Margaret Thatcher’s legacy — in political cartoons

Margaret Thatcher’s death on Monday prompted a great deal of reflection on the Iron Lady’s many legacies. But one in particular has been less explored: the former British prime minister’s recurring appearance in political cartoons. “She was a great subject for people who really hated her or hated her for what she stood for, which ...

Today, 30 July 1987 © Martin Rowson
Today, 30 July 1987 © Martin Rowson
Today, 30 July 1987 © Martin Rowson

Margaret Thatcher's death on Monday prompted a great deal of reflection on the Iron Lady's many legacies. But one in particular has been less explored: the former British prime minister's recurring appearance in political cartoons.

"She was a great subject for people who really hated her or hated her for what she stood for, which was many of the cartoonists," Anita O'Brien, the curator of the London Cartoon Museum, told Foreign Policy. "She was very distinctive. She had a particular way of speaking, which some [cartoonists] used to their advantage.... She was somebody that somehow couldn't be ignored." 

For that very reason, O'Brien's museum devoted an exhibition to the satirical sketches featuring Thatcher called Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! The exhibit opened in 2009 -- two decades after the divisive British leader had left power. "Because she was such a strong figure and because she continued to try to exert an influence over many of the succeeding prime ministers, both Tory and Labour, she continued to feature in cartoons long after she had ceased to be prime minister," O'Brien explained. "Much much more than probably any figure."

Margaret Thatcher’s death on Monday prompted a great deal of reflection on the Iron Lady’s many legacies. But one in particular has been less explored: the former British prime minister’s recurring appearance in political cartoons.

“She was a great subject for people who really hated her or hated her for what she stood for, which was many of the cartoonists,” Anita O’Brien, the curator of the London Cartoon Museum, told Foreign Policy. “She was very distinctive. She had a particular way of speaking, which some [cartoonists] used to their advantage…. She was somebody that somehow couldn’t be ignored.” 

For that very reason, O’Brien’s museum devoted an exhibition to the satirical sketches featuring Thatcher called Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! The exhibit opened in 2009 — two decades after the divisive British leader had left power. “Because she was such a strong figure and because she continued to try to exert an influence over many of the succeeding prime ministers, both Tory and Labour, she continued to feature in cartoons long after she had ceased to be prime minister,” O’Brien explained. “Much much more than probably any figure.”

To get a sense of how Thatcher was depicted in political cartoons, check out the image below by American cartoonist Bill DeOre, which appeared after Thatcher dispatched the British Navy to the Falkland Islands in 1982:


DEORE © 1982 Bill DeOre. Courtesy of the artist and Universal Uclick. All rights reserved.

And another by DeOre:


DEORE © 1982 Bill DeOre. Courtesy of the artist and Universal Uclick. All rights reserved.

The cartoon below was published in the Daily Mirror the day after Thatcher’s longest-serving cabinet minister, Geoffrey Howe, delivered a scathing resignation speech, voicing his discontent over her refusal to better integrate the United Kingdom with European economies:

This photograph shows a sketch at the Cartoon Museum drawn by Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell in 2000, after former British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared that it was time to “move British politics beyond the time of Margaret Thatcher.”

Photograph by CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images

“One of the things that came across when we did the exhibition was that she really divided the country,” O’Brien told FP, and this doesn’t look to be changing any time soon. “Even the whole issue of her funeral is dividing people. I’m sure there will be more cartoons between now and next week and probably after the funeral.”

For Maggie’s part, “she didn’t care about cartoons at all,” O’Brien notes. “We know this because one of our trustees was one of her ministers. Whereas some other politicians and previous prime ministers may have been quite hurt or offended by the cartoons, she just completely ignored them so they had no impact on her. I don’t imagine she had that much interest in the visual arts.”

Marya Hannun is a Ph.D. student in Arabic and Islamic studies at Georgetown University. Follow her on Twitter at: @mrhannun.

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