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Wednesday, 27 March, 2002, 15:05 GMT
Thatcher's role: Was she one of the great orators?
Baroness Thatcher has been forced to bow out of public life on health grounds.
The 76-year-old former prime minister's office announced on Friday afternoon that she has been ordered by doctors to make no more public speeches, after she suffered a number of small strokes over recent months.
Lady Thatcher's speeches over the years have provided some of the most memorable soundbites in politics.
One of her best known catchphrases came during her party conference speech in Brighton in 1980 when she boldly defied her critics by saying: "You turn if you want to. The lady's not for turning."
Her critical view of European integration also famously led her to accuse France and Germany of trying to create a "fortress Europe".
Some leading Conservatives have said they now hoped the public would remember her more memorable speeches rather than her more recent comments.
Do you think Margaret Thatcher was one of the great orators? What was your favourite Thatcher speech?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I don't think she was a great orator as say Churchill and Powell. However, she did have something rare in a politician- you knew she meant what she said. In these days of spin ('deceit' I think was the word we once used) you know there isn't a shred of conviction in the whole cabinet.
Mrs Thatcher stands for most of us can regard as truly 'British' in society today. Her strength of conviction, and skilful rhetoric made her respected throughout the world. I would go as far as to say that she is personally responsible for some of our most basic freedoms that we seem to take for granted these days. For example, the freedom to hate all things foreign, especially French, German, and Argentinean. The freedom to wantonly destroy public property and abuse authority figures such as teachers and policemen. The freedom to feel content in a state of long-term unemployment. The freedom to spend many happy hours in railway stations waiting for trains to arrive. And in case we have forgotten, Mrs Thatcher, even before she was prime minister, had the foresight to relieve schools of the responsibility to provide free milk to pupils throughout the country. Thank you Mrs Thatcher, for helping to make Britain the country it is today.
Mrs Thatcher's political life was aimed at keeping 60% of the population content to the detriment of the remaining 40%. Her legacy to the UK, society is lost, people are secular and more envious and the public infrastructure and services are on their knees, but still, she made a lot of gormless elits very rich.
She was a star!! She cut away all the dead wood that was suffocating our country. It's a great shame that Tony Blairs wishes to return to those 'dark ages'
The only true orators of that period were Tony Benn and Enoch Powell - since they alone understood how to use grammar and vocabulary to create an effect.
Mrs Thatcher was at best a little Englander. So much so that she
could not see north of the River Tweed.
I think she wasted her life, she would have made an excellent green grocer. And we wouldn't have the self-obsessed, intolerant, petty-minded society we have today.
Best thing she ever said: "Every prime minister should have a Willie".
As a New Yorker, I can draw many comparisons between Baroness Thatcher and former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Both became head of their respective jurisdictions at the exact point in time when those jurisdictions were being written off as "ungovernable" or "sick men." Once in office, both leaders took on entrenched interests and came out on top (even if this was not immediately realized and/or appreciated). Moreover, both leaders were ceaselessly and shamelessly lampooned by their opponents. While both Rudy and Maggie had flaws, they both left their respective jurisdictions considerably better off than they had been.
As regards Thatcher's economic legacy: if her policies were so disastrous and unpopular, why did Tony Blair and "New Labour" retain some key aspects of Thatcherism (i.e., low tax rates, privatisation, and an understanding that social problems cannot be eradicated by blindly spending money and creating move government bureaucracy)?
No, she was not a great orator. She always sounded like the headmistress of a primary school talking to a class of 5 year olds.
I was never a fan of Lady Thatcher's politics at home, and believe that her dogmatic ideology did us much harm, yet I cannot help but feel sad that we will no longer hear her in public life again. Not because I agreed with all she said, but because unlike others, she always spoke with conviction, never avoided the issue however controversial, did not care a damn about what others thought about her, and always had the guts to speak the truth, right or wrong as she understood it. I think it's a greater shame that we do not have a leadership at present that can evoke such strong feelings of passion in the nation. At least Lady Thatcher will never go down in history as being a weed.
Without exception, she was the greatest Prime Minister this country has ever had. The country is immeasurably poorer with her absence from public life, but we are immeasurably richer for the contributions she made throughout her career. I wish her a long and happy retirement and hope we build on her legacy instead of ruining it.
To err is to be human, and Baroness Thatcher, being one of our kind, made some mistakes but it has to be said that any mistakes she did make were overshadowed by her string of remarkable successes. If only we had someone of her calibre in parliament today! Someone who would tell it like it is. She did, for beating about the bush was not her style, and this was one of the qualities that made her truly remarkable in a profession known for double talk! I, for one, should like to wish her and her husband, Dennis, all the very best for their future, quieter life together. May health and happiness accompany them.
