CHRISTIAN COMMENT: The self-belief of Mrs Thatcher

THE big story today? The death of Mrs – later Baroness – Thatcher.

First and only woman to be Prime Minister of the UK. The person who, more than any other in the last century, changed the way this country is run. The person who did more than any other to re-establish this country economically and to divide it socially.

What can be a Christian comment on her career and legacy?

The retrospects have referred to her ‘strong personal faith’ as a lifelong Methodist. I can’t comment on that. We don’t know what she believed in her heart and can only look at the record. ‘You will know what someone is like by their fruit, what they produce in their life.’

When Mrs Thatcher adapted the prayer of St Francis of Assissi as her speech to the press on winning her first election in 1979, did she mean what she said? You know, it’s the one that included the lines ‘Where there is discord, may we bring harmony; where there is hatred, may we bring love.’

Was she sincere – or cynical? This was, after all, the lady who created more disharmony and more hatred amongst significant sections of the community than any other Briton I can think of.

Was it that she simply confused ends with means?

Following the years of industrial disruption and failed political solutions that she inherited, she was right to believe that something had to be done. No question. But the solution meant that the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. The ‘permissive market’ that she engineered allowed rampant greed and selfishness to become the new orthodoxy.

If you remove most external restraints, what is inside someone will determine how he or she behaves. Because we all, under pressure, look after ‘number one’, something pretty radical needs to happen for that to change. That’s why Jesus said ‘You must be born again. You must recognise the failure of your own attempts to ‘get life right’ and accept my spirit on you.’

Trouble is that we keep on thinking that with a little more time and effort it’ll all come right. Which is our pride speaking – against all the evidence. It makes us hard-hearted and inflexible. And that’s precisely the reason that her own party got rid of Mrs Thatcher in 1992.

Very often, we can be right about what we’re trying to achieve and completely wrong about the methods. ‘Dealing with the unions’ had been the aim of several governments of both complexions before 1979. Closing the places where members of the most powerful unions worked was certainly effective but it left social chaos, a breeding ground for many of the ills that our overloaded welfare system then tried to deal with.

There was, if you like, a failure of imagination, a failure to think widely enough. It’s an easy trap to fall into. We think we’re right and, if we have energy and determination – which this lady possessed in spades – we can get our way. Trouble is that the Bible says ‘There is a way that seems to humans to be the right one but in the end it produces the ways of death.’

We all fall into this trap. We want something badly. We push and push until we get it, not realising until too late that the outcomes are not what we wanted.

What’s the answer? Funnily enough, Mrs Thatcher had it in that prayer of St Francis from which she quoted all those years ago. It starts ‘Lord, make me an instrument of your peace’. I can’t do it; You do it through me.

Problem was that Mrs Thatcher – like you and me – had a strong tendency to think that she could do it herself.

By Nigel O’Dwyer, who leads Goring New Life Church, and lives and works in Worthing.