Monday, May 04, 2009

Margaret Thatcher – 30 years today...


The General Election of May 3rd 1979 yielded a momentous result the day after. On May 4th it was clear that the United Kingdom had voted for its first woman prime minister. As she walked through the door of Downing Street, the new Premier confidently adapted the prayer of St Francis of Assisi:

Where there is discord, may we bring harmony.
Where there is error, may we bring truth.
Where there is doubt, may we bring faith.
And where there is despair, may we bring hope.


Few could have envisaged then that she would not only dominate her party for a generation, but that she would transform the nation and, through a unique alliance and personal friendship with Ronald Reagan, alter the course of the world.

The Thatcher revolution was as much about personality as it was about policy. She administered the right medicine to cure the ‘sick man of Europe’, and refused to passively preside over a nation in terminal decline. For her, Britain was inseparable from its historic greatness, and so she sought to inculcate a notion of ‘Great Britain’ where it had ceased to exist – in people’s hearts and minds, but also throughout the continent of Europe and around the world. She was of the mould of Boudicca, Elizabeth I, Victoria – a woman who eclipsed ten thousand men in her grasp of statecraft and the administration of power.

She endured internal carping from the ‘wets’; constant attrition from those who sought a United States of Europe; trauma from months and years of strike action; demoralisation from economic downturn, inflation and recession; the unbearable yoke of war; she even survived an assassination attempt. But she persevered as her conviction obliged her to; she endured as her vocation demanded.

Margaret Thatcher began a revolution – not one of those bloody continental affairs of the eighteenth century, but a typically British and pragmatic one on a par with that of the nineteenth. Her transformation of British industry and her preparedness for the technological revolution was eventually to place the United Kingdom ahead of the rest of Europe. And so Thatcherism was born: a creed of economic and personal liberty which is her legacy. It was an expression of Conservatism every bit as defining as that of Peel, Disraeli and Churchill.

But Margaret Thatcher did not only leave her stamp on her own party: she also transformed the Opposition, for many of her reforms were retained by Tony Blair’s New Labour with his ‘Third Way’ fusion of mutual exclusives. The tragedy is that Labour has now reverted to type: with it instinct for centralisation and bureaucratic control; its financial incontinence; its loathing of liberty and personal responsibility; its envy of the rich and successful who once again face punitive levels of taxation. Once again, Labour has brought the nation to the edge of bankruptcy. The life blood of British identity has again been poured out as a sacrifice to a utopian Socialism which stifles, strangles, oppresses and deceives.

On this 30th anniversary of her coming to power, it is worth remembering Margaret Thatcher's remarkable political achievements which eclipse her personal failings like a thousands suns. If ever another Margaret Thatcher were needed, it is now.

20 Comments:

Blogger ENGLISHMAN said...

The central plank of thatcherism is that through government policy you make it so unbearable at the bottom of the heap,that people are forced to do anything to allieviate the oppression of thier circumstances,which involved everything including crime,it set man against man,destroyed any belief in unionism leaving the union leaders to make a business out of it,left our elderly busy knitting to keep warm,made every-one an individual with no ties to each other or thier country ,yes it was a remarkable time if you were top of the heap.

4 May 2009 at 09:47  
Blogger McKenzie said...

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4 May 2009 at 10:41  
Blogger Forlornehope said...

The major criticism that I would level at Thatcher is her belief that she could go on forever. By neglecting to build a succession, she left a divided party that started by being ineffective and ended by surrendering the country to the Blair/Brown cabal.

To anyone who worked in industry during those years it was more than obvious that dramatic change was needed. This was not simply about unions, it was as much about management. By bringing first Nissan and then Toyota and Honda into the UK she enabled the development of a new generation of manufacturing managers who have been able to move out and modernise British industry. Manufacturing in the UK is now in a much healthier state than it was when she took control of the economy.

4 May 2009 at 10:43  
Blogger Demetrius said...

Personally, I think we need a new Stanley Baldwin, but this point of view, I suspect, is less than fashionable.

4 May 2009 at 10:57  
Anonymous Nelson said...

Margaret Thatcher was in my opinion the best PM we've had in decades, the shenanigans that are going on now would have been sorted out before they became national scandals & those that did succeed would have been swiftly dealt with. Her ability to see a problem before it happened saved us from much misery.
The unions were run in many cases by corrupt hard leftists who were privately living the high life & acting like lords of the manner.
She is an example of patriotism, who stood against the corrosive plots of the EU & had she been in power before the treachorous Edward Heath, we would more probably never have joined this crowd of crooks. Her love for her country was her down fall as she stood between the pigs & the trough of Europe.

4 May 2009 at 12:00  
Blogger ultramontane grumpy old catholic said...

I really began to appreciate Mrs Thatcher when I used to negotiate French business men on certain projects in the early 80's. They were pragmatic, practical, down to earth. Their view was 'Mrs Thatcher - please please can she come to govern France?'.