Thatcher isn't to speak in public anymore? Rejoice! Rejoice! And besides, Tony Blair seems to be carrying on where she left off quite nicely...
I admire Margaret Thatcher's boldness and uprightness. She was one of the great leaders in last century's history. One of her strengths was how she wisely emphasized values such as the importance of family. I would love to have a leader like her in Germany, which sadly will not be the case if you take a look at our politicians.
Thatcher was as great a British leader as Churchill but her oratory, while light-years ahead of her contemporaries, couldn't hold a candle to the man who drew pictures with words.
Despite Thatcher's strong words and fine oratory she can never get away from the high unemployment figures during her time in power.
Robert C, Sheffield, UK
If Thatcher were a great orator, it is odd that none of those supporting this view have offered any memorable quotation beyond "the lady's not for turning". Think by contrast of Winston Churchill, where the only problem is where to begin.
She is the last of the great politicians, from an era when there was a clear distinction of what politician stood for. In today's bland and inoffensive world, no one dare take a stand for what they believe in. It's all hidden agendas, misinformation, distorted facts, spin and blatant lies.
A very great shame - probably the country's most inspired leader-she dragged Britain out of its trade unionised, 'something for nothing' culture into the modern world. Bring her back, even if she can't speak in public - after all Tony B and his buddies are only trying to run the country along the same lines she did - they are just not as good at it as she was...
Thatcher was, for her first couple of years as PM, a truly dreadful speaker. Remember the cringingly awful speech she made on the steps of Downing Street when she won for the first time? She quickly realised this shortcoming however, and took professional assistance. She lowered the timbre of her voice, injected a tone of sincerity, and became a very good (though not, in my view, a great) speaker at events like the Tory Conference. She never really liked the Commons however, and delivered relatively few outstanding speaking performances in the house. To be considered truly great, one has to be able to orate in a variety of different circumstances. I think that Thatcher falls short of the mark, because she only performed really well in front of her own audience.
Andy Richards, UK
Why don't we all meet back here in fifteen years, when we can make a fair comparison between Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher?
Love her or hate her she will command a prominent place in the history of the 20th century for her stand for common sense and the break with the slogan driven state control which condemned much of that century to decline and decay. She didn't do everything right, fact is she did a lot of things wrong, but she did many things that mattered and that needed doing. Her influence was worldwide and the last two decades of the century were marked by the rolling back, on a worldwide basis, of the terrors of communism and the cold embrace of state socialism. That she is now, at 76, silenced by ill health is sad, but perhaps she should welcome the opportunity to rest and relax and leave the public arena of politics to others.
Knowing the havoc she was to reap, her plagiarism of St Francis of Assisi (a true carer of the poor and society) was appalling.
Edward Barham, England
Compare Baroness Thatcher with the sad bunch of no-hopers we have running the country now. A great lady, she made mistakes but always spoke with a great strength behind her words. The only thing that could ever beat her has, age.
Margaret Thatcher had one of the most cold, irritating and condescending voices in British politics. Her intonation, however, was perhaps her least offensive quality. She set about creating a low wage economy for millions. Back in the mid-80s, I was an employee of the Inland Revenue in Mansfield. We would spend days on end dealing with redundancy cases from the mining industry as we moved people's records from the "employed" to the "unemployed" boxes. P45 part 1's dominated our daily post deliveries. Those few miners that were lucky to find other jobs were joining temporary employment agencies with no guarantee of regular income or the local textile factories where wages were far lower than they had earned in the mining industry. The majority however, remained in the "unemployed" boxes.
Margaret Thatcher was not a great orator. She knew that and had the sense to employ strong speechwriters. Her delivery was often monotone and unremarkable. She may have inspired the greedy and the selfish, but that was because she told them what they wanted to hear. My favourite speech has to be the one when her son got lost in the desert. It summed her up perfectly. Unable to spare sympathy for the thousands that were devastated by her economic policies, she shed buckets of tears for herself.
Daniel Rees, Scotland
I remember the depressing times before she came to power in the UK and the great sense of dignity and pride she managed to engender in the nation. Her greatest achievement was working with Reagan and Gorbachev to help end the cold war madness many of us grew up under.
Margaret Thatcher was a brilliant speaker and showed the world what a great leader she was. There may be disagreements but she led us through the Falklands War and she dragged this country into the 21st century (At long last). So far all that Blair has done (With the exception of a few crackpot ideas which remind us he is Labour) is follow in her footsteps.
