Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Not even the Iron Lady could really have it all

If I had my time again, I wouldn't go into politics." No, not the thoughts of disgraced and dumped ex-Tory treasurer Peter Cruddas, or even a mournful Gordon Brown. These were the words of the conviction politician to end all conviction politicians, Margaret Thatcher, just five years after the end of her premiership.

The reason for Thatcher's regret over choosing a career in politics - revealed this week in ex-Tory MP Michael Spicer's newly published diaries - is perhaps even more surprising than the admission itself.

It wasn't because she realised, with hindsight, that her policies had destroyed the lives of thousands of families and killed off a faith in community and compassion which had acted like social glue for decades (we're still waiting for that particular epiphany).

And it wasn't because of the humiliating way her party turned its back on her, publicly de-friending her like an irritant who had outstayed her welcome.

No, it was wholly down to 'What it does to your family'.

Thatcher became an MP when her twins Carol and Mark were six years old. With a commitment to her work only equalled by her vaulting ambition, she sent her children off to boarding school a couple of years later to focus full-time on climbing the ladder.

Carol has admitted a lack of closeness between them from an early stage and has not been sympathetic to her mother's late conversion.

"A mother cannot reasonably expect her grown-up children to boomerang back, gushing cosiness, and make up for lost time," she said a few years ago.

"Absentee Mum, then Gran in overdrive is not an equation that balances."

I never thought I'd say this, but I feel a bit sorry for Margaret Thatcher.

How terrible it must have felt in those post-Commons years when it dawned on her that a diminishing passion for her work wouldn't be countered by a growing connection with her family. What loneliness must have hit her after the death of her husband Denis in 2003.

Pictures of her looking bewildered and frail on a park bench near her home last week were accompanied by the disclosure that her children rarely visit. She had a quiet Christmas, spending most of it with just her housekeeper for company.

I wonder what such revelations do for those women who have long held up Thatcher as a feminist icon.

Because it seems to me that it was her inability to see the importance of family, and the impact of putting your children second or third, which latterly caused such sorrow to the ex-PM.

She was a victim of a strident cultural argument that refused to admit that a mother who gave herself to an all-consuming career would pay any personal price.

Years of self-searching, torment and pain have convinced many women since of the flaws in the 'have it all' mantra.

Rising Tory star Louise Mensch said in January that she didn't have ambitions to join the Cabinet because "I have small children and it requires a certain level of life commitment that I don't think I could give to the job".

In a different, but equally demanding walk of life, global superstar Adele is already speaking of taking years out so she can maintain a relationship and think about starting a family.

The truth isn't always fair and just, but neither can it be escaped. If any story is a salutary tale for modern women, it is Margaret Thatcher's. Turns out the lady was for turning after all.

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