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My husband and I: Maryl Streep and Jim Broadbent as Margaret and Denis Thatcher  

As part of the publicity campaign for The Iron Lady, a group of media mavens were invited to dinner at the house of the director Phyllida Lloyd, where they met the star of the film, Meryl Streep. Columnists including Liz Hoggard, India Knight and the sainted Polly Toynbee were among a group who were presumably chosen not just because they were prominent female names in the media but also because they would not have been immediately identifiable as Thatcher sympathisers. Also there apparently, debating the lasting effect of Britain's first female prime minister and the pros and cons of this highly anticipated cinema portrayal, were Tracey Ullman, Janet Street-Porter and Jenni Murray.

I have no idea who said what, but since that evening, there's been a trickle of press articles of the I-hated-her-but-you've-got-to-give-her-credit-where-it's-due variety. These are the sort of pieces which aim to show the broadmindedness of the writer who, while remaining firmly on the correct side of things politically, nevertheless possesses the ability to identify genuine achievement.

I'm sure everybody had a great evening, and that it was nice to meet Meryl. But the scenario also struck me as an oddly sad one. Did not these women feel small, unimportant, impotent, as they picked over the reputation of this genuinely towering figure, one of their own sex, whose place was assured in global history regardless of what they personally might have felt about her? Did they realise moreover that it is usually the fate of commentators and their various positions to be of significance finally only to their colleagues? And were they aware that it was one of the defining characteristics of Margaret Thatcher that she was supremely indifferent to what people like them thought and wrote?

It was lucky for Thatcher that when she was in power she genuinely didn't care, didn't even seem to register the intelligentsia, for it is difficult to think of a public figure more mercilessly and intemperately attacked by it. And the more she ignored them, the more crazed they became. Gender, class snobbery — nothing was too downmarket for these highbrows. She was denied an honorary doctorate from her old university Oxford-a shameful, petty act. The director and all-round renaissance man Jonathan Miller held his nose as he attacked her for "her odious suburban gentility". Dame Mary Warnock mocked her "elocution voice" and "neat, well-groomed clothes and hair, packaged together in a way that's not exactly vulgar, just low". It has been remarked upon that whereas few Americans knew little and cared even less about Ronald Reagan's humble origins, there was surely nobody in Britain who wasn't aware that the Prime Minister's father was a provincial shopkeeper; indeed Alderman Roberts became part of the folklore surrounding her.

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December 28th, 2011
1:12 AM
It is very wrong to try and make a heroine out of this God-awful harridan.

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