Many years ago, my wife Danielle Crittenden prevailed upon Christopher Hitchens to write an appreciation of Margaret Thatcher for a quarterly magazine she edited. It's never before appeared online. In anticipation of the release of the new Thatcher movie, Danielle has reposted it at the Huffington Post. Nice to report: It stands the test of time. In memoriam:
The year was 1977 or so, and [Thatcher] was still a very provisional Leader of the Opposition. At the New Statesman, which was then the flagship journal of the British left, it was easy to share in the prevalent view, which was that the Tories had made a historic mistake. By picking that "shrill, narrow, suburban housewife," they had surrendered the all-important middle ground of politics and set themselves up for a thorough trouncing as "extremists" and "ideologues." I had other reasons for thinking this opinion to be a mistaken one, but this article is not about my foresight. It's about my political libido.
You couldn't beat the British Conservative party as a man's club in those days (or indeed, alas, in these). And most of the senior leadership had not voted, on the first of the second round, for the lady who deposed Edward Heath. So she was stuck, for a goodish bit of time, with a load of red-faced paunches who thought she was the spawn of hell. And loyalty being a premium virtue in that party, she had to affect to think of them as wise and experienced colleagues.
Yet, at the party conference and in Shadow Cabinet meetings and in Parliament, she regularly reduced these chaps to mush. It was at the annual conference that, as I stood in the body of the hall, it hit me. That feline smile, the composed but definite body-language, the voice at once stern and cajoling... to say nothing of the Valkyrie helmet of blond locks. My god! She has them in her thrall! And she knows it! The minx knows it! It was for writing this that I got into the hot water of what nobody then called political correctness.
Mark the sequel: Not long afterwards, I was at a reception in the Rosebery Room of the House of Lords. She came. (I'll try and keep this brief.) A mutual Tory friend offered to introduce us. I agreed with some alacrity. The subject of the moment was Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. I held one view on this. She held another. The introduction was effected. Did I imagine it, or did she recognize the name of the scribe who had hymned her feminine allure? At once we were embroiled in an argument on the subject of racism and decolonization. I was (I only mention it) correct on my facts as well as my principles. She was lousy on both. But what a bonny fighter! She wouldn't give an inch. I found myself conceding her a trivial point, and bowing as I did so. She smiled.
"Bow lower," she said.
Suddenly robbed of volition, I complied.
"No -- much lower."
By now near to drowning in complicity and subjection, I obeyed. She withdrew from behind her back a rolled-up copy of the Parliamentary orders of the day, and she gave me a sound smack before I could --how does one put this? -- straighten up. I regained the perpendicular in some blushful confusion and difficulty, to see her swing away and look over her shoulder, the words "naughty boy" floating over me in my near trance-like state, as the journo witnesses closed in to say, "What was that all about?" I told them they would never understand, and -- what do you know -- they never did.