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Boris Johnson: Thatcher's true battle was fought against idle men

'THE Iron Lady' is the most important political film for years. Nothing and no one has done more, in the 22 years since she was kicked out of office, to rehabilitate Margaret Thatcher.

It is not that it is an accurate historical portrait. I bet she never barked "Sink it!", when her generals asked what they should do with the Belgrano. I know that she wasn't in the Commons car park when Airey Neave was blown up, and I am sure that she didn't run up the ramp to behold his mangled remains. She surely never ranted at her cabinet in quite those terms or subjected Geoffrey Howe to such insane humiliation. She almost certainly never wore a hat in the chamber or tried to push her way into a men's urinal.

But if the film takes liberties, it is poetically truthful. It is true to the essence of Ms Thatcher, and above all, Meryl Streep is amazing. She enters into her; she becomes her: the ruby lips, the flashing eyes, the pineapple hair, the pale skin transpiring at every pore with the fire of pure certainty. Somehow this actress has re-explained to the world what it was like to see, meet and be the West's first female prime minister.

Somewhere the film's director has said that it was a 'King Lear' story, an examination of a tragic loss of power, a meditation on the sorrow of old age. That may have been the intention of the writer and director -- and yet it is the younger, stronger Ms Thatcher/ Ms Streep who seizes the film and takes it over. Most of the people I watched it with agreed that the dementia stuff was quite tastefully done. We just felt that there was too much of it.

We wanted the forceful version of Ms Streep doing her incredible sturm und drang of the Thatcherama. We see the teenager bravely leaping out in a bombing raid on her father's shop to stop the butter being covered with dust. We see her overcome the jeers of other girls and win a place at Oxford.

We see her stick it to the Dartford Conservative Association in the same way that she faces down all the other useless and objectionable males she meets in her career. She tells the Americans where to get off when they try to persuade her to abandon the Falklands to Argentinian aggression. She faces down the IRA. She sees the error of the euro long before many others. And time and again, she sees off the Tory wets and grandees.

Yes, she is eventually felled by the men in grey suits, but by the end, Ms Streep has reminded us of what Ms Thatcher was really all about. It wasn't just me-first, get-rich-quick. That was the caricature. Ms Thatcher emerges from this film as a far more revolutionary and inspiring figure -- because she was a woman. From the very beginning you can see that what really actuated Ms Thatcher was a feminine impatience with the cosy, clubby, complacent politics of the post-war consensus -- that was held overwhelmingly between men of a certain age and class. Of course, she believed in thrift, hard work and rewards for merit -- but a proper understanding of what Ms Thatcher really stood for is vital today.

I believe she would have strongly disapproved of boardroom greed. She never really much liked the City -- she thought bankers liked interest rates to be too high for the good of her vision of a property-owning democracy. Insider traders were prosecuted on her watch and she got rid of automatic commissions for stockbrokers.

SHE believed in competition, and allowing the market to work -- not stitch-ups. Ms Thatcher wasn't against money, and she wasn't against pay as an incentive to real exertion and talent. But she would have been totally opposed to all that now whiffs of a male-dominated cartel.

She would have been against any kind of crony capitalism, and as for the solution -- well, she would not have wanted pay set by politicians. But I reckon she would certainly have gone for any kind of poujadiste revolt.

In tackling boardroom greed, David Cameron is not bucking the market. He is acting in the true Thatcherite tradition of the Conservative Party, because male clubbiness, jobbery, idleness and complacency were the very things Margaret Thatcher fought against all her political career. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Boris Johnson is the Conservative mayor of London

Irish Independent