RIP Maggie Thatcher. One of the most frequent criticisms levelled against Margaret Thatcher was her infamous quote that “there is no such thing as society”, a soundbite that got misconstrued as meaning she stood for ‘selfish individualism’ and not the wider interest. Ironically, taking the quote in the context of the 1987 interview in which it was made, she was making exactly the opposite point that most of her critics accuse her of:
‘I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand “I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!” or “I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!” “I am homeless, the Government must house me!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first… There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.’
The full quote therefore sums up her whole philosophy that the more freedom and responsibility individuals have the more people can look after each other and communities can grow stronger as a result.