We Heart: Actor-Turned-Humanist Politician Glenda Jackson

256px-Glenda_JacksonFrom the late 1960s through the 1980s, Glenda Jackson was one of the most respected actors of her time. The British thespian won two Academy Awards, one for a drama (Women in Love in 1969) and one for a comedy (A Touch of Class in 1973). She won an Emmy for portraying a shaven-head Queen Elizabeth I in the popular 1971 BBC-TV miniseries Elizabeth RAnd take your pick of any of the other great roles she essayed: in Marat-Sade or Hedda or Sunday Bloody Sunday or The Music Lovers or Stevie or Fill in Your Favorite Jackson Film I’ve Left Out.

Here’s an amazing scene from Women in Love:

But then, in a remarkable Act II, she left acting behind for politics. So did Ronald Reagan, of course, but he was a lousy actor—not one of the greats. Nonetheless, Glenda Jackson was elected as a member of Parliament under the Labour party in 1992, and she’s served in the British government ever since.

Today, MP Jackson, now 76, shows that she can deliver a speech with the gusto and bravado of a politician (and in Parliament, you have to talk over your colleagues, since they have no compunction about shouting out during your time at the mic), the grace and timing of an actor, and the humanism of a citizen who, on the occasion of Margaret Thatcher’s passing, wanted to express her pain over “Thatcherism.” Here’s some of what she said:

When I made my maiden speech in this chamber a little over two decades ago …. Thatcherism was still wreaking, as it had wreaked for the previous decade, the most heinous social, economic and spiritual upon this country, upon my constituency and my constituents. …

Our local hospitals were running on empty … I tremble to think what the death rate for pensioners would have been this winter if that version of Thatcherism had been fully up and running this year. ….

The plaster on our classroom walls were kept in place by pupils’ artwork and miles and miles of Sellotape ….  Our school libraries were dominated by empty shelves ….

But by far, by far, the most dramatic and heinous demonstration of Thatcherism … [was that] every single shop doorway, every single night, became the bedroom, the living room, the bathroom of the homeless. …

As a friend of mine said, during her era, London became a city Hogarth would have recognized …

We were told that everything I had been taught to regard as a vice … under Thatcherism was in fact a virtue– greed, selfishness, no care for the weaker, sharp elbows, sharp knees, they were the way forward …

And here’s the whole speech:

Publicity photo of Glenda Jackson in 1971 from Wikimedia Commons

About

Michele Kort is senior editor of Ms. She is the author of Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro and coeditor (with Audrey Bilger) of Here Come the Brides: Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage.