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What does ‘great’ mean?

If the British were to copy American practice and maintain archives for the records of all prime ministers, the issue over the Margaret Thatcher Centre project would be just about whether it had been properly run and funds spent appropriately. I am not concerned with that. More important is whether Thatcher really was a ‘great prime minister’ as admirers claim, or a disaster, or just distinctive compared to the others we have had in recent decades.

There is a real issue here: whether in the dangerous world of today we need to reassess the criteria for ‘greatness’ in public figures. After all, we have plenty right now trying to be great, but maybe just showing off (perhaps Trump is actually wise in not trying to be great!). I doubt that Thatcher would really count, because she was never able to reach much outside her committed following, and we have plenty of those. I wonder whether there’s a lesson in the nonagenarian David Attenborough being just about the only person in the world who is generally respected rather than having only a specialised or local following?

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