Over the past week or so since the death of Margaret Thatcher there has been much written about her political legacy, she was undoubtedly a divisive figure but in equal measure a remarkable woman. Not a lot however has been made of the fact that she rose to become prime minister at all. A grocer's daughter becoming one the great British leaders of all time is a truly remarkable story. But this does raise some questions. What if she had never got there at all? What if the opportunities afforded to a young Margaret Roberts had been different? What would happen to a Margaret Roberts born in 2013?
To begin with the Margaret of 2013 would most likely not have been a grocer's daughter. Today, according to a report by Respublica, supermarkets account for 97% of grocery sales in the UK. The number of independent grocers in the UK has dropped from around 45,000 in the 1950's to less than 2,000 today. Therefore, a modern Margaret would most likely be the daughter of an assistant manager at Tesco Express not an independent shop where she would be exposed to the bare bones economic lessons and customer conversation that Mrs. Thatcher experienced, and was so influenced by in her childhood.
Secondly, a modern Margaret would not have attended a grammar school. Whilst it is true that the school Mrs. Thatcher attended is still open and still selective, the chances of Margaret in 2013 attending one of the 164 grammars out of 3,000 schools in total, is very slim.
Mrs.Thatcher herself said in 1977, "People from my sort of background needed grammar schools to compete with children from privileged homes like Shirley Williams and Anthony Wedgwood Benn". So what hope now for the modern Margaret, competing against privileged privately schooled pupils?. She would almost certainly end up in her local comprehensive where equality is a priority over achievement and ambition. She would be taught to pass her exams, but not to think. She would show potential, but it would not be spotted and if it was the teacher is too pressurised and stressed to help her out. So she muddles through, ticks the necessary boxes and moves on.
Thirdly, would a modern Margaret go to Oxford university? She would undoubtedly be up against it without a grammar school education. Would she even want to go is perhaps a better question. Whilst the real Mrs. Thatcher gained a scholarship would a modern Margaret, who likes to live within her means, take on £27,000 worth of student debt? It is debatable, but she would certainly think twice about it.
Then out in to the jobs market. Today nearly one million 18-24 year olds are unemployed. A modern Margaret, even with all the verve and ambition of the real lady, may struggle to knock down doors in the current climate. She would need to choose a career very early on. She would need to plan and prepare for it. She would not be afforded the luxury of changing career paths in modern Britain. Experience is everything. Perhaps she would resort to looking for an unpaid internship, maybe with a Conservative MP, the health secretary perhaps?
Maybe a woman of Margaret Thatcher's mind would overcome these modern difficulties, but maybe she would not. The ladder of social mobility has been kicked away and how much potential, how many modern Margarets will we waste as a result?
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