May 8th, 2010

Political change: Hitchens encounters Margaret Thatcher as dominatrix

The inimitable Cristopher Hitchens relates an early anecdote about Margaret Thatcher that gives a somewhat different perspective than we usually get on the Iron Lady:

…[T]he Tories were having a reception in the House of Lords in order to launch a crusty old book by a crusty old peer named Lord Butler, and there was a rumor that the new female leader of the Conservative Party would be among those present for the cocktails. I had written a longish article for The New York Times Magazine, saying in effect that, if Labour could not revolutionize British society, then the task might well fall to the right. I had also written a shorter piece for the New Statesman, reporting from the Conservative Party conference and saying in passing that I thought Mrs. Thatcher was surprisingly sexy. (To this day, I have never had so much anger mail, saying, in effect, “How could you?”) I felt immune to Mrs. Thatcher in most other ways…

Almost as soon as we shook hands on immediate introduction, I felt that she knew my name and had perhaps connected it to the socialist weekly that had recently called her rather sexy. While she struggled adorably with this moment of pretty confusion, I felt obliged to seek controversy and picked a fight with her on a detail of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe policy. She took me up on it. I was (as it happened) right on the small point of fact, and she was wrong. But she maintained her wrongness with such adamantine strength that I eventually conceded the point and even bowed slightly to emphasize my acknowledgment. “No,” she said. “Bow lower!” Smiling agreeably, I bent forward a bit farther. “No, no,” she trilled. “Much lower!” By this time, a little group of interested bystanders was gathering. I again bent forward, this time much more self-consciously. Stepping around behind me, she unmasked her batteries and smote me on the rear with the parliamentary order paper that she had been rolling into a cylinder behind her back. I regained the vertical with some awkwardness. As she walked away, she looked over her shoulder and gave an almost imperceptibly slight roll of the hip while mouthing the words “Naughty boy!”

I had and have eyewitnesses to this. At the time, though, I hardly believed it myself. It is only from a later perspective, looking back on the manner in which she slaughtered and cowed all the former male leadership of her party and replaced them with pliant tools, that I appreciate the premonitory glimpse—of what someone in another context once called “the smack of firm government”—that I had been afforded. Even at the time, as I left that party, I knew I had met someone rather impressive. And the worst of “Thatcherism,” as I was beginning by degrees to discover, was the rodent slowly stirring in my viscera: the uneasy but unbanishable feeling that on some essential matters she might be right.

A mind is a difficult thing to change—and sometimes change arrives through strange pathways.

[Hat tip: commenter "will."]

22 Responses to “Political change: Hitchens encounters Margaret Thatcher as dominatrix”

  1. anna Says:

    Did you know that Christopher Hitchens’ brother Peter is a devout Christian and far-right conservative? He writes for the Daily Mail I believe.

  2. neo-neocon Says:

    anna: yes indeed, I do. I wrote about them here.

  3. Artfldgr Says:

    notice how he doesnt tell you what point was wrong, and or right… ie.. he gets to slander her without us being able to tell if he was right… or he believes he is right…

  4. mizpants Says:

    What a great story. I can’t help being a fan of Hitchens. He writes and talks magnificently, even if he is a little simple-minded in his militant atheism.
    What’s really amazing is that he can speak in perfectly constructed paragraphs after having put away enough alcohol to kill any normal person.

  5. kcom Says:

    “Did you know that Christopher Hitchens’ brother Peter is a devout Christian and far-right conservative? He writes for the Daily Mail I believe.”

    Please define “far-right conservative”. I admit I don’t know much about his brother but I have serious doubts about whether he is far-right, unless you mean far-right in a sense that is so bastardized that it no longer has any real meaning. Just as an example, do you really think the Daily Mail is going to have a writer in the house that is truly far-right?

