David Mellor, the former Tory minister of many various portfolios under both Thatcher and Major, was on Murnaghan this weekend, talking about Theresa May and the various comparisons to Thatcher she is always receiving:
“When I was a minister for four years she treated me with even more disrespect than my mother did, but Margaret Thatcher knew what she wanted do and did it. I don’t think Theresa May knows what she wants to do. Her advisers appear to be the ones that create the headlines. I think she is sitting there and she is infirm of purpose, and she needs to seize the initiative. The main initiative she needs to seize is to have an election and get herself a mandate.”
The quote is interesting and made me reflect on my own views of May. It reminded me of just how much press her two main SpAds, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, have received since she moved into Number 10. While that is somewhat the norm for prime ministers of this day and age (think Steve Hilton), I recall reading a whole Economist piece about Nick Timothy’s vision for Britain, while I can’t claim to have read something similar about the prime minister’s vision for the country.
May is nothing like Thatcher, really. The only reason they get compared so much is because they are both women; I suppose there’s something about them both being from a lower-middle class background, but little else. Really, it’s mostly sexism that causes them to get lumped together. Tony Blair never got compared endlessly to Edward Heath because both of them were blokes.
The differences between Thatcher and May, however much sexism has caused them to come to light, are intriguing however. The biggest difference is that Thatcher was always very clear about what she wanted to do (as Mellor pointed out), while May seems bogged down in managerial detail. This is partly not her fault, having to do as it does with Brexit, but even Brexit she could have handled completely differently. Imagine if instead of insisting she lead the whole Brexit affair (despite having created a whole new department for this express purpose), she said to Johnson, Davis and Fox: “Right, there’s three of your each leading your own departments. That’s more than enough. Come up with a plan and let me know when you’re ready. If it’s good enough, I’ll trigger Article 50. In the meantime, I have a country to run.” Instead, she’s taken it all on her shoulders and set herself up for a fall eventually. At the very least, had Thatcher been PM when Brexit hovered into inevitable view, she would have said, “This is the plan for leaving. Like it or lump it, that’s what we’re doing.” None of this pretentious, vague, red, white and blue Brexit stuff.
I suspect at some point in the near future, the Thatcher-May comparisons will seem as silly as they are in reality. Sadly, this will probably only happen when Britain gets its third female prime minister.