Geoff Tennant - Promoting access to mathematics for all
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7/9/14: in honour of Margaret Thatcher

I'm aware that getting older is a bit of a recurring theme in this blog - failing eyesight, failing hearing, police officers treating me like a doddering old man - although against that I would like you to know that I've been on the treadmill and / or in the swimming pool everyday since I've been back from South Africa, mostly both.  And I normally walk to work (albeit that it's not very far) and use the stairs to get to my 5th floor flat.

So where in the ageing (maturing?) process have I become a fan of Margaret Thatcher? Well, not exactly a fan, but in enthusiastic agreement with some of the things she said.  After all, I was 13 when she became Prime Minister, a post she held for 11.5 years, so she was a pretty important figure as I started to engage with political issues.  I still find it hard to believe that people are allowed to vote - particularly, vote conservative - who were not even born when she stood down as Prime Minister in 1990.  I have a Canadian friend who says the same about Pierre Trudeau.  Although - and maybe this is not wise to admit to on a public blog - I did vote conservative in the last election, on the basis that in Hampshire North West to do anything else was whistling in the wind, and to vote for Sir George Young entitled me to write to him to tell him that I had voted for him as a man of stature and integrity, in spite of him being conservative rather than because of it.  I got a very nice reply, I'm pleased to say.

So, what is it that she said that I agree with?  Let me start with my favourite:

Others bring me problems, David brings me solutions.
About her minister Lord David Young in the Observer Newspaper 1st July 1990

I currently have this pinned on my office door, and insist that anybody coming in to see me reads it before entering.  In working with colleagues, particularly those more senior than me, I try to provide possible solutions to problems I'm discussing, and in dealing with students and colleagues when problems arise I very often ask how they would like the problem to be resolved.  I think this is a really helpful maxim and consider that the world would be a rather better place if more widely adopted.

I also like the following:

There is no such thing as Society.
There are individual men and women, and there are families.
in Woman's Own Magazine 31st October 1987

The problem here is that the meaning is somewhat ambiguous, but as I understand it, there is a very important point here.  Very easy to say of a problem, 'Somebody should do something about this' with the 'somebody' being ill-defined, anybody and nobody - or 'Society' in Mrs Thatcher's parlance.  If 'somebody' needs to do something, who better than the person identifying the problem?  Similarly, if a person pays less tax than they should, or gains more benefits, then there is no 'Society' from whom they are taking money, but other people, families and individuals.  In the same kind of way, padded insurance claims make insurance premiums go up for everybody, you're not ultimately cheating the insurance company which in any case will continue to make money.  Our actions have consequences, and those consequences are visited on other people, not some vague indeterminate 'Society' which, as Mrs Thatcher rightly said, does not exist in this sense.

To balance this up, let me look at a saying of hers with which I really do not agree:

No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he'd only had good intentions.
He had money as well.
Television interview, 6 January 1986

I simply cannot see how a full reading of the gospels, rather than simply cherry picking this one story, can support this interpretation.  By this analysis we wouldn't remember the widow's mite, but we do, don't we? Absolutely it is the state of our hearts and our intentions which matter, with our financial means to act a secondary consideration in our Lord's sight.

Let me finish with one which just makes me laugh - as somebody who spends a certain amount of time sitting on committees, this speaks maybe to the control freak in me which lurks just beneath my urbane surface:

I don't mind how much my Ministers talk, as long as they do what I say.
In the Observer Newspaper 27th January 1980


Quotations taken from:

2 Comments to 7/9/14: in honour of Margaret Thatcher:

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Pete on 09 September 2014 12:22
Interesting thoughts Geoff. I think it was Henry Ford who said 'Don't find fault, find a remedy' which is similar to Thatcher liking solutions to be presented rather than problems (don't we all?).
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Geoff on 09 September 2014 22:56
Thank you, Pete, I'm not aware of the Henry Ford quotation but can easily believe that people who are successful in their own terms are people who take a positive, solution-orientated approach. As to whether everybody likes this - not sure, will have to think about that!

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