal with a baby with soiled diaper (Brexit), a toddler on the potty (The EU), and a disgruntled but equally amused teenager (Scotland and the rest of the world), let’s hope she’s able to stop the chaos before it smears itself around the house.
‘One newspaper welcomed in the new year of 1977 with the observation that “Britain is a country that resents being poor, but is not prepared to make the effort to be rich.” It was a sentiment shared by the Sex Pistols’ snarl, “There’s no future, in England’s dreaming.” ‘ This was a sentiment shared in Margret Thatchers time and I sense it is similar to that going around now.
Finally, I can’t help but wonder once more, why these women never made it into Number 10 prior to these moments. Did they not have these ambitions before? Was a calmer political atmosphere not conducive for them? What made it possible at the time and not before? Are they truly the most qualified, scapegoats or willing sacrifices?
The Telegraph – How Thatcher brought UK back from the wilderness
The Telegraph – Margaret Thatcher: never forget the chaos of life before her
The BBC – Margaret Thatcher: How the economy changed