When news broke that the new £50 note would bear the face of a great figure of science, I didn’t give a damn. I’m sure many join me in my sentiments. Those who considered classics like Hawking and Newton, or maybe more recently acknowledged figures like Franklin or Turing. However, a strange new contender has emerged to annoy the left, confuse the centre and make the right shrug with an indifferent “yeah, could be cool”. Enter that most divisive of figures: Margaret Thatcher. The challenges have been harsh, but I think most of us would acknowledge we don’t really care who ends up on the new fifty. Only if it’s someone we happen to dislike: then, all of a sudden, we care tremendously about their qualifications to appear on some plastic. In the case of many students, young people and Guardian readers, Thatcher is disliked, sod it, hated enough to make people care about a note most have never actually used or even seen.
In all honesty, this big stink is a bit pointless when you remember that it’ll never happen. However, I’ve got to say I’m not all that against it. It’s important to reiterate that regardless of the choice I will sleep fine in my bed, but the Iron Lady does go beyond the argument that she’s sort-of-not-really linked to the all-important invention of Mr. Whippy. Chief is that Thatcher was, say Runciman and others, much prouder of being the only Prime Minister to hold a degree in science than being the first woman. People with a passing knowledge of her views on feminism won’t be shocked. But in all earnestness, I think our failure to address areas like climate change seriously are down greatly to our politicians undergoing educations that tell them everything is up for debate.
Well, science isn’t, and Thatcher, with her scientific mind, could prove something of an example for modern leaders. She was the first PM to support active climate protection policy, being instrumental in the passing of the Environmental Protection Act; the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the founding of the Hadley Centre for Climate Research and Prediction. Her speeches at the height of her power helped to put acid rain, climate change, and wider pollution in the political world at a time when they just weren’t, culminating in her 1989 call for a global treaty on climate change. It’s of no surprise then that Agar argues that Thatcher’s understanding of modern scientific research impacted her politics. But so too can this be seen in wider events. In 2005, Thatcher spoke out against the reasoning behind the invasion of Iraq, despite her general support for toppling Saddam Hussein. Thatcher asserted her belief that, as a scientist, she would always look for “facts, evidence, and proof” before committing the armed forces.
So whilst I can’t really defend Mrs. T being the face of British scientists, I honestly believe there is more of a case for her than a lot of people are making out. If you want to know what I mean, I recommend the article by that bastion of political neutrality The Guardian. No matter its brevity and it’s admitting this whole thing isn’t gonna happen, it’s dripping with that special kind of liberal smugness of which I’m often guilty. Nobody is writing articles about comedian Will Hay (as an amateur astronomer), and I think we know why: nobody wants to attack a throwaway candidate the way some want to attack Thatcher.