Recall too that the Russian people became fond of her too. didn't they call her 'Nasha Masha - our Molly'

I used to work in the MOD at the time and her reputation for absorbing detail was legendary. She would be able to catch out senior civil servants by finding incongruities in massive submission papers, which they had not themselves read, but had relied on their staffs...

4 May 2009 at 12:17  
Blogger Timothy Belmont said...

I still have fond memories of the Great Lady; miss her a lot.

Whilst she was human and made the odd political miscalculation - I detested the Anglo-Irish detante - she was mostly spot-on.

As for Brown, the man is dead in the water. It's in the Conservative interest that he remains as PM as long as possible. Labour is in disarray.

4 May 2009 at 12:19  
Blogger Gnostic said...

Thatcher dragged this country out of the dirt, dusted it off and set it back on its feet. She told the Eurocrats where to get off and won substantial financial clawbacks that Blair bellied up on and squandered for little or no gain.

Yes she made mistakes. She's human. Taking out the coal industry, in hindsight, was not a terribly good idea although taking out Scargill and his power base was a necessary survival strategy (he tried to overthrow a popular, democratically elected and above all, EFFECTIVE government). But by and large she was a force for good and yes, she put the Great back into Britain.

She didn't start the war over the Falklands but she did finish it. And no, I don't have a problem with what she did to the Belgrano. Only the Socialist elite had a problem with that.

My retired, working class grandparents did okay under Thatcher's government but then they'd worked hard all their lives and put by savings to bolster their pensions. I can't say the same for my retired mother who also worked damn hard and saved since this bloody NuLab government has decimated her savings by practically wiping out the interest rates. A very Keynesian move.

We need someone with Thatcher's courage, intellect and determination. It's not lost on me that she was a trained scientist. She approached problems scientifically and solved them with logic and common sense. She made a lot of hard decisions and prescribed a few bitter pills which didn't make her popular with the feckless, including members of her own cabinet.

Subsequent governments have been headed by bankers and lawyers. What a bloody mess they've made of things.

Time for some brains I think. Sadly we don't have another Thatcher who is arguably one of the greats. For me that puts the common sense likes of Hannan and Carswell squarely in the frame. Cameron and his muppets shouldn't even be in the running.

We are so tangoed...

4 May 2009 at 12:36  
Blogger killemallletgodsortemout said...

Good post, Gracie.

I'm with Gnostic. Spot on.

4 May 2009 at 14:15  
Anonymous Fran said...

Gnostic et al

Hear Hear! I only wish I'd appreciated her more at the time. But with judgement blunted by the soft, fashionable socialism peddled by universities and the chattering classes, it took me until quite recently to realise what a great PM she was.

As my old Dad used to say, "If you're not a socialist when you're 21 you have no heart. If you're not a Conservative at 35, you have no brain."

4 May 2009 at 15:08  
Blogger McKenzie said...

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4 May 2009 at 16:41  
Anonymous Chris Palmer said...

Occasionally I wonder whether, in talking about Margaret Thatcher, we are discussing a mere moral or some sort of demi-God. According to those in the comments section here she appears to have been completely infallible. Yet, if that were the case, why was (and still is) the country and our society in such a bad state when she exited from power? I assure you, it was not just because of the incompetence of John Major and the destructive neo-Marxist nature of the Blair and Brown Governments (though this does not absolve these three from their failings when they were at fault).

Sorry Cranmer, but you are wrong I am afraid. Firstly, you seem to think that there is a fundamental difference between Blair and Brown in terms of policy – the ‘Third Way’ vs. Gordon Brown’s way. There is not. The Left haven’t been interested in nationalisation of the means of production and industry since Roy Jenkins and Tony Crosland decided that culture was more important. What’s more, do you really think that the Blair Government (of which Brown was a part) was not interested in ‘centralisation and bureaucratic control; financial incontinence; loathing of liberty and personal responsibility’? Brown and Labour have not ‘reverted to type’, they have always hated liberty and personal responsibility, have always been in favour of centralisation and bureaucratic control, and have always been financially incapable. For example, it was under Blair in 2004 that we were served up with the Civil Contingencies Act which is a terrifying piece of legislation designed to give the Government dictatorial powers. Furthermore, it was not Thatcher that transformed the Left and the Labour opposition, but they who have transformed her and the Conservative party, who have continually moved to the Left on every issue since the end of the war.

Secondly, what did the Governments of Margaret Thatcher actually do to stop the social, moral and cultural revolution that has been taking place in this country since the 1950s? The answer is: nothing at all.

Mrs Thatcher was a liberal, not a conservative. Her free market ideology was influenced by the economist Milton Friedman and the author Friedrich Hayek, both of whom described themselves as liberals. This brings me back to the point about her and the Conservatives being transformed by the liberal Left. How could she have transformed the liberal Left when they were not her or conservative ideas in the first place? Further, the market system which she imposed upon Britain radically altered our society in a very short period of time – some of the effects of which we are only just beginning to feel now. It was, as you rightly remarked, an economic ‘revolution’ rather than a slow and gradual process, and not the unquestionably good thing that you seem to think it may have been.