One thing about Mrs Thatcher that we should all remember is that she was so forceful and brimming with confidence.
Short sentences, rubbish message, creating hate wherever she went.
P Taylor, UK
I once heard Margaret Thatcher say that she was going "orf to Yorrop". After scouring the atlas, to determine where this heretofore unheard of region was, I finally realised what she was talking about! She was going to Europe! Since she went on to bring my country to its knees, I'm only sad she didn't remain there.
Thatcher had a fundamental flaw in her oratory which was a lack of humour. It took the opposition parties a long time to realise this but once they started using humour against her it was extremely effective.
Before Margaret Thatcher, Britain was called the "sick man of Europe". She caused the collapse of communism.
Rob Anderson, UK
Margaret Thatcher's speeches always struck me as stage performances by a second-rate actress. Her speeches were well written but their delivery could persuade and excite only those who wished to delude themselves that she was an orator. To compare her oratory with that of her idol, Winston Churchill, who inspired us with his words, would be ludicrous.
Yes, Margaret Thatcher was a great, inspiration speaker. And love her or loathe her, all must admit that she was tough.
I doubt if Britain will ever again have such a strong leader.
Great public speaker or not, actions speak louder than words and her actions speak for themselves.
During her years we've seen the poor become poorer as the rich become richer, public services crumble and get neglected as bits of our nation slowly got sold off to private money-grabbers. A nation that once had real spirit has had its soul sold to the banks and corporations leaving us with a blank philosophy of greed and free marketism. I have no respect for a person who has done more damage to a nation than two world wars put together.
Mrs. Thatcher did some good and much harm. ... A political personality so strident and aggressive is bound to rub people the wrong way. ... Mrs. Thatcher had great potential, but squadered her this potential. Tony Blair is a much better leader but one who is too concerned with spin and image. He is by far the greater politician/leader, but perhaps, due to her strong personality, "Mrs. T." will go down in history as the more memorable leader.
No, she wasn't. And the doctor who has persuaded her to abandon speaking publicly should be knighted.
Thatcher a great orator? You must be kidding! When she was a PM and I was little and could not speak any English, I could only understand her when saying "No, No, No"! And I think everything regarding Thatcher could be answered by three nons. Great orator? No! Great politician? No! Great person? No!
An inspirational lady. As has been said "The best man in the cabinet" Strong and resolute in her determination to oust spongers who took advantage of lax social services, she pulled the workers of Great Britain into a more productive shape. She was a great international states woman and showed great leadership in her speeches, especially in her early years. But every dog has its day and sadly hers in politics have come to an end.
Thatcher was a great PM, who took a declining, self-doubting, nation, and turned it into an economic powerhouse. Best speech? "The lady's not for turning". It is too bad that the Labour Government has virtually destroyed the strong, confident, nation that she built.
KK Ren, UK
No, Margaret Thatcher was not a great orator, she wasn't even a good politician. She was a charismatic person who caught the mood of the time with the right punch lines at the right time, that's all.
Thatcher. The woman that introduced an unfair taxation system on honest working people (CSA), a woman who double-charged families Poll Tax when only one member was working. These are the type of policies that I, and other disgruntled workers, will remember her for. Unfortunately Blair is going the same way. And then they wonder why nobody turns up to vote! With these two parties monopolising politics is it any wonder there is so much rebellion in the country? Spending billions of pounds on other countries only infuriates taxpayers when this country is on it's knees.
Say what you like about Thatcher but she remains the modern saviour of this country. Without a leader like Maggie we'd still be living in a country dominated by the trade unions of government-subsidised 19th century industry. Nothing else matters.
Paul Smith, UK
At least you knew where you stood with her. She pandered to no-one, spin was not required, she just did what she did, and if you didn't like it, you could vote her out, simple as that. Not like today, where our PM is better qualified to be a marketing executive than a minister. My favourite memory, I still love the "I want my money back" negotiations, very amusing.
Margaret Thatcher will be remembered as a leader whose philosophy was "my way or no way". She was not one of the great orators and simply did not use her position to inspire confidence in the capitalist movement. She lead one of the most divisive regimes in recent UK history.
David Pickett, USA
I've voted Labour all my working life, but no more. Thatcher at least had honesty and conviction, something Blair and his fellow political pygmies have not. I used to have pride in my country, with hindsight Mrs Thatcher's departure started its decline.
The poor Public Transport, the run down NHS, the greed society and many other ills in the UK society can be firmly laid at her door.
