People can be forgiven for imagining that the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 represented a step forward for the advancement of women. After all, here she was making history as Britain’s first female prime minister at the helm of the thoroughly boys’ own club that was the Conservative Party.
But of course, Thatcher’s 11-year premiership was a disaster for Britain, laying the foundations for the mean spirited and divided nation we live in today. Thatcher’s iron lady persona had nothing to do with her being a woman. She was a surrogate male figure who didn’t even have the decency to appoint a single woman to her cabinet, let alone promote women’s interests.
I was reminded of her the other day when I heard education minister Liz Truss announce her plans to expand the number of nursery places without spending a penny. Under them, nursery staff and childminders would be allowed to look after six toddlers at a time, an increase over the current ratio of four children per adult. In order to maintain quality care, nursery staff would have to have higher educational qualifications, she said.
Anyone with knowledge of children would tell you that having a load of GCSEs or a degree will not help you deliver better care to six two-year olds, what with their me, me, me mentality – Stuff your grade A star English. I want that doll and I want it now! As for childminders, while bosses of London’s Hampstead Heath plan to restrict dog walkers to four dogs at a time, Truss thinks it’s possible to take six kids to the shops and back and still retain your sanity.
It’s sad to learn that Truss is a mother herself, albeit of two children looked after by a nanny, yet is still able to defend her so called reforms with a straight face. But she is not without her supporters – an article in the London Evening Standard described her plans as a “nursery revolution” and painted her sympathetically as a high flying minister trying to balance her career with her family life.
But “like thousands of London parents she searched for a full time nursery place but could find nothing suitable”, it trilled. Well, why not invest in more nurseries then instead of embarking on yet another military adventure, this time in Mali?
The other side to this story is the prospect of nurseries doubling up as “baby farms” as women, single or not, are forced to go to work to make ends meet, handing over the most important job of rearing the next generation to the dead hand of the state.
People bemoan the fact that there are so few women in David Cameron’s cabinet. In truth it would make little difference if half of his ministers were women. The likes of Truss, Theresa May and Maria Miller are class warriors first and foremost, enforcing the cruel raft of cut backs with as much gusto as their heroine Maggie Thatcher once did as she started to shift wealth from the poorest people in Britain to the richest.
In her case it began as education minister in 1971, when she ended free milk for school children, earning her the nickname Thatcher, Thatcher, Milk Snatcher.
Of course, we should not single out Tory women for our opprobrium. New Labour was in fact old Tory. In 1997, Harriet Harman penalised the poorest in the country by cutting benefits to out of work lone parents as part of the “hard choices” government had to make in keeping to spending limits.
Now as Thatcher nears the end of her life, there is talk of giving her a state funeral, such was her impact on British politics. That alone should show how low we have sunk, but sadly too many women will be singing her praises.