Whatever happened to Thatcher's children?

They were the first-time voters of 1979, the people who came of age politically as the country acquired its first female prime minister. We asked eight people who turned 18 that year what they thought their vote might bring and how they regard the Baroness now


Gail Cooper Banking clerical assistant, Leeds

I voted for the Conservatives, but at that time I was voting for Margaret Thatcher rather than for the party. The fact that she was a ballsy woman appealed to me. She said what she thought and didn't let people push her around. She was unique.

I was a member of the Young Conservatives, which I'd joined a couple of years before. It was like a social club. I was pretty pleased with Thatcher and her policies. I liked the council house initiative. Social housing should have been replaced, though.

I didn't know anyone in the miners' strike, and didn't go in for unions. The time for unions was time gone by, when working conditions were really bad – not the 1970s. They were trying to save jobs in a loss-making industry. It was a new age for the Conservatives. It's happening again now – the Labour Party is really unpopular and the Tories are going to replace them.

Ruth Douglas Legal secretary, Oxford

I was newly married at 18 and had left my parents' home in North Wales. My husband and I had just got a mortgage and bought our first house in Chester. Just before I was due to vote, I was made redundant from my first job, which was, ironically, approving loans at the Royal Bank of Scotland.

After I was made redundant, I had a few money problems and I lost the house. My dad had a wholesale fruit business and he went bankrupt soon after she came to power too.

I didn't know anything about politics then and I was really naive. I remember going into the polling booth in Chester town hall and not having any idea what to do.

I voted Conservative because my parents did, but I don't now. When we came to Oxford I realised there were better parties, but it took me quite a while to realise that.

I have voted Lib Dem now for the past 20 years. They were the third party, so I thought they needed all the support they could get, but it was the local effects of what they were doing in our area that made me choose them more than anything.

Philippa Childs Negotiations officer, Worcester

I was at college in Darlington but my mother lived in West Auckland in Durham. I voted Labour. My grandmother was a big political inspiration and took me on a Workers' Educational Association visit to Russia after my O levels. I recall being very excited and privileged at the prospect of being able to vote. Margaret Thatcher was a woman, and in theory I'd have supported the principle of a woman prime minister. But I didn't buy into that with Margaret Thatcher. I never saw her as a woman's woman or a feminist.

My mother lived opposite an opencast mine in Durham, and during the miners' strike, her house was full of pickets. I was in London collecting money in tins and that, for me, was the defining moment of the Thatcher years. I feel that it was a terrible time that impacted on community and people being concerned about one another, and that has led to the greed that we're seeing now.

In 1979 there was much more of a sense of community and of support of people in the community. I don't see anything positive now.

Graham Stewart Trade union journalist, London

I grew up in Sunderland and in 1979 I'd left to go to university in London. Being from Sunderland and coming from a working-class family I voted Labour. Then in the North-east there were two major routes to employment, coal mining or the shipyards. My dad was a miner and so was my grandfather.

I went to a boys' grammar school, and boys leaving at 16 would go to the mines or the shipyards on apprenticeships. A few years later, thousands were made redundant.

Change had to come. It would be stupid to say there was a golden age. Industries are always going to run their natural course. But it could have been made in a much kinder and more humane way. Margaret Thatcher was maybe essential in some respects, but there are better ways of treating people than casting millions adrift.

The North-east was treated extraordinarily badly. It was brutal. When you think of the number of coal mines that closed, it felt like a scorched-earth policy.

In the 1990s, there were generations that hadn't worked since redundancy in the 1980s. It was a huge seething pot of unhappiness. If you walk along the river Wear now you'd never know there were shipyards there. It's just a park.

Sue Ferns Researcher, London

I was at school in my A-level year in 1979. I grew up in Sheffield, which then was a big steel town. I did vote Labour, although I lived in a Conservative area. I was very interested in politics. Sheffield was a political city even in the late 1970s. It was a strong Labour council; there was great public transport. I was doing history and economics, so there was a lot of political debate at school.

I think change always happens, but I don't think there's an inevitability to the kind of change. We got a prime minister who knew what side she was on and who didn't believe in society. Sheffield was a city with lots of skilled, high-quality employment. My grandfather worked in the steel industry all his life. Now at the site where he worked is a shopping mall. I'm not against shopping malls but the employment is not the same; it's low-skilled, low-paid, part-time work. When I graduated three years later from Salford, there were just no jobs in the north, which is why I came to London. It was a very depressing time.

It's a big thumbs down for Margaret Thatcher. It's a much more individually centred society. That's why we're seeing such a wide discrepancy in income and wealth distribution. Those who could do OK are now doing very well. But what about the people at the bottom?

Shaun Eyles Bar owner, Harrow

I had just got kicked out from my (scholarship-funded) boarding school, and had started labouring on a building site in Hackney. It must be said that comparing 1970s Britain and Britain today is like comparing sausages with tomatoes – it was a completely different world.

We thought Chinese food was exotic; there were strikes galore and a three-day week. There was this feeling that, under the Labour government, most things didn't work or were about to break down. Countless times in our house, the electricity would go off at 6pm when the power stations shut down. All the families I knew would have a stash of candles under the stairs.

With her handbag and her suit, Thatcher was just so different. She wasn't a fumbling leftie. She was new, she was straight talking, and she was a woman. Like a 1970s middle-England Barack Obama, her image represented what a lot of people hoped that the future would hold. Promising to end the culture of union power, she was genuinely representative of most British people, unlike either the union leaders or previous Conservative politicians.

I voted for her. I don't think she was solely responsible for the sea change in Britain over the past 30 years, but no one could deny her effectiveness. She decried the "loony left", but political lunacy is an adherence to dogma when the end result can only be destruction. That's what happened with the poll tax. The early Mar-garet That-cher was a very different animal from the later Margaret Thatcher.

Sarah Bell Technical software consultant, Abergavenny

I turned 18 just five days before the general election and was terribly excited about voting for the first time. More than anything else, voting felt like a rite of passage, a coming of age and a chance to finally have your say. I voted for the Liberals, which was a tactical decision. I lived with my parents in Dorking at the time, a strong Tory constituency, and Labour was never going to come higher than third. I was voting against the Tories and Margaret Thatcher as it was clear what she stood for. I remember feeling disappointed at the time, but it was at university that her influence became clear as the culture of self started to replace the collective.

She was, however a conviction politician, which is very rare now. So even though I didn't agree with her values, I admire the fact she had convictions and followed those through. And while New Labour couldn't have existed without Thatcher, the elation I felt in 1997 has been replaced with a much greater rage as New Labour sold out to big business at the expense of ordinary voters. This has left a huge democratic deficit in this country, where big business is king and the views of ordinary people don't matter. They have built on what Thatcher built, but at least she had convictions.

Franklin Scrase Community development organiser, Bangor

I was 18. I had a new suit, a City job on 30 quid a week and a bedsit in Paddington with mould all down the walls. Optimistic over my first vote, and sensing this massive change on the horizon, I voted Tory. Things couldn't go on any longer as they were, but no one realised it would all be sold off. Two years down the line and I was out of work and taking occasional dead-end factory jobs. If people had realised that big state businesses were simply going to be replaced with big private businesses, no one would have bought into it.

I never considered not voting; there is a lot more cynicism towards politicians now than then. I suppose that is one of the legacies of that era. So many people went through a long period of feeling that society had nothing to offer. Today, their children are growing up alienated, and that must be the worst legacy of all. When society constantly undermines itself in the name of profit and efficiency, it can't be a surprise that a massive lump of the population is disillusioned.

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