To Michael, her three electoral victories were on the back of no more than 42% of the vote. As soon as the opposition got its act together, the Tory party was humiliated at the polls (twice!). The Tories dumped her because she was so hated, her policies of public squalor while encouraging short-term greed have left problems which will take decades to undo. Her supine attitude to the US and its concerns reached its nadir with the invasion of Grenada, a Commonwealth country. Ever after she was seen as Regan's poodle. She was no orator.
Michael , UK
I am sure her decision not to speak in public again will be met with great sadness by the Labour Party. Over the past few years, she has done more to destroy the Conservatives' chances of ever being re-elected than any Labour government could hope to achieve.
Martyn Roots, England
No one did more damage to British society than Mrs Thatcher. She left a selfish society that lost all sense of community. I will not miss her.
Modern media culture demands that we come up with an answer to a question like this in days, if not minutes. The true judgement of Margaret Thatcher's place in history will be a consensual one in fifty or a hundred years time. Until then, most people's views will be purely parochial. A little more reflection and a lot less instant reaction would make for a better world all round, perhaps.
From the point of view of a student of history and politics, I find the news that Baroness Thatcher will no longer speak in public to be nothing short of tragic. One simply cannot study the recent history of social policy in the Western world without reference to the Thatcher legacy. More needs to be said about this legacy but, unfortunately, this debate has just lost one of its most important participants.
It is too much of a coincidence that she rails against the EU, and then is told not to make any more speeches because of her health.
Although I support the British Labour Party and voted for Labour in two general elections, Baroness Margaret Thatcher is an exception. Thatcher was able to change the mind of Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir who instituted the Buy British Last policy. Thatcher convinced Mahathir that buying British goods should not be the last resort. I respect Thatcher for her tremendous skill as a world class statesman. I am sad that she had a series of minor strokes. I hope it does not mean she cannot attend the House of Lords in the future.
I don't think she was a great orator in the sense that she did not inspire those who opposed her, as the comments here show quite clearly. However, her legacy shows that at certain times some things are more important than national unity. Since the Second World War the conventional wisdom was that Britain's slow decline was something to be managed with elegance, compassion and good taste. She made the decision to destroy certain parasitic institutions - and earn everlasting hatred - in order to create the conditions for the Britain of today. There are some who lament the old "elegant decline" model, who would prefer to have hundreds of thousands of men mining coal at higher prices than most can afford. Fair enough, but the rest of Britain is better off now than then.
John Foss, Greece
Margaret Thatcher was one of the greatest political speakers of the 20th Century. She was frank and had great political vision. She will be remembered by the generations to come, as one of the greatest political leaders of UK and the world. Despite what people think of her as a politician and person, she was one of a kind.
Lady Thatcher was undoubtedly a figure of her time. Her conviction-driven political beliefs gave a nation riddled with self-doubt in the late 70s something of an idealistic lifebelt to reach for. Her staid, schoolmistress-like tone dished out admonishment to an almost masochistically receptive public. But it is entirely flawed thinking to adjudge speeches delivered in these situations as great oratory, at least if that word is to maintain its connotations of clarity, persuasiveness, animation and verbal artistry. Talking at people in a supercilious tone from a delusional political - if not intellectual -eminence, is a far cry from good oratory despite the unforgettable soundbites and dismissive rebukes. For me, great oratory entails a great deal more which I feel Lady T, in her political righteousness, was beyond being able to conceive.
I so utterly detested the hectoring tone of Lady Thatcher's voice and the patronising manner in which she delivered her speeches during the long, dark years when she was PM that I developed a knack of instantly switching off the car radio or killing the sound on the TV whenever she started in one of her tirades. Consequently in eight years I hardly heard a word of what she said. I now do the same thing with President Bush - it's remarkable just how peaceful and much less stressful one's life becomes.
Chido Nwakanma, Nigeria
Mrs Thatcher obviously had good speechwriters, but, memorable or no, I'm glad she ran your nation and not mine. Bad enough to have Mr Mulroney and his cronies living it up at our expense, without being forced to listen to Nanny tell us it was good for us.
Mrs Thatcher was not all good and all bad. She was a mixture of the two. She was a good leader for the 1980s and gave the UK a strong voice in the world and helped domestically with the economy (which was a mess under the last Labour government). Although she was far too controlling and had a little Englander mindset when dealing with people outside of England.
As an American Air Force serviceman stationed in England from 1979 to 1983, I came to admire and respect the Honourable Margaret Thatcher. If there was one woman I would ever vote for to be President of the United States, it would certainly be her!
