The Thatcher Crisis Years

1980s politics blog from TV historian Tony McMahon

journalist adoration Thatcher

How British Prime Ministers like Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak must dream of getting the adoration by many journalists that Margaret Thatcher received during her premiership. Faced by the Iron Lady, they went weak at the knees and some could barely bring themselves to spit out a hostile question. Thatcher mesmerised or even hypnotised male and female journalists into complete submission.

The Woman’s Editor of The Leicester Mercury was in awe of her interview subject as she met Thatcher at Downing Street in 1980. “You may love her, or hate her. The one thing you cannot do is ignore her”, gushed the hack. Well, none of us ignored her – that’s for sure. What we rather hoped for was that the fourth estate would hold Thatcher to account. Instead, all too often, we got a gushy slew of fawning prose.

“Her dedication is hardly surprising when you consider the people on whom this brilliantly successful chemist, lawyer, and politician has modelled herself.”

This article went on to inform us that Thatcher modelled herself on Winston Churchill, Madame Curie, and Florence Nightingale. In physical terms, she radiated dazzling beauty according to this correspondent: “Nevertheless, she is clear eyed, and the freshness of her complexion owes little to make-up. Looking at her it is hard to believe she will be 55 on October 13.” And then there was Thatcher’s feet, a source of fascination to one of her ministers, Alan Clark. But this female journalist was also transfixed by them: “Her neat, black sling-back court shoes show an elegant pair of heels”. Three cheers for her chiropodist!

DISCOVER: Youth unemployment under Thatcher

Thatcher’s daily life and the adoration of journalists

The daily routine of Thatcher became the stuff of legend. The early starts at the crack of dawn. Skipping breakfast. Stylist attending to the imperial hairdo daily while she scanned government papers. No relaxation. Five hours of sleep. Yet at the same time, Thatcher would try and portray herself as any other middle class woman. Reading interior decor magazines. Cooking omelettes. Turning up the hems on her dresses. Clearing out a cupboard and moving furniture around. Loving the Jimmy Young show on BBC Radio 2.

Thatcher portrayed Downing Street as just another suburban home with her combining the roles of Prime Minister, mother, and housewife. Although she did have four homes at the time – two official (Downing Street and Chequers) and two unofficial (in Chelsea and Kent). Over the years, Thatcher was elevated by her team to what one Tory journalist termed ‘Gloriana Imperatrix’. By 1989, even her grip on reality was being questioned. But in the early years, she was still keen to promote the image that had resonated so well in the 1979 general election. The busy housewife looking askance at spendthrift Britain.

Whether or not Thatcher was a feminist is still a matter of debate. Her cabinets were almost entirely female-free and she rejected feminism emphatically. Thatcher was Queen Bee and succeeded for several years in winning the adoration of journalists through force of character and undeniable charisma. At the time though, it had many of us spitting blood at our newspapers and the TV screen as we watched intelligent and experienced hacks grovelling at her feet.

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