Two issues are dominating my thoughts this week. The 25th
anniversary of Margaret Thatcher coming to power and Roselyn
Richards’ demand for a public inquiry into the death of her
daughter, Toni-Ann Byfield, is still worthy of examination.
On Thatcher, I have never been a signed-up member of either the
“love her” or “loath her” fraternities. A quarter of a century on,
one can examine her record objectively. For me this brings
gratitude for many of her achievements which are generally accepted
by all mainstream politicians. She helped convince so many that –
whatever one’s background – you could break out of some
We now have a Labour prime minister who models himself as a “strong
leader” – always a dubious title – in her image.
Thatcher’s critics are prone to reciting one particular quote to
condemn her: “There is no such thing as society.” Most shut their
minds to the context: “I think we’ve been through a period where
too many people have been given to understand that if they have a
problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it. ‘I have a
problem, I’ll get a grant’. ‘I’m homeless, the government must
house me’. They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know,
there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and
woman, and there are families. And no government can do anything
except through people, and people must look to themselves first.
It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then also to look after
Yet in spreading the luxury of choice, did Thatcher contribute in
some perverse way to the development of a risk-averse culture at
the service of those who cannot accept the responsibility for their
When a woman decides to give care for her own daughter to, in
effect, “society” and then this poor little girl is killed in the
company of a convicted crack dealer, thought to be her father, how
is it that the first in the firing line of those considered to
“blame” are social workers and other public servants?
We seem to have become a nation of cowards, looking for easy
targets to blame and scared of challenging the dubious traditions
Perhaps the more passionate critics of the Iron Lady should
re-assess her, as they search for answers as to why we are
witnessing such tragedies in this thing called “society”.
Sheila Gunn is a political commentator and a Conservative
councillor in the London Borough of Camden.