Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in May 1979. In 1981 Ronald Reagan assumed office as President of the United States and Francois Mitterand was elected President of France. The next year, 1982, saw the election of Helmut Kohl as Chancellor of the Federal Republic of (West) Germany. Thatcher retained office for 11 years, Reagan for eight (the maximum permitted), Mitterand for 14, and Kohl for 16. Whatever anyone thinks of their politics - and they all, inevitably, faced crises and controversy - they were giants of late twentieth century history. It is worthwhile to observe also that Leonid Brezhnev, long-serving leader of the Soviet Union, died in November 1982, to be succeeded eventually, from 1985, by Mikhail Gorbachev, whose reforms went further than even he imagined.
Margaret Thatcher had been Prime Minister for nine years when, on 21 May 1988, she addressed the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. The General Assembly Hall is situated on the artificial hill in Edinburgh known as the Mound.
In her address, which came to be known as 'the Sermon on the Mound', Thatcher offered a theological justification for her ideas on capitalism and the market economy. What was expected to be merely a formal engagement became the focus of a storm of controversy about politics, faith and morality.
Thatcher emphasised individualism, choice and wealth production while making an idiosyncratic and ambivalent reference to democracy. She stressed the individual's responsibility to take care of themselves. She said, 'Christianity is about spiritual redemption, not social reform.' She linked the idea of free will with consumer choice. She praised the role of private enterprise in wealth production, quoting St Paul's letter to the Thessalonians: 'If a man will not work he shall not eat.' On democracy she observed, 'Nowhere in the Bible is the word democracy mentioned.'
Thatcher was preaching to a church and a nation that had mostly rejected her ideology, but the reverberations of the speech travelled far beyond Scotland. For those of us who lived, vividly, through the Thatcher years it is easy now to overlook the fact that she was ousted from the premiership by her own party's MPs 31 years ago.
For our November lecture we welcome Dr Clifford Williamson of Bath Spa University who will seek to reevaluate 'the Sermon on the Mound' and its contribution to our understanding of Margaret Thatcher and the political ideology associated with her.