Papers released today from Margaret Thatcher's personal archive reveal that not everyone in her cabinet was in favour of sending the Task Force to the South Atlantic in 1982 to reclaim the Falkland Islands from the dastardly Argentinian invaders.
I was working in Cheltenham at the time and remember well many of the details of it all. Most of us also remember that the UK had given off many signals that our interest in maintaining the Falklands was weak – for example, the announced withdrawal of HMS Endurance from the South Atlantic. Not that this justifies the invasion, but you know how politics work.
However, that's not the interesting bit of today's news reporting.
Apparently, Thatcher's cabinet was 'split'. In other words, not everyone shared the same point of view as to how to respond to the invasion. We have discovered – much to our apparent shock or surprise – that opinions ranged from 'just let the islands go' to 'stick it up 'em, Captain Mainwaring'. But, what is shocking is simply that anybody should think of being shocked.
Do we not think that adults disagree – even when in government and faced with a quick decision about war? Isn't the whole point of collective cabinet government that different opinions are represented and given space for being voiced? Shouldn't we expect our leaders to be a little bit clever, a little bit concerned to look at all options, a little bit open to having views changed and developed as well as potentially confirmed by argument? This is why confidentiality matters: people with responsibility need a safe space within which to rehearse even their heresies in order to see what holds water and what doesn't.
Our problem is that we live in a culture where adults holding differing opinions is called 'division' or 'split'. Goodness knows we understand how all this language plays out in representation of the church. it is a little bit pathetic, but it also has the effect of inhibiting grown-up debate. 'Difference' is not the same as 'division' – it just doesn't sound as dramatic.
When will we grow up?