Spitting Image – a widely-watched satirical television show of the 1980s – famously suggested that Ronald Reagan fancied Margaret Thatcher something rotten. ‘What a fine lookin’ woman,’ the punch line to one particularly celebrated latex puppet sketch ran. ‘Pity I’m only screwing her country.’
Juvenile sexist witticisms of that kind are usually beneath the dignity of the average smutty schoolboy. But the gag was widely repeated for weeks on end, precisely because it did seem to encapsulate the state of the special relationship. Not for nothing, either, did Labour politician Denis Healey’s jibe that Thatcher was ‘Reagan’s poodle’ score a direct hit.
Today a statue of the former president has been unveiled in his honour in London. So it’s worth recalling that Reagan was not a widely popular figure on this side of the Atlantic during his term in office.
Mass opposition took the form of hundreds of thousands of people – including the younger me, embarrassing Morrissey haircut and all – participating in marches against the siting of US cruise missiles in the UK.
Socialist Worker did a roaring trade with a mock-up film poster parodying Gone with the Wind. Ronnie was depicted carrying Maggie away from a mushroom cloud, over the strapline: ‘She promised to follow him to the end of the Earth. He promised to organise it!’
It was de rigueur in every lefty student bedsit, as was a cartoon map entitled The World According to Ronald Reagan, which depicted the US in dominance of the entire globe.
The right see Reagan as the architect of the return to free market economics, the victor in the Cold War, and all-round conservative Republican icon, and ask themselves what’s not to like.
But the left remember instead the man who busted the air traffic controllers’ union, invaded Grenada and oversaw a sordid and certainly illegal cocaine-for-arms deal to keep Nicaragua’s Contras supplied with guns. We were markedly less impressed.
Sure, conservatives are entitled to celebrate their heroes, as they have done this morning. But let’s keep in mind that Reagan wasn’t everybody’s hero then, and he isn’t everybody’s hero now.