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A long shadow

12 April 2013

EVEN those who have praised Lady Thatcher this week have had to admit to the divisive character of her time in office. There were many who benefited from her emphasis on individual wealth-creation, her promotion of a market economy, and her deregulation of financial institutions. At the same time, she showed a lack of comprehension that such policies might have victims who were educationally, financially, and geographically unable to grasp these benefits. The long shadow of her premiership can be seen in the sharply divided comments that have marked her passing this week.

In a Radio 4 interview, the late Robert Runcie remarked: "She did have, I think, a strong Old Testament sense of righteousness, and struggle for goodness, and personal effort; and a much lower sense of grace and forgiveness, and responsibility for the casualties of affluence." Lord Runcie, whose period at Lambeth Palace closely matched Lady Thatcher's occupancy of 10 Downing Street, epitomised the church reaction to Thatcherism which still pertains. Naturally conservative, with close friendships in the Cabinet thanks to his Guards background, Lord Runcie was swung to the left by his practice of consulting parish priests in troubled areas such as Brixton and Toxteth. Whereas the Thatcher Cabinet could ignore localised hardship in pursuit of national affluence, the Church's pastoral responsibilities could not accept such a sacrifice. And, as Lady Thatcher's radicalism was driven by the opposition that she met from the trade unions, so the Church's reaction became more outspoken as a result of that radicalism.

More than 20 years after her fall, the Church finds itself still picking up the pieces in the communities that were destroyed during her time in office. This is just as much an indictment of her successors, whose inability to repair the collateral damage from what were often positive policies shows a lack of political imagination, and, more especially, the political courage that Lady Thatcher possessed in abundance.

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