And here's the full piece.
Twenty-one years after being overthrown by her party's pro-euro faction, Margaret Thatcher still continues to exert an enormous gravitational pull on British political life. With The Iron Lady film soon to be released, there has already been much speculation about whether she should be given a state funeral (in fact, and sadly for Labour, Thatcher's death is more interesting than Ed Miliband's entire life).
As Charles Moore recently wrote, what other modern British prime minister, aside from Churchill, would be worthy of a biopic? (Blair has been portrayed on several occasions, but always as a slightly comedic salesman or trendy vicar.)
So it's entirely fitting that, as official papers now reveal, Mrs Thatcher was so modest that she insisted on paying £19 for an ironing board. As this paper reports:
Files released by the National Archives under the 30-year rule include a note about the cost of refurbishing the Prime Minister’s official residence, in which Baroness Thatcher pointed out that she and her husband, Denis, used only one bedroom and already had their own crockery.
She wrote: “I will pay for the ironing boards and other things, like sufficient linen for the one bedroom we use. The rest can go back into stock. MT”
As a rule the great leaders are not made great by having the most lavish balls, the swankiest private jets or the grandest titles. Looking back, it was obvious that the New Labour project would end in dismal failure when its leaders began lavishing a fortune on new wallpaper, sofas, and grace and favour mansions. And David Cameron – the £680,000 of taxpayer's money he spent refurbishing Downing Street does not bode well.
Of course we can't entirely blame Cameron, just as we can't entirely blame MPs for making the taxpayers fund their lifestyles. Thatcher grew up in an era of hardship and penny-pinching, but she also lived in an age of high social solidarity and restraint. Politicians rarely cheated because they were more likely to see the taxpayers as people like them; there were also a greater sense of national solidarity, and though religion was in decline, the general climate was still strongly influenced by Biblical prohibitions. When did all this change? Depending on political allegiances, once can either blame the 1960s or the 1980s, although personally I think things started to change in the 1990s, when conspicuous consumption became the norm, bling came into fashion, and the typical song format changed from "I love you" to "I love me".
It is not that people are more selfish – there is still plenty of altruism about, as the case of the woman who gave a kidney to a lady she met at a dinner party illustrates – but rather there are no social restraints or taboos or pressures forcing not-very-altruistic people to behave themselves. Like when Thatcher came to power, we're entering a period of austerity, when hundreds of thousands are losing their jobs and belts are being tightened across the land. Yet we also have among the richest Cabinets in history, with a prime minister worth somewhere in the low eight figures.
In Ireland the shock of financial meltdown has been met, by many accounts, with surprising levels of social solidarity; people have agreed to defer loans to people who might lose their homes; civil servants have handed over money from their pensions to help pay off the national debt. It's not quite Bedford Falls, the setting for Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life; that film continues to bring tears to tipsy eyes every Christmas because it shows how much social solidarity can help a community overcome financial hardship, but it's heading in the right direction. In contrast, Britain now displays one of the major symptoms of low social capital – when the rich do not feel obliged to help out those less fortunate to them. In the past decade less than £10,000 has been gifted to the exchequer by British citizens; why aren't any of our mega-rich Cabinet donating money? David Cameron's catchphrase "we're all in it together" was so pathetic (in the old sense of the world) because it was so plainly untrue.
Maybe I'm doing the man down, and secret papers will reveal in 30 years' time that he spent all his weekend caring for Aids orphans and puppies: but Cameron, unlike Thatcher, seems a fitting leader for our age.