    This casual slander of conservatives (whether intentional or no) is really ridiculous. As numerous people have pointed out, the same standard is very rarely applied on the left. You basically never hear the most whacked-out, left-wing crackpot described as far left. Half the time, you don’t even hear them described as left at all. (Watch how critics of Supreme Court nominees are described, for example.) Many times they are simply described as liberals or not categorized at all. I think this very low hurdle that appears to exist for calling someone far right is something that needs to change.

  6. kcom Says:

    Update: I don’t necessarily think in this context it was meant as a criticism, but I think the point still stands. It’s a term way too loosely thrown around, even by those on the right.

  7. LAG Says:

    I can understand ending a futile argument or one that will end in bloodshed by declaring a draw, but can you explain why Hitchens would concede the point instead of simply agreeing to disagree when he knew he was right? Doesn’t sound like him and seems dishonest to me.

  8. Oblio Says:

    Sounds like Maggie knew how to treat overgrown British schoolboys. Genius!

  9. anna Says:

    kcom – eh??? you make no sense. I meant far right as in to the right of the British conservative party.

    what would you have had me call him? it’s rude to scold people for not following your own personal standards.

  10. larry Says:

    LOL — “No, no,” she trilled. “Much lower!” — Love Hitchens!

  11. Oldflyer Says:

    Oh, Margaret Thatcher. We could use someone like her now. Correction, we desperately need someone like her now.

  12. waltj Says:

    I can see Maggie dishing it out. And Hitchens is man enough to concede, even grudgingly and backhandedly, that he liked taking it.

    Oldflyer, you’ve got that right. For a couple of years, until Reagan took office, the Iron Lady was the only “man” in NATO and had more stones than its other presidents and prime ministers combined. Britain, and the West, need someone like her today. Instead, the Brits get Larry, Moe, and Curly, and we’re stuck with the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

  13. kcom Says:

    Anna, I would say you should read this article about him and point out where it shows him to be “far-right”.

    Peter Hitchens Bio

    Pay special attention to this paragraph:

    Hitchens has in his writing continually repudiated the BNP. After BNP party leader Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time in October 2009, Hitchens stated that the BNP are an embarrassment to “proper, patriotic conservatives like me who are not racially bigoted or prejudiced and do not care about the colour of people’s skin”.

    The article describes him as “traditionalist conservative”. That seems a much more apt description than far-right. Once you label someone like him far-right what room do you have left for the people truly out there on the fringes for real. How far right are they?

  14. narciso Says:

    Well it’s not terribly surprising that he got Thatcher wrong, although more than most, he did see her potential, one wonders about his current judgement on political figures

  15. Nolanimrod Says:

    Thanks for the story. What wit! L’audace! And I do think Hitchens meant the male former leadership rather than the former male leadership although the dominatrix idea raises uncertainties.

  16. Thatcher in the wry — Olephas Says:

    [...] (From “Political change: Hitchens encounters Margaret Thatcher as dominatrix“, via neocon.) [...]

  17. Bill Says:

    Another thing about Hitch and Tatch. He, as per his nature, went against fashion and defended her over the Falklands, despite leftist fashion.

  18. Fausta’s Blog » Blog Archive » Hitchens gets a spanking Says:

    [...] Neo-neocon has the details. [...]

  19. Andrew Ian Dodge Says:

    I was having a chat with Lady T in the 90s. I worked for an organisation she was patron of and she knows me on a first name basis. Some miserable little oik popped up and interrupted me to say something about the single European act.

    She remonstrated him for being rude, and then told him how he was wrong. He had no colour in his face by the end of it and scurried away like a scared rat.

  20. Carol Says:

    the former male leadership

    The British are surprisingly sloppy writers.

  21. Evening shorts « The Tiger on Politics Says:

    [...] 2.  Christopher Hitchens’ first meeting with Margaret Thatcher ended with her swatting him on the rear with a rolled-up order paper and calling him a “naughty boy”?!  Well, that’s what Hitch says. [...]

  22. SilverBee Says:

    And he obeyed why?

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