Margaret Thatchers kanskje mest kjente og mest misforståtte sitat lyder omtrent slik:
There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.
Denne holdningen – der personlig frihet er uløselig knyttet sammen med personlig ansvar – er en av grunnpillarene i den klassiske liberalismen, og Thatcher viste allerede tidlig i livet at hun tok den alvorlig. Sent i livet fortalte hun at det hun var mest stolt over var ikke å bidra til kommunismens fall eller vinne Falklands-krigen, men å ha reddet en østerriksk jødisk tenåring fra den sikre død:
In 1938, Edith Muhlbauer, a 17-year-old Jewish girl, wrote to Muriel Roberts, Edith’s pen pal and the future prime minister’s [Margaret Thatcher] older sister, asking if the Roberts family might help her escape Hitler’s Austria. The Nazis had begun rounding up the first of Vienna’s Jews after the Anschluss, and Edith and her family worried she might be next. Alfred Roberts, Margaret and Muriel’s father, was a small-town grocer; the family had neither the time nor the money to take Edith in. So Margaret, then 12, and Muriel, 17, set about raising funds and persuading the local Rotary club to help.
Edith stayed with more than a dozen Rotary families, including the Robertses, for the next two years, until she could move to join relatives in South America. Edith bunked in Margaret’s room, and she left an impression. “She was 17, tall, beautiful, evidently from a well-to-do family,” Thatcher later wrote in her memoir. But most important, “[s]he told us what it was like to live as a Jew under an anti-Semitic regime. One thing Edith reported particularly stuck in my mind: The Jews, she said, were being made to scrub the streets.” For Thatcher, who believed in meaningful work, this was as much a waste as it was an outrage. Had the Roberts family not intervened, Edith recalled years later, “I would have stayed in Vienna and they would have killed me.” Thatcher never forgot the lesson: “Never hesitate to do whatever you can, for you may save a life,” she told audiences in 1995 after Edith had been located, alive and well, in Brazil.
Edith ble den første av en lang rekke jødiske menn og kvinner Thatcher knyttet til seg som venner og kolleger. Hun var selv metodist, kom fra middelklassen, var ikke adelig eller kostskoleutdannet. Ledelsen i det konservative partiet tilhørte den anglikanske kirke, hadde ofte adelig bakgrunn og hadde trådt sine barnesko på de fornemste public schools. Blant Tory’ene ble Thatcher ikke bare i begynnelsen av sin karriere, men også lenge etter at hun var blitt partileder og statsminister, ofte uglesett som oppkomling fra folkedypet.
Hennes meritokratiske holdning representerte en trussel. Dermed var det naturlig at hun likte å omgås andre outsidere og meritokrater uten adelig, anglikansk eller overklassebakgrunn: På et tidspunkt hadde nesten en firedel av hennes ministre jødisk opprinnelse. Tom Gross har sammenstilt noen eksempler på hennes interesse for jødisk samfunnsliv:
* Thatcher had no patience for anti-Semitism. “I simply did not understand it,” Thatcher wrote in her memoirs. Indeed, she found “some of [her] closest political friends and associates among Jews.” “In the thirty-three years that I represented Finchley [a constituency in London], I never had a Jew come in poverty and desperation to one of my town meetings… I often wished that Christians would take closer note of the Jewish emphasis on self-help and acceptance of personal responsibility.”
* Aghast that a golf club in her district consistently barred Jews from becoming members, she publicly attacked her own party members for supporting the policy. The Jews of Finchley were “her people,” Thatcher remarked – certainly much more so than the wealthy land barons that dominated her party.
Ikke bare gammel-Tory’ene var skeptiske til mennesker som kommer seg frem i verden ved hjelp av viljestyrke og egeninnsats. Om Thatcher til tider ble subtilt nedlatende behandlet i det konservative partiet, ble hun åpent hatet av Labour og andre rødvins- og ruccolasosialister, som absolutt ikke liker tanken på å måtte omgås oppkomlinger fra det folkedypet de inderlig forakter selv om de hevder å tale den lille manns sak mot kapitalistene. Janet Daley skriver svært godt om dette i dagens Telegraph:
The very people who (most of the time) advocated educational opportunity and social freedom were driven to the most repugnant, frenzied abuse by, for example, the idea of working-class people being allowed to purchase the council houses they lived in, or being encouraged to start up businesses, or – especially this – moving right up and away from their class roots.
The romanticising of working-class life, with all its defeatism and passivity, was shocking to me when I first arrived here from the United States in the Sixties. This was paternalism at its least benign: a kind of sub-Marxist notion of class loyalty that ran deep in the Labour movement was used to bury people’s feet in the cultural concrete of their origins. It was not just risky or foolhardy to aspire to something more: it was positively wrong, a betrayal of your forebears.
Even more personall, the desire for self-improvement was a repudiation of your parents and neighbours. The Miliband “strivers” and the Cameron people “who work hard and want to get on” were not the heroes of pre‑Thatcher British politics. To Old Labour they were selfish class traitors. To the intellectual aristocracy, they were vulgar and ridiculous.
You may wonder why this vaguely feudal concept of social order came so naturally to those who surely must have thought of themselves as progressive. What struck me at the time was that Britain had somehow leapt straight from the 19th century into late Marxism. So the only acceptable advancement for working people could be through collective progress: they could move forward as a class, seizing political and economic power together, or they could stay where they were, nursing their shared grievances.
Som Daley skriver: Dagens Labour har lagt av seg endel av forakten for vanlige mennesker som ikke kjenner sin plass (les: stemmer sosialistisk og inngår livslange klientforhold med velferdsstaten), og mot slutten av livet utropte Thatcher Tony Blair til sin politiske arving. Vi ser snobberiet sterkere i de norske partiene på venstresiden. Når møtte vi sist en SV’er som mener at også mennesker uten mastergrad i «Kjønn, kultur og kommunikasjon» eller et annet tøysefag er meningsberettigede?