Whatever your views on the politics of Margaret Thatcher, the cost of her funeral or the headline-grabbing fact that fascinators have been favoured by those attending it, the longest serving Prime Minister for 150 years was unique among British politicians.
Yes, she was the first woman to hold the post and yes, hers is the only funeral other than Winston Churchill’s attended by Her Majesty the Queen. We also know that she cultivated a ‘special relationship’ with Ronald Reagan and that, Boadicea-like, she galvanised a fighting force to reclaim the Falkland Islands. Her battle on the home front with the trade unions aroused mixed emotions as did her ‘Iron Lady’ image. But she is not unusual: there have been contentious politicians before her.
What distinguishes Margaret Thatcher from the rest of them is the fact that she gave her name to a political philosophy that will be forever known as Thatcherism. Only Karl Marx, Josef Stalin and Chairman Mao can boast an ‘ism’ of their own. For, in spite of the writing of Mein Kampf, the establishment of the Third Reich and the seismic influence Adolf had on Europe of the 1930s and 1940s, there is no such thing as Hitlerism. Nor is there an ‘ism’ named after Blair, Brown or Cameron.
In essence, Mrs Thatcher demonstrated the power of thought leadership. No one was in any doubt about what she stood for. Her philosophy was clear and consistent while she made a great play of being a ‘lady not for turning’. The conservative party’s policies on privitisation, tax, public spending and defence were espoused by the cabinet but embodied by her.
Although few of us have the opportunity or inclination to run a country, the principles of thought leadership have a valuable role in corporate communications. Of course, a company’s philosophy should be endemic to the organisation and consistent messages should be delivered by any employee who has any contact with the press or public. Similarly, a spokesperson for a specific topic or news story is desirable so that a fluent viewpoint can be expressed and a human dimension added to the image of a company.
But in an ideal world, what we PR agency people really need is someone prepared to throw on a flack-jacket and metaphorically leap over the parapet. We need someone whose influence goes beyond his or her own business; someone who comments on the industry, the economy, current legislation and the news. No one would advocate encouraging a company chairman to talk about a subject that is not in his area of expertise simply to generate PR and grab a headline, but it is important that those with valuable insights and opinions share them.
The widespread adoption of social media opens up even more opportunities for thought leadership. It’s what blogs were made for, after all. Just imagine what Margaret might have said in hers.