IRON LADY

04.09.13

Ian McEwan: We Loved to Hate Margaret Thatcher

Think about it: does anyone want to go back to the pre-Thatcher era?

In an op-ed in Tuesday’s Guardian,  novelist Ian McEwan pays tribute to the late prime minister Margaret Thatcher—namely that Britain loved to hate her. McEwan admits that “in retrospect, in much dissenting commentary there was often a taint of sexism,” writing that the greatest charge lobbied against Thatcher is that she “had no heart, and, famously, cared little for the impulses that bind individuals into a society.” But, McEwan points out, does anyone really want to go back to the pre-Thatcher late ’70s? McEwan rattles off some of the inconveniences of the late ’70s, proclaiming, “[W]e have paid for that transformation with a world that is harder-edged, more competitive, and certainly more intently aware of the lure of cash.” As for literature, it thrived it the Thatcher era—mainly out of major novelists' fascination, borne out of hatred, of her. At an international conference in Lisbon in the late ’80s, the major British novelists there—among them, McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, and Malcolm Bradbury—all spoke so obsessively about Thatcher that the Italian delegation stormed out and told them to get over her. And in one particular example, Christopher Hitchens, then a reporter for the New Statesman, corrected Thatcher on a point of fact and then was corrected by her—and she spanked him with her order papers, proving that at least part of the obsession was erotic.