I think that Ray Smith misses the reason why the decision of Congregation not to award an honorary degree to Mrs Thatcher remains an indelible stain on the record of the University of Oxford.
It had long been the custom that Oxonians who achieved the office of prime minister were granted an honorary degree. This applied to Gladstone, Salisbury, Asquith, Attlee, Macmillan, Heath and others. The honour was not dependent on the political affiliation or policies of the recipient, but on his having reached this great office.
Margaret Thatcher not only became prime minister after a less privileged start in life than most of her predecessors, but she was the first woman to do so. To deny her the customary honour was an act of petty malice by the dons. C P Snow in his sadly underrated novels wrote that ‘Cambridge dons are not distinguished men. They are just men who confer distinctions upon one another’ (The Affair p. 62). Pari passu the same applies to Oxford dons of the 1980s.
Mrs Thatcher bore the insult with dignity, never referring to it. She was consoled by her Honorary Fellowship of Somerville College, which she greatly valued, but to me the matter still leaves a thoroughly bad taste in the mouth.