“Margaret Thatcher, the stainless”, on Arte: riots, strikes, misery… the legacy of neoliberalism in question

Margaret Thatcher in 1983.


On April 8, 2013, thousands took to the streets to celebrate the announcement of his death. Spontaneous demonstrations across the UK, with shouts of joy and a cover of the famous song from the Wizard of Oz : Ding dong! The witch is dead (“the witch is dead”). Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) had long since left power, driven from 10 Downing Street in November 1990; but the brutality of its policy towards the popular classes had not been forgotten.

By painting a portrait of this divisive personality with the help of testimonies from economists, politicians, trade unionists and comedians, but above all thanks to the wealth of filmed archives which recall the violence of the time for the less well-off , workers, young people and minorities, Guillaume Podrovnik has done a great job.

Urban riots, long miners’ strike, police brutality, working class misery, massive deindustrialisation, much of the UK of the late 1970s and early 1980s looks like a country adrift. And all these crises are managed by Margaret Thatcher, in other words the hard way, without qualms or particular empathy.

How did this woman from a family of small traders become the Iron Lady? How did she manage to get elected three times? What legacy does she leave? All these questions find their answers in this documentary.

Conservative and radical

In 1945, she was 20 years old and the ideas of social solidarity in vogue at the time were at odds with her principles based on individual responsibility. The young Margaret already has specific ideas, in particular a visceral distrust of public power. Margaret Roberts, Thatcher’s wife, entered politics in the early 1950s. She became an MP in 1959 and would never lose an election again. In 1970, here she was Minister of Education. But the real power is yet to be taken.

In a country that is sinking into poverty and where inflation is breaking records, a new economic thought from the United States is emerging: neoliberalism. Thatcher believed in it and, surrounded by a few conservative leaders won over to this new vision of society, she attempted a coup that no one saw coming. On February 11, 1975, to everyone’s surprise, she was elected head of the Conservative Party.

His public image is not bright. In the eyes of a large part of the population, Thatcher is a middle-class woman who married a billionaire and does not care about the fate of the working classes. She is also the one who, as Minister of Education, had abolished the free distribution of milk to schoolchildren.

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Aware of this handicap, she drops her pearls and her hats, changes her look, redefines her teeth, works on her voice, hires a producer who advises her to insist on her modest origins. His catchphrase? “I learned everything living above the shop” (from his father, a grocer).

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Conservative and radical, it benefits from a weighty ally on the international scene in the person of Ronald Reagan (1911-2004), elected President of the United States in November 1980. And it will be necessary to wait until November 1990 for the conservatives, exasperated by its radicalism and its authoritarianism, decide to get rid of this “damn good woman”.

Margaret Thatcher, the stainless, documentary by Guillaume Podrovnik (Fr., 2022, 92 min). On Arte.tv until August 11.

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