"I am fighting as an ordinary person for my lost freedom, my bruised body and my outraged daughters." Thus Boadicea addressed her Iceni army, facing the Roman legions, from her chariot — the first articulation of what we may call the Boadicea principle. "Consider how many of you are fighting — and why. Then you will win this battle, or perish. That is what I, a woman, plan to do. Let the men live in slavery if they will."
Tacitus, to whom we owe this speech — and who in turn had it from an eye witness, his father-in-law Agricola — was emphatic that the ancient Britons "did not discriminate against women in matters of command". Margaret Thatcher adopted the Boadicea principle. She had to fight for her right to lead from the first, but she was helped by her enemies. Before she had even become prime minister, the Soviet army newspaper, the Red Star, had contemptuously dubbed her "the Iron Lady" — a sobriquet that she adopted with alacrity. Sarcastic comparisons with Boadicea were directed at her by the Left after the Falklands War. She rejoiced in her role as the charioteer of the nation.
Now that she has gone, however, such martial images are disapproved of by the Conservative establishment. "Conservatives should beware of accepting the myth of Mrs Thatcher as a Tory Boadicea who would have flown into every battle no matter what," warned an editorial in the Tory house journal, the Spectator. "As they mourn, Tories ought not to be too hard on themselves or their current leader."
Well, some Tory mourners recall the fact that it was precisely Mrs Thatcher's adherence to the Boadicea principle in the Falklands War that reversed her electoral fortunes and cemented her image as a formidable leader. Would that David Cameron's foray into Libya had yielded such clear-cut results. In fact, the Western-backed Islamist uprising known as the Arab Spring has proved disastrous for the West. And while the main responsibility for the weakness of Western policy must lie with President Obama, Mr Cameron — unlike Tony Blair — has failed to emulate Mrs Thatcher in strengthening the resolve of US administrations and showing solidarity with allies under siege. Mrs Thatcher visited Israel three times as prime minister; Mr Cameron not once. Only in Europe has Mr Cameron shown his mettle, but even here his instinct is emollient. Helmut Kohl remarked that Mrs Thatcher "wanted Europe, but a different Europe from that wanted by most of her European colleagues and me". Mr Cameron says he wants a different Europe too — but does he mean it? His hero, Harold Macmillan, saw Europe as the solution to British decline. Mrs Thatcher did not — in fact, she realised belatedly that Europe was part of the problem, not the solution. Whose side is Mr Cameron on?