Angus Swan, UK
It's interesting to note that most of the words of praise almost exclusively come from outside the UK. Maybe they would be changing their tune had they had to endure her reign. Especially those living in Scotland or the North-East of England. She was a blight on the ordinary working-class people of Britain.
Margaret Thatcher is one of the most inspirational figures ever. Her style was frank, straight and to the point and her audience always held a great respect for her words. As a 15 year old, few people inspire me in politics, but Margaret Thatcher certainly does.
What a relief. These days people have enough on their hands putting up with George Bush's rants without having to listen to Thatcher's as well.
Thatcher did many good things for this country. She turned it around and made it an economic power and she is to be thanked for that. In terms of some of her other policies she was sadly wrong but if I was asked if she was she good for Britain I would say yes. She was good for Britain in the 80's, not today. I wish her well
Matthew Robins, UK
Frankly I agree with Matthew Robins, she was an appalling PM who has destroyed the UK and left it in ruins. She should have disappeared long ago.
Listen to Baroness Thatcher. She was spot on about most issues she spoke about. And now at a pivotal point in Britain's future
within the EU, you must heed her warning about Britain becoming a
"federal state" in Europe. Britain must not be a subject of the EU!
In response to Tom V and his warning that we should avoid being EU subjects. Why is that Tom, is it because a US of E would challenge the USA? What's good for the goose is good for the gander.
Her comments will be sorely missed. As perhaps the last British patriot her voice will be spared the shame of debating the final degradation of Britain as a minor province of Europe.
Many of us wish she would have stopped around, oh, 1979. That would have suited me.
As usual there are plenty of voices on the left here bemoaning her time as prime minister. She was not a great orator - of course her speeches were written for her - as are Tony Blair's. But she was the best PM we could have had during that time in history. The position the country was in in 1979 was no time for the vacillation of Messrs. Callaghan, Foot or Kinnock!
Mrs. Thatcher's audiences may not have always liked her message but she always delivered it clearly and with firm conviction. I believe she'll go down in the history books as one of Britain's great prime ministers if not orators.
Bill Rigby, USA
She was a gifted orator though her speeches were written by others. Up to the 1980s I had the feeling that the world was continuing to evolve (too slowly) into a better place. Since then, and possibly due in part to Thatcher, I have the feeling that we have all gone backwards.
It seems to me that Lady Thatcher was never a great orator. Rather, her strength as a prime minister was in (most of) her policies. Disingenuously, many tend to harp on her few daft ideas, like the poll tax. But without her economic reforms Britain would still be a high-tax, union-strapped, high-unemployment nation like many on the continent. A toast to the lady.
Hopefully the additional free time will allow Mrs Thatcher to reflect on the communities and individuals which she devastated during those dark days of her leadership.
Favourite sound bite: "This is no time for wobbling" - spoken to George Bush Snr during the Falklands War. A great lady who has watched a great nation decline.
Baroness Thatcher is the last great 'statesman' of modern times. I joined the police force the week the Conservative Party came to power under her in 1979. I was one of the first £100 a week bobbies. It was a time when Britain was still great. President Blair and his cronies should take note.
This is truly sad news, Baroness Thatcher was and still is far ahead of her time.
I'm not sure whether doctors advised Mrs Thatcher to quit public speeches for the sake of her own health or for the sake of the nation's. Either way, it's a shame they didn't silence her 20 years ago.
Mats Green, Sweden
No. Great orators are inspirational, not condescending.
I am amazed anyone would consider Lady Thatcher a great orator whatever their politics. I think oratory has been in decline for a long time as a result of TV and the importance of soundbites. My memory of Lady Thatcher's speeches is the strange artificial way she spoke and the
slogans which were obviously false but which were widely repeated and rarely challenged such as 'there is no such thing as society' and
'we live in a post-industrial society'.
It is supremely sad that Baroness Thatcher has been forced to give up public speaking. To me, she was the one post-war British leader who utterly rejected the "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory" moribund atmosphere of the country after the Second World War. She dared contemplate, articulate and create a vibrant, confident Britain, not a second rate republic that needs to "belong" to an EU or anything else to prosper, but a great nation that could still lead and inspire on its own. She always manages to annoy and irritate precisely the right people! Best speech: not a word spoken I believe but when she draped her handkerchief over the hideous "one world" tail design on a British Airways model. That spoke volumes. Baroness Thatcher, even if muted in public, will continue to inspire all who believe in Great Britain.
My favourite Thatcher speech is the one made this week on her
behalf saying she will be making no more public speeches.
22 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Thatcher told to quit public speaking
22 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Thatcher's famous speeches
18 Mar 02 | UK Politics
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13 Mar 02 | UK Politics
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