Two outspoken and clever women, Germaine Greer and Brooke Magnanti were on ABC‘s QandA last night as news of the death of Margaret Thatcher broke on air. They were impressive throughout, as was indigenous Opera star Deborah Cheetham, in not giving easy, pat answers to any questions posed by host Tony Jones nor the audience on a variety of subjects from female genital mutilation, definitions of feminism and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s infamous parliamentary speech on misogyny.
A schoolgirl stated that Thatcher came from a relatively privileged background and was unable to finish her question when the panel reminded her that Thatcher was the daughter of a shopkeeper, Cheetham came to her defense and reminded the audience that in spite of her middle-class background, being white and heterosexual did in fact install a kind of privelege on Thatcher.
On columnist Janet Albrechtson and former Cosmopolitan magazine editor Mia Freedman, as my American friends say, I’ll plead the Fifth.
So, on to Maggie.
Tony Jones: We have been talking about women leaders. We were talking, indeed, about Margaret Thatcher.
Brooke Magnanti: And me with no champagne!
TJ: That’s a tough one.
TJ: Now, Elvis Costello once wrote a song that he would stamp the dirt down on her grave, but I think time has past now, and people have a slightly different view of Margaret Thatcher. Do you think that’s true?
BM: I do think it’s true. We have to remember as well that when Richard Nixon died in the United States people had an enormously different view of him. He went away post-Watergate, came back tanned, rested and ready as an elder statesmen, certainly Margaret Thatcher did that extremely effectively. But she sort of transcended what the policies of her day were to become iconic. Either as a figure of hate for the left or as a figure of reverence for the right. In a way. both are really, really valuable because they light a fire under people’s aspirations whether you agree with her or disagree with her, having that focus. It’s an probably an incredibly stressful place to be as an individual, though. And going back again to this notion that no one person can really embody the hopes of an entire group of people that they’re supposedly representing. To be honest, going and looking and seeing at what has changed post-Thatcher in terms of representation of women as MPs in the UK parliament, it has improved but not a whole lot and I suppose what the hope really here is that post-Julia Gillard more and more women will enter politics. But Britain didn’t manage to do it so here’s hoping Australia does.
TJ: We’lll throw it to Germaine Greer … I’d just like to get your thoughts on Margaret Thatcher before we move on to other topics.
Germaine Greer: Well, Margaret Thatcher certainly – is probably – the most influential British politician in my lifetime. But the important thing to understand is the party she influenced was the Labour Party who learnt her policies and applied them. And she certainly imbibed quite a lot from the Australia system, where you turn your working class into stakeholders and get them to live out a lifetime of debt and DIY, which keeps them out of trouble and off the streets. So, Mrs Thatcher imbibed all of that and applied it in her own way, so we have the sell-off of council housing; now, of course, we have a huge housing shortage and etc, etc and so on.
But people must not forget two important things. One is the sinking of the Belgrano which is a war crime which she strangely got away with and the other thing is the Al-Yumamah Arms Deal which was connected with the BOAC bribery business that was suppressed and so on. Massive corruption. Now that she has completed her days and she’s been very much reduced recently, I see her – I saw her – quite often and she was still doing all the traditional things that she always did using the same language and so on but never knowing quite where she was; but now that she’s no longer a problem in that we start to investigate what actually happened with the Alumama arms deal and why her son, who’s an idiot, who is actually a multi-millionaire; these are all things we’ve got to work out. There is a good deal of reassessment to be done in the case of Margaret Thatcher.
TJ: Very briefly – did you admire her as a woman? She basically climbed the highest porticos of power in Britain and that was no mean feat.
GG: Well, but you have to understand how it was done. There were no women around her. She was actually elected by her own party to serve as a new broom that would bring about new reforms that would be very unpopular. Then they figured they could unload her and start again. When they actually came to unload her it was done in the most callous way and now Tony Blair, who’s her most famous disciple, is a multi-millionaire, probably a billionaire. Margaret Thatcher, didn’t get any seats on any lucrative boards, none of the easy money came her way. She actually did lecture tours which is outrageous that someone of her political eminence should be reduced to that. Believe me, the British establishment got their revenge on Margaret Thatcher.