Why I do not accept Thatcher was motivated by Christian principles

Archbishop Cranmer has commented today that “Margaret Thatcher renewed the relationship between Christianity and Conservatism“. He claims that Thatcher’s “Conservatism was deeply rooted in Christianity” and argues “Christ, for her, was intrinsic to all of social and political life, and His eradication from society was not possible ‘without a terrible consequence'”. He insists “Margaret Thatcher did God with a sincere reflective and profoundly theological mindset: she read her Bible, preached in pulpits and applied her theology to her programme of government”. In short, he argues, Margaret Thatcher was a Christian and it was her Christian principle that informed her Conservatism.

I cannot, and do not, accept this assessment. Even by Cranmer’s own admission:

For centuries preceding Margaret Thatcher, the Church of England had been ‘the Conservative Party at prayer’. The maxim endured until the mid-80s, during which decade the tensions between the Church and the Conservative Party were considered to have buried the whole notion. The Tory-Anglican relationship undoubtedly reached its nadir during her premiership…

Whilst it would be theologically and ecclesiastically illiterate to associate Christianity with Anglicanism alone, it is significant that the Anglican church – a traditionally Conservative-supporting institution – openly turned away from the Conservative Party under Thatcher. The notion of the Anglican Church being the “Conservative Party at prayer” was undone by Thatcher. Specifically, the Church viewed Thatcherite approaches to the poor and vulnerable as fundamentally unscriptural.

It is possible to concede that Margaret Thatcher held to some form of cultural Christianity. However, Matthew Parris hardly gives the impression that Thatcher held to the truths of orthodox Christianity. He states:

20 years ago, I handed her [Margaret Thatcher] (as her correspondence clerk) a letter from a lady unknown to her, who had just lost her husband. It would be a great comfort (she told Mrs Thatcher) to know that she would see him again one day in Heaven; and as she had great respect for Mrs Thatcher, it would strengthen her faith if she could know that Mrs Thatcher, too, believed in the Life Hereafter.

This was not an inquiry I could answer on the Conservative leader’s behalf. Her advice came back to me the next morning in the form of her personal, handwritten letter to our correspondent. Her answer consisted in a single, chilling sentence. “Christians believe in the after-life, and I am a Christian.”

I’m afraid I took that as a No. Or at least a Don’t Know. And it sparked an interest that I’ve pursued ever since, in the real as opposed to stated metaphysical beliefs of British political leaders.

Parris is apt to view Mrs Thatcher’s self-designation as a Christian – especially in light of her less than equivocal claim to belief in orthodoxy – as somewhat questionable. 

Equally, scripture itself speaks against Cranmer’s claim. Firstly, there is Thatcher’s now infamous comment:

…there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There’s no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.

Such a statement is clearly antithetical to the biblical writings (see Deut 15:11; Prov 11:25, 14:21; Luke 6:27-36, 38; Philippians 2:3; Galatians 5:13-15; Hebrews 13:16; 1 Jn 3:17-18;  et al). The bible is clear that there is such a thing as society and the Christian is not simply supposed to look after me and mine. Instead, the Christian is to prefer the needs of others above their own. The position above, espoused by Thatcher, in no way accords with scripture or Christian principle. 

Similarly, Thatcherite policies toward the poor and vulnerable do little to suggest an approach influenced by these scriptural writings. The right-to-buy scheme appeared to put the desires of those who could afford to buy a home above the needs of those who couldn’t afford to rent one. The call of Luke 6:31 appears to have been ignored when one compares her own ousting from power with her approach to the pit closures and privatisation redundancies over which she presided. The callous approach to those who lost jobs during the period does not accord with scriptural calls to look after the poor and needy.

Apart from social policy, Thatcherism – backed in many ways by Reaganomics – encouraged a mentality, encapsulated by Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street,  which says “greed is good”. Even a brief look at the New Testament writings could not lead you to such a conclusion. Yet Thatcherism encouraged private ownership, supported grasping at profit and stoked the base desire to hoard personal wealth.

Looking at the evidence, it seems hard to uphold that Margaret Thatcher was motivated by Christian principles and her Conservatism was rooted in Christianity.


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