Margaret Thatcher


This isn’t a blog about politics or economics. (Just as well in the case of the latter – I can’t even work out my electric bill let alone decide whether Thatcherism was good or bad for the country.)  So I don’t have anything to say about most of the controversy surrounding her.  But I feel obliged to point out that not only was she our first woman prime minister, she was also our first scientist prime minister.

It isn’t something that gets mentioned very often about her.  There seems to be a lot to talk about when it comes to Mrs T, so this tends to get overlooked.  She started her working life in a lab.  She had two posts in labs, the second one at Lyons who made ice cream.  Her career lasted a total of three years.  I have read in the papers that she worked on soft scoop ice cream but I can’t find any publications or patents dating from her time there.

She had a chemistry degree from Oxford, and with experience in food science she could easily have moved into  related fields. of which cosmetics is one.  In the fifties and sixties the industrial chemistry world was a small one and she could have forged her career in that direction quite easily.  It is an interesting thought that had she not got into parliament she might have made an impact in a very different arena.  Who knows what she might have come up with?

As I say her scientific background was not something that either she or anyone else made much of during her time in politics.  It didn’t lead to her showing any particular favour to science.  But she did act as her government’s spokesman on science.  She was very much in a minority amongst MPs by having a science degree.  In her cabinet she was in a minority of one.

There was one bit of policy where I think her scientific background did make a big difference.  She was one of the first mainstream politicians to speak out clearly on the environment.   In two speeches, one in 1988 and one in 1989, she came out calling for action on pollution and climate change.  This was in some ways just as surprising as her being the first woman prime minister.   Up until then green issues had been very much something that people on the left worried about.  And even then, only on the fringes of the left.  To have a conservative leader coming out as an environmentalist moved care of the planet right up the political agenda and made it much more respectable.  That is not a bad thing to have done, and it is hard to think of anyone other than Margaret Thatcher who could have done it.

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