Lest we forget (as they say), Margaret Thatcher was buried at St. Paul’s Cathedral today and for lack of a decent story to tell (there wasn’t enough controversy to make the funeral really riveting) media outlets are focussing on the stark contrast between the reactions of the Camerons and George Osborne. There’s a small shot of the photo on the right or you could go to the real thing here. David Cameron, British prime minister, and his eternally poised wife Samantha look as happy as sandboys. But in the row right behind them, Mr Osborne, the British chancellor or finance minister, seems pretty stricken and the left end of his lower lip offers the merest suggestion he might cry.
Anyway, lest we forget, Mrs Thatcher has been buried but it’s hardly likely she will be allowed to rest in peace. Her politics was too controversial for that.
Perhaps the best epitaph today came from her former junior health minister Edwina Currie: “She would rather have an argument than have dinner.”
It was a telling remark. I would suggest that she shared this tendency with many strong successful women. She’d rather have an argument than have dinner, especially if she had to cook it herself.
Consider the speech made by civil rights activist Susan B Anthony after being convicted for voting in the 1872 US presidential election without having a lawful right to vote: “It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union… The only question left to be settled now is: Are women persons? And I hardly believe any of our opponents will have the hardihood to say they are not. Being persons, then, women are citizens; and no state has a right to make any law, or to enforce any old law, that shall abridge their privileges or immunities. Hence, every discrimination against women in the constitutions and laws of the several states is today null and void, precisely as is every one against Negroes.”
She sounds like the sort of woman who would rather have an argument than have dinner.
Think back to Body Shop founder Anita Roddick’s famous call to rage against the system back in November 1999, even as the World Trade Organization met in Seattle. She reminded the trade body and us all “what free trade really is.” Ms Roddick declared, “The truth is that ‘free trade’ was originally about the freedom of communities to trade equally with each other. It was never intended to be what it is today. A licence for the big, the powerful and the rich, to ride roughshod over the small, the weak and the poor.”
Again, clearly a woman who would rather have an argument than dinner.
And then there was the late Princess Diana’s rather moving attempt in June 1997 to redirect some of the media spotlight that routinely followed her around, onto the ignored issue of landmines: “The mine is a stealthy killer. Long after conflict is ended, its innocent victims die or are wounded singly, in countries of which we hear little. Their lonely fate is never reported. The world, with its many other preoccupations, remains largely unmoved by a death roll of something like 800 people every month – many of them women and children. Those who are not killed outright – and they number another 1,200 a month – suffer terrible injuries and are handicapped for life. I was in Angola in January with the British Red Cross – a country where there are 15 million landmines in a population, Ladies and Gentlemen, of 10 million.”
T’was well said and worth saying. Not sure if she would rather have had an argument than dinner, but at least she listened to people who might have. Two months later she was dead.
Looking back through some of the more famous speeches made by strong, opinionated women through history, I was struck by the examples that routinely make the shortlist. Some of them are:
– The speech on Martin Luther King by India’s first woman prime minister, the late Indira Gandhi, in January 1969, as his widow Coretta was presented the Jawaharial Nehru Award for International Understanding.
– Hillary Clinton’s “women’s rights are human rights” address in Beijing in September 1995, when she was First Lady
– And Pearl S Buck’s extraordinarily insightful speech on China’s approach to novel-writing and reading as she accepted the Nobel Prize for literature in Stockholm in 1938.
There are others of course. But I haven’t yet found a Thatcher speech on the list. Perhaps it will be a posthumous addition?