Mrs T’s Revolving Eyes April 13, 2013Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback
In the tradition of writing topical posts a week after they have ceased to be topical, Beachcombing thought that he would celebrate, today, Margaret Thatcher’s eyes as part of his occasional maverick politicians series. Coming of age in a country where that loathed/loved woman reigned, this blogger has long been fascinated by the way that she was, simlultaneously, a suave international statesmen; but also a revolutionary conviction politician who ‘came to bring the sword’ and to purge socialism from the earth with flame. When she was in her first role, she was fairly unremarkable, perhaps even – to Beach’s tastes, at least – a little irritating. But when she was in the second role, she was lightning personified: a deity or, depending on your views, a devil in the lands of man. You would have to, with the possible exception of De Gaulle, go back before the Second World War to find a European leader who was this intense and frightening; and perhaps the only modern politician who comes close to her diplomatic and political rule-breaking would be Silvio Berlusconi, a man she would though have despised. Of course, she was far too intelligent to appear in public in said revolutionary role: the British are, after all, easily spooked. But every so often she was provoked by her political enemies, her doltish ministers and, most often, by journalists and the mask slipped; or, to use another metaphor, the fist split through the silk glove – God help you if you were on the receiving end of that fist.
It is in her eyes that you best see this latterday Savonarola. Those eyes that caught the attention of so many contemporaries: Mitterand said of her ‘the eyes of Caligula, the body of Marilyn Monroe’; Julian Critchley comparing Michael Heseltine to Margaret Thatcher ‘another blond with revolving eyes’; etc etc. If you want a sample enjoy this clip where MT is noting how Britain and not Continental Europe was the US’s natural ally (after the refusal of France, Germany et alii to help in the bombing of Libya). The key phrase comes at the very end. Watch the atom explosion in her gaze. Note too the way that she knows she is about to say something a little ‘off’, but that she just can’t help herself.
Here is another clip of Britain’s one-time prime-minster. This time she is standing in silence listening to what were, for her, sacred words: South Georgia has just been retaken by British troops. British greatness has been reasserted. Port Stanley in the Falklands should be a month away. Again, note the way that she ‘loses’ it at the end. Her voice which is usually so controlled comes out harsh: an Old Testament prophet. And, really, who uses the word ‘rejoice’ anyway?
Yet another example of the ‘eyes’ comes with MT responding to Jacques Delors proposals for a united Europe. She is polite (relatively) until she gets to the response, then she is ‘emphatic’: no, no, no! (Her turn away suggests she knows here that she is exaggerating again). Here is one of the few Thatcher moments where many of her bitterest foes on the other side of the House would have agreed with her. And, after Portugal, Greece, Ireland, Cyprus (with France and Italy on the horizon) it is difficult to argue that she and they were wrong…
In all these clips, Margaret Thatcher turns from consummate politician to her essence, an ideologue. But very rarely in news footage, you saw glimpses of her going in the opposite direction. She went too far and then backpedalled, very, very rapidly: we so easily forget what a pragmatist she could be. There is, but we have not been able to find (drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com), a clip of MT being interviewed by David Dimbleby (BBC mandarin) where she said some unwise things about the unemployed in burning-eye mode and, then, quickly and smilingly apologised with awful but intelligent insincerity. There are two Thatchers being interviewed by Dimbleby in that missing clip: (i) the Prime-minister and (ii) a blue Che Guevera. No one who watching that clip could have any doubt as to who the real MT was. She was ‘the angry pasionara of middle class privilege’ (Dennis Healey), not the reassuring administrator.
And how do the British remember her as this extraordinary exception to the rules of politics and diplomacy is about to be lowered into the ground? Those who love her and those who hate her – and the polls show a divided country almost twenty-five years after she stepped down from office – are united on this point at least: it is the ‘revolving’ eyes that have it.
And what if she had seen those glories fade,
Those titles vanish, and that strength decay,
Yet shall some tribute of regret be paid
When her long life hath reach’d its final day:
Men are we, and must grieve when even the Shade
Of that which once was great is pass’d away.
Wordsworth on The Extinction of the Venetian Republic
13 April 2013: Southern Man off to a very early start this morning: I find the poll numbers incredible. It really does mark a divided country. If you had asked Britons about Churchill in 1970 say you may have had a few south Welsh miners who still hated him, but approval ratings would have been, what, close to 95%? Thanks SM!