The Iron Lady or how I came to love Margaret Thatcher

I went to see ‘The Iron Lady’ yesterday. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew just a little about Margaret Thatcher, mainly through the prism of my urban regeneration studies whilst studying Urban Planning at University College of London. It seemed she had been a firm believer in the power of ‘trickle down’ from the upper classes to the working classes. In my field, she’s known to have handed land for public use to private developers in the hope that an economically successful development would yield benefits for all. Although I question its validity, I would argue that this thesis is still being tested out in the UK, US and Australia as we speak.

So I didn’t know a whole lot about poor old Margaret. To be honest, she’s before my time, or rather, living memory. My first memory of politics was the fall of the Berlin Wall. I was 5, I had no idea what the Wall was for, but I knew it had fallen. This crystallised memory proved useful in early middle school conversations, where I could shamelessly show my peers that I was conscious of geopolitical phenomena well before they were. Oh dear.

Back to the movie: it has gotten fantastic reviews and understandably so. People who lived through her time will say that the movie did not delve deep enough into the the detail of her policies or of her geopolitical decisions, but then again, it’s hard to summarise 10 years of leading the British Government in two and some hours.

Meryl Streep blew me away. She was truly phenomenal and credibly British (which is, let’s face it, surprising). I wonder why she bothers with the romcoms these days, like that terrible one with Alec Baldwin ‘It’s complicated’. Seeing two middle-aged people rekindle a pathetic and pointless flame is not my idea of a good night at the movies. Meryl, if you read this, focus on the career-crowning roles dear, it’s what suits you best.

The photography and casting were fabulous, everything pointed to a believable depiction of the current state of mind of the Iron Lady. But what struck me most was the unbridled ambition and self-belief this woman demonstrated in her time. Her Prime Ministership was only the crowning moment of a bold and unconventional career. Born in 1925, Margaret progressed through the ranks of local government at first, with the firm conviction that action and work was the way to get ‘put the Great back into Great Britain’. I can’t say that I despise that. It makes a lot of sense. But what fascinates me is how she managed to challenge the order of society, the expectations of leadership and the place of women in post-war Britain.

I left the movie with a distinct feeling of invigoration and renewed ambition. I had never thought of public service as a plausible option for me. For starters, I would have to decide on which country to commit to, a decision that has been literally unthinkable for me in the past 10 years. But public service in a lot of ways is one of the most powerful platforms for change. Despite of the common perception that governments are sluggish and under resourced, policy sets the framework within which initiatives, business and action can take place. Public service reform and innovation is also an area that has come to interest me immensely through my recent work with local governments in Australia as well as Dan Hill‘s recent move to SITRA, the Finnish government’s innovation fund. Its role is to be embedded in public service to innovate from within to influence and redesign the architecture of decision-making.

So it’s perhaps no surprise that Maggie Thatcher would earn my respect: a determined, ambitious and obstinate woman who showed them how it was done. What else do I need to say?

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