David Cameron made another break with his party’s past yesterday when he declared that Margaret Thatcher had been wrong to describe Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress as terrorists during the struggle against apartheid in the 1980s.

The Tory leader also took a swipe at her famous - or to some infamous - remark that there was “no such thing as society”. He said there was such a thing as society, but it should not be confused with the state. ~The Daily Telegraph

As I have already noted before, John O’Sullivan delivered, and I seconded, the decisive answer to this particular piece of Cameronian falderal about Thatcher’s “society” line.  The first claim is more troubling, because it suggests not only that Mr. Cameron does not know what the word “terrorist” means and that he feels a compulsion to disagree with whatever aspect of Thatcherism that the British media have disliked the most and thus diverges from Thatcherism on these points in a calculated move to win good spin.  It is the kind of Blairesque move that is only equaled in mendacity by Blair’s own declaration that he is an heir of Margaret Thatcher.  Cameron announces with little declarations like this that this new brand of Tory will lack in loyalty to past Conservative leaders, moral discernment and intellectual heft, but he will assuredly ride his bicycle wherever he goes.  As a strategy to provide excellent material for satirists and bloggers for years to come, this is brilliant.  As a stategy to revive the still-shaky political fortunes of the Tories, it is absurd.  It also raises the question of whether Mr. Cameron even understands how apartheid was ended.  Indeed, if the end of apartheid was the goal, there is an argument to be made that then-PM Thatcher’s policy of engagement was more effective–as is usually the case–than the sanctions imposed on South Africa by other nations.  That would suggest that there was a legitimate, lawful way to bring the policy to a close that did not involve the use of violence.

We are all familiar with the Official Story of South Africa to which Mr. Cameron is now paying homage.  Bad Afrikaners ruled through apartheid, and this was very bad, which means that anyone who combated apartheid by any means must perforce be very good, and as the leader of this opposition no one was more good than Nelson Mandela.  It means that we ought not look into why Mr. Mandela was in prison lo those 27 years (convicted of terrorism and treason), and we do not talk about ANC terrorist attacks, but euphemistically call him a “political prisoner” and the ANC a political opposition group.  Now that’s what I call moral clarity.  Similarly, we do not question that the rise of ANC rule has been anything but a wonder for the people of South Africa, and we look back and laugh at the silly Western leaders who said all those atrocious things about Mr. Mandela and his friendly ANC comrades.

Of course, there are plenty of other examples of terrorist leaders becoming “respected” political figures–even if everyone acknowledges that the respect shown them as statesmen is a colossal act of self-deception to facilitate some kind of future political settlement–from the big names of Lenin and Mao to the better known examples of Begin and Arafat to the lower tier of Daniel Ortega and Hacim Thaci.  The first four are deceased, but perhaps Mr. Cameron can swing around to Nicaragua and Kosovo for some quick photo-ops to talk about these other “great men.”