The masquerades of Margaret Thatcher : an exploration of politics and fantasy
This thesis explores the figure of Margaret Thatcher and how, as a cultural icon, she has been central to a range of political and media representations from the mid-1970s to the 1990s. Underpinning this thesis is the argument that gender is one of the persistent signs through which political power is conceived, authorised and popularly understood. This thesis interrogates how Thatcher, the first female Conservative Party leader and then British Prime Minister, disrupted the dominant discourses of mainstream politics and the conventionally understood masculine status of high political office. I argue that Thatcher's political persona gained its political force and broader cultural resonance from the disruption of conventional gender roles and from an ambiguous play on conventionally understood masculine and feminine attributes. This disruption of gender and paradoxically the endorsement of certain forms of masculine authority and feminine common sense were integral parts of Thatcherism's central political imagery of social insurrection and potential chaos. Through the analysis of political commentary, biography, press articles and political speeches I propose that Thatcher's significance can only be understood fully through the fantasies of authority, violence, war, independence, freedom and gender difference which sustained her powerful symbolic status in the Conservative political imagination. The biographical construction of Thatcher's path to power and the significance of her father are interrogated through Joan Riviere's psychoanalytical concept of the 'masquerade'. A textual analysis of unconscious anxiety about feminine vulnerability and the seizure of masculine power that accompanied Thatcher's masquerade is developed to consider the relevance of her precarious middle-class Methodist background in 1930s Britain. The interrelated facets of class, gender and religion are drawn upon to argue for the centrality of propriety and self-policing respectability to Thatcher's persona and to her political discourse. This analysis of political and personal history then broadens to a consideration of key concepts in Thatcherite discourse and significant moments in Thatcher's premiership. I chart the links between Thatcherite and New Right endorsement of social authoritarianism, morality and the 'traditional' nuclear family. Focusing specifically on the child as a repository of adult hopes and fears, I argue that Thatcher envisaged a 'privatisation' of the child that symbolised a broader extraction of Thatcherite subjects from the dependency of the Welfare State and into consumer self-sufficiency. Finally, this thesis explores the 1983 general election campaign and the Conservative Party's support of nuclear armament as a prerequisite of national survival and aggressive symbol of national strength. I unpack how Thatcher, as 'war leader', was set up as the barrier to impending chaos and social disarray and as supporter of legitimate force and state control. Oppositions between freedom and thraldom, liberation and restraint were central to Thatcherite discourse. I investigate the placing of her persona and by implication Thatcherite Britain, on the cusp of these oppositions and how this dialectic was played out in political speeches and reportage. An analysis of the varied political and media accounts of social chaos emanating from or turned against Thatcher in 1983 lead to an interrogation of Thatcher as 'super-ego'. I argue that the psychoanalytical concept of the super-ego provides a key way of understanding how Thatcher's imaginary power was consolidated through an ambivalent engagement with imagery of illegitimate violence and also a counter-investment in the extreme authority of the state and the law in the modern British nation.