The sudden, but not unexpected, death of Baroness Thatcher, one of the most dynamic if divisive of Britain’s post-war political leaders, and her grand ceremonial funeral have marked a staging point in the continuing story of Britain. Those who remember her elevation in to the Edward Heath cabinet as education secretary, when she gained notoriety as ‘Thatcher, Thatcher, the milk snatcher’ and then made the sudden jump to takeover of the Tory party then led it to government in May 1979, might have missed out some of the most important signals of her political drift to the right.
For me, 1979 was a time to remember: it was when Ken Livingstone carried out a post Greater London Council election coup to take control of the Labour-led authority; the exciting launch of Root magazine at Regine’s, later the Roof Garden. It was an exciting time. For Britain’s embattled black community, it was also a threatening time. Thatcher’s ideological guru, Sir Keith Joseph, then social security secretary, had developed a Social Darwinian view of single parents, the poor and those who some now call the underclass. It did not take very much imagination to figure out that the black community, no matter what, were part of this problem section of society; and, like now, the key debate was about immigration. In fact, Thatcher had given a television interview in February 1978 in which she talked about being ‘swamped’ with immigrants. Although Enoch Powell had made his well-publicised speech ten years earlier in April 1968, the debate about race and immigration had not moved from the public agenda and, to a large extent, Thatcher’s television interview set the tone for the next decade.