Glenda Jackson on the death of Margaret Thatcher: 'I had to speak out to stop history being re-written'

Glenda Jackson's attack on Baroness Thatcher drew jeers - but, she tells Andy McSmith, she has no regrets

Andy McSmith@andymcsmith
Friday 12 April 2013 01:08
Glenda Jackson, the Labour MP who stole the show during Commons tributes to Margaret Thatcher, claimed that messages coming in from the public were ten-to-one in her favour
Glenda Jackson, the Labour MP who stole the show during Commons tributes to Margaret Thatcher, claimed that messages coming in from the public were ten-to-one in her favour

Glenda Jackson, the Labour MP who stole the show during Commons tributes to Margaret Thatcher, claimed that messages coming in from the public were ten-to-one in her favour.

Her Commons staff spent today working through 900 emails. Of the first 400 they opened, they counted 372 that supported her attack on the late Prime Minister, the rest against.

She was unrepentant about her attack on the “heinous social, economic and spiritual damage” which she said that Mrs Thatcher had wreaked upon the UK during her premiership, which caused uproar when she delivered it. Many Tories were particularly outraged by her comment: “The first Prime Minister of female gender, OK. But a woman? Not on my terms.”

But Ms Jackson insisted: “I was meticulous in not being personally rude. I didn’t know the woman: I did know the policies. I spoke up because history has been rewritten over the past week. I lived through the Thatcher period. I know what it was like. I know what it was like for my constituents. The reality bore no resemblance to what’s being presented.”

She said she was also struck by the way the tributes are being led by the Conservatives, when it was the Conservative leadership that sacked Margaret Thatcher in 1990. “That’s another thing – the manner of her going hasn’t been touched on. I find that bemusing,” she said.

With dozens of Labour MPs staying away for the occasion, Ms Jackson delivered her speech from an almost empty Labour bench, in front of Tory benches packed with MPs who were jeering and shouting at her to sit down, and one of whom made a formal complaint to the Speaker.

Another MP might have found the experience intimidating. But while other MPs think that they are great performers who could shine on stage and screen, the 76-year-old former film star is the only one who has the awards to prove that she could. She won two Oscars during an outstanding acting career, though that was 40 or more years ago. The sensation that she was whipping up a reaction from a live audience once more appears to have stimulated instead of worrying her.

“I wasn’t intimidated at all,” she said. “I obviously was getting under their skin, so it was okay.”

After she had finished speaking, the Tory MP Sir Tony Baldry, tried unsuccessfully to have the Speaker rule that such attacks on Lady Thatcher’s memory were out of order. “It is not an opportunity for MPs to denigrate the memory of the person who has deceased,” he complained. But the Speaker ruled that “nothing unparliamentary” had been said.

For the ex-actress who caused this fuss, it was like hearing the crowd call out for an encore. “It was the cherry on the cake,” she said.

Prior to the Commons reassembling, word had gone out from the Labour whips to their MPs that shadow ministers and office holders should be there and show respect, but backbench MPs like Ms Jackson were advised that if they did feel that they could not be nice about the dead Prime Minister, they need not be there.

That advice was reinforced by commentators such as Dan Hodges, a maverick Labour Party activist who writes a blog on the Daily Telegraph website. On the morning of the event, he accused the Labour left of being “petty”, “childish” and “self-indulgent” with their ungracious attacks on Mrs Thatcher’s memory. He urged Ed Miliband to tell the left to “shove its antipathy where the sun doesn’t shine.”

These words caused some amusement on the blogosphere after Ms Jackson had spoken, because Dan Hodges is her son.

She said that no one in the party had spoken to her to rebuke her for her Commons performance. “One or two MPs congratulated me,” she added, “but there weren’t many there by the time I stood up.”

Dramatic life from stage to Commons

Although a Labour supporter, Glenda Jackson did not originally intend to become an MP.

Her passion was acting and she made her stage debut in 1957, carving a career that won her two Oscars and, in 1978, a CBE.

It was Mrs Thatcher's 1987 speech claiming there was "no such thing as society" that incensed her. "It made me so angry that I walked into my closed French windows and almost broke my nose," she recalled. "In the light of that I felt I was prepared to do anything I could to help create a Labour government." Elected in 1992 she became Labour Transport Team Campaigns Co-ordinator, later becoming Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport.

In 1999 she unsuccessfully ran for the Mayor of London. Recalling the move from acting to politics, she said: "I was told I was replacing one form of theatre with another. I said if that was the case then the Commons is remarkably under-rehearsed, the lighting is appalling and the acoustic is even worse."

Press reaction

“As sour as old milk.”

Michael Deacon, The Daily Telegraph

“This speech was marvellously, dementedly over the top. Potty to the power of ten. Sexist, too!”

Quentin Letts, Daily Mail

“This is not and has never been a general debate on the memory of the person who has been deceased, but an opportunity for tribute.”

Tory MP for Banbury, Sir Tony Baldry, appealing to the speaker John Bercow

“She is without question, like the late Margaret Thatcher, a conviction politician. Jackson is a woman who does not compromise her beliefs, not even for the niceties of eulogy.”

Bonnie Greer

“That kind of passion, carefully channelled, is exactly what Labour will need if we are to convince the public to back us.”

Mark Ferguson, editor of LabourList

“The Labour MP used the occassion which was meant to be a period of tribute to the former PM to attack her and the policies she believed in.”

The Express, Martyn Brown and Alison Little

“Glenda Jackson let rip with an attack on Thatcher and her “heinous” legacy that had the Tories gasping as if a drunk had gate-crashed their wake.”

The Mirror, Brian Reade

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