In April 2013, renewed hatred clashed with hero-worship, as news spread like wildfire of Margaret Thatcher’s death. Anti-Thatcher songs, for the first time in 30 years, topped the charts, while thousands of distraught mourners lined the streets for her funeral. The last death to raise such passionate factions, fury and tension was the execution of King Charles I in 1649 at the hands of his own Parliament.
A year on and the British public still doesn’t know how to react to Thatcherism. The united voice that usually emerges after such events remains divided.
But Mrs Thatcher’s secrets have started to emerge in the National Archives, in compliance with the ’30 year rule’. While her personal papers are open to public viewing in the Churchill Archives, along with her famous handbag (and Clinique face powder), government papers in the National Archives will relate confidential Cabinet conversations.
The story so far…
The release of the Falklands papers in 2013 was reported with interest by the media, but this was nothing compared to the reactions that hailed in the 2014 release. The intense anger that met the release of the papers detailing the larger part of the Miners’ Strike brought back echoes of embittered fights that tore apart Northern England and Wales.
Cabinet meetings showed plans to close 75 pits on the scale forewarned by Arthur Scargill in 1984, when he was transformed by the media and Conservative Party into the lying bogeyman of Trade Union politics.
Labour is just one of the political parties clamouring for a formal government apology in light of the release of these papers. Two months later, the Conservative Party has announced plans to close further mining pits by 2015, with a loss of 1,300 jobs. This fight remains controversial, emotional and explosive.
So what next?
And things are set to get worse still for Mrs Thatcher’s legacy.
Next year, we will see the turning points of the Miners’ Strike in 1985. After that, we will be privy to intimate details of Mrs Thatcher’s true role in Cold War negotiations (apparently the heroine of the War in her autobiography, she was, tellingly, rendered irrelevant in Gorbachev’s memoirs). Then we will be offered the real story behind her fall from grace. We will hear about the Michael Heseltine succession that never happened. The fights, furiously chronicled, sealed and locked away in the National Archives.
Perhaps this is why Mrs Thatcher, in a brave move, released all of her personal papers and documents to the Churchill Archives; because history is told, not by the victors, but by the literate. It is told by those who get their writing out first, a point presumably not missed by Mrs Thatcher herself.
In 2020, we may finally put the first female British Prime Minister to rest. This is the date by which all papers surrounding her premiership will enter the public debate. In 2020, for the first time in history, we will be able to debate the true meaning of ‘Thatcherism’. In the meantime, her legacy will remain unresolved and British loyalty will remain, if nothing else, true to her premiership: divided.