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Why did Margaret Thatcher like Jimmy Savile so much?

January 18, 2014

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We now know that Thatcher was warned (in vague but urgent terms) about Savile’s propensities throughout the 1980s.  She was told that giving him a knighthood might be awkward given that horrible rumours about him might well turn out to be justified.  She not only ignored these nay-sayers and ensured his knighthood but spent eleven successive New Year’s Eves with him.  It was this kind of official protection and recognition that was of immense help to Savile in furthering his chief occupation – rape.

What was it about Savile that Thatcher found so compelling?  I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that Thatcher approved of Savile’s serial sex offences.

Actually, I don’t think she knew about them at all.  But that’s not the point.

She, like others, merely refused to know more than she wanted to know.   Thatcher found Savile politically congenial, and when Thatcher found someone politically congenial,   then she would ignore any other troubling personality traits.

Savile was a key example of Charitarian Tyranny.  Sexual contact with children is the ultimate hideous expression of tyranny – the most extreme and disgustingly logical extension of the abusive exercise  of power.  He is recorded as having remarked that if various journalists threatened to go public reporting his crimes, he could simply threaten in turn to pull the plug on Stoke Mandeville hospital.  Children were not only his prey – they were his human shield.  The money he raised for his children only reinforced his own personal power over them.  As one of the most prolific sex offenders of the twentieth century, his charitable works were all about establishing personal tyranny.  This tyranny probably would have been impossible had not people like Thatcher and Prince Charles ignored all the rumours and offered him the enabling cloak of establishment approval.

What Thatcher found truly congenial about Savile, however, was his value as an example of private rather than public provision of healthcare.  Thatcher hated the idea of healthcare or childcare or child healthcare as some kind of entitlement.  Far better that people live or die at the whim of eccentric millionaires like Savile.  Thatcher herself had achieved power and status as a result of having married a millionaire, without which, no subsequent political career could have been possible.   Savile was a colourful high profile example of what private charity can achieve.  In a world in which children are cared for as a result of tax-funded public services – services which become regarded as part of the natural expectation of all citizens, a right rather than a gift (call this world Norway if you like) – there would be no room for Savile.

Thatcher did not like the idea of people growing up feeling that mere citizenship, mere humanity, conferred from birth certain entitlements.  Far better that people grow up relying on the drippings from the tables of the rich – because only private wealth can and should confer entitlement.  The predatory abusive power of Savile was congruent with Thatcher’s sense of how “charity” should replace “welfare”.  Poor people should only be allowed to live if it amuses rich people to allow them to do so.

In pursuit of the replacement of commonweal with charitarian tyranny, any report of serial child rape would have seemed peripheral to Thatcher.  A small price to pay even.

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7 Comments
  1. NMac permalink

    I suggest that this is a description of not only Thatcher’s attitude, but that of most hard-line Tories.

  2. I am no fan of Thatcher, but think that your evident dislike for her has in turn clouded your judgement in this piece and weakens it as a result.

    Saville, self- evidently, was a hugely skilled conman, and she was conned. I suspect that she warmed to a self-made man made good, and saw something of herself there, she probably also was impressed by his popularity and hoped to get some reflected warmth. Her reputation is damaged by this, but those who seek to taint her by association are not helping the cause. Saville duped everyone, good and bad.

    Adverse rumours about popular people are commonplace, few wanted to believe them about Saville, so carefully had he manipulated those around him.

    Bad people can do good things and good people can do bad things. The cry of “ we should have guessed” is understandable. But can take us of the scent. Specious evil can be persuasive, what is required is systems to test actions, not words, systems which are now far more robust than before.

    • I’m interested in why she chose to ignore warnings. What made her so amenable to Savile’s charms even when her advisers warned her about him? I think it’s really a strategic political issue. She was in favour of the rolling back of state provision, a dramatic retrenchment of the welfare state, and a high profile example of charity fundraising suited that agenda. Her association with Savile sponsored an ideological belief that the state is always bad and private initiative is always good. Now what Savile illustrates is that “Charity” in the very wrong hands, can be tyrannical and abusive.

      • Well said, Mr Brunstrom. Her pushing forward of Savile as a moral exemplar goes hand-in-hand with what she so famously said of the Good Samaritan – “No-one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well.” (A statement so stupid that words fail me.) It’s worth openly pointing out Thatcher’s championing of private philanthropy, in the person of Savile, for the reason you state – to show that Thatcher was certainly wrong, and such ventures need objective regulation precisely to avoid predators like Savile abusing the vulnerable and then running a few marathons for charity as supposed compensation.

        Since the Savile affair happened, let’s at least learn a lesson or two from it so it doesn’t happen again.

  3. I share your criticisms of Thatcherism. However I think that you are trying to stretch a point for political purposes beyond credibility

    You ask what made her so amenable to Savile’s charms? He was a charismatic conman who deceived everyone until after his death. Thatcher was not alone.

    Politicians have always sought a bit of popular stardust ( Wilson/the Beatles, Blair/ Oasis, Cameron/ Barlow), and Savile was a popular superstar. A bluff Yorkshire man, a self -made man, humble beginnings, popular with teenagers/ young adults as a DJ, popuar with children through Jim Will Fix It, popular with older people through his charity work. His appeal is not difficult to see, is it?

    Some advisers did voice reservations, but on hearsay and rumour, and not evidence. Many successful people make enemies and are smeared, it can come with the territory. Now in this instance the rumours were right. But condemning Thatcher for ignoring rumour in favour of a far more powerful positive image is wrong. It turned out wrong, but was not obviously a wrong call at the time.

    Suggesting that some meetings and social contact were part of an ideological master plan is absurd, she was seduced by the cult of celebrity and conned by a conman.

    I met Savile once, as a child, on the Jim will Fix it set. He was charming, delightful and was entertaining several handicapped children and their carers in his capacious dressing room, and did a very good job of it. The audience loved him, the studio staff doted on him, and he was a consummate professional in every respect. It is often underestimated how devious, and talented, the most evil have to be to succeed.

  4. I’m not claiming any “ideological master plan”. But I don’t think Thatcher ever did anything without a political purpose. She was rather less susceptible to “popular stardust” than most prime ministers. For sure she was seduced by a conman, but not just because of his cult of celebrity but because high profile charity work proved congenial from the point of view of her larger values system.

    What I think she found so attractive about Savile was the idea of charitable endeavour replacing state provision. Thatcher did not just ignore rumours in favour of “a far more positive image” – but an image that was politically useful to her.

  5. Having re-read this article, I think it is almost certaionly the most moronic – and offensive – piece I have read for a long time.

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