Thatcher was responsible for among the greatest surrenders of British sovereignty to the European Union. Amusingly, a comment by ‘Nelson’ says, ‘She is an example of patriotism, who stood against the corrosive plots of the EU and had she been in power before the treacherous Edward Heath, we would most probably never have joined this crowd of crooks. Her love for her country was her down fall as she stood between the pigs and the trough of Europe’. This completely ignores the fact that Thatcher was as much in favour of entering the Common Market (EEC) as Ted Heath during his time in Government. Nelson also completely ignores the fact that she quite willingly signed the Single European Act in 1986. At the bitter end she said, ‘No, No, No’, but by then it was too little too late, and she did not act on those impulses.

Margaret Thatcher was also utterly uninterested in the defence of selective education and Grammar schools, and surrendered to the Left’s educational revolution by refusing to reopen or build a single new Grammar school. She failed to reverse the creeping levels of political correctness entering our society, or to protect marriage or prevent an enormous growth in the size and power of the public sector. She failed to reform the National Health Service when she had the opportunity, or the BBC whose progressive influence on British society has been so damaging since.

Her Governments did not seek to challenge the liberal-Left on its social and moral agenda, and her decade long rule helped to undermine personal responsibility and British liberties. In so many ways Margaret Thatcher continued the liberalisation of our society that begun in the late fifties, through her economic reforms and her indifference to the cultural agenda of the Left.

What we really need is someone who will lead Britain and reverse the significant shift to the Left that this country has undergone during the past sixty or so years. If you believe that this is necessary then a Margaret Thatcher type figure obsessed with the economy at the expense of the culture wars would not change any of this – and neither will David Cameron.

4 May 2009 at 19:32  
Blogger McKenzie said...

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4 May 2009 at 21:22  
OpenID jamestheless said...

Chris Palmer,

Interesting thoughts. It's a refreshing change to see constructive criticism of Mrs Thatcher instead of the usual tedious Left-wing rants.

"Mrs Thatcher was a liberal, not a conservative."

She was probably closest to the Manchester Liberals of the 19th century, who believed in free trade as the path to a more equitable society; certainly when compared to their Conservative counterparts, whose priority was preserving the position of the property-owning classes.

"It was, as you rightly remarked, an economic ‘revolution’ rather than a slow and gradual process, and not the unquestionably good thing that you seem to think it may have been."

On the Continent, it seems to be viewed as a very bold experiment, which is only being followed very tentatively. Can you imagine France or Germany allowing their airports, train operators, gas, water and electricity suppliers to fall into foreign ownership?

"Nelson also completely ignores the fact that she quite willingly signed the Single European Act in 1986. At the bitter end she said, ‘No, No, No’, but by then it was too little too late, and she did not act on those impulses."

The key to this is that she was very enthusiastic about the Common Market (i.e., a Europe-wide free trade area), but completely opposed to the political union which the French managed to create after the fall of the Berlin Wall (and had probably been planning for decades).

"Margaret Thatcher was also utterly uninterested in the defence of selective education and Grammar schools,"

On the contrary, she really wanted to keep them, but there was an overwhelming demand for scrapping the 11-plus. It's hard to believe now, but I remember more than one family moved to a different county just so that their children could go to a comprehensive.

"She failed to reverse the creeping levels of political correctness entering our society, or to protect marriage or prevent an enormous growth in the size and power of the public sector."

A big problem here was the rise of the "loony left" councils, where many of our present Labour luminaries learnt their trade. The Poll Tax was probably meant to sort them out, but it was far too late and went horribly wrong.

As for marriage, this was the decade when "living in sin" went from being still somewhat shocking to boringly normal.

"She failed to reform the National Health Service when she had the opportunity,"

True, but this is probably the sacred cow of the state sector. In the same way that only Nixon could go to China, only a Labour government with a large majority could dream of doing anything about the NHS.

"Her Governments did not seek to challenge the liberal-Left on its social and moral agenda, and her decade long rule helped to undermine personal responsibility and British liberties. In so many ways Margaret Thatcher continued the liberalisation of our society that begun in the late fifties, through her economic reforms and her indifference to the cultural agenda of the Left."

Her Methodist background may have played a role in this - the Methodists used to be described as "the Labour Party at prayer". While she had many obvious disagreements with Socialism, she was probably quite sympathetic in areas which didn't involve the state or economics, such as personal morality. Look at her reluctance to sack Cecil Parkinson, for example.

Her strong belief in social mobility attracted a lot of people who voted Labour in the 1960s in protest at "the Establishment".

You could also have criticized her excessive deference to the security services and lack of respect for civil liberties, though in that respect the Thatcher era now looks like a golden age.

"What we really need is someone who will lead Britain and reverse the significant shift to the Left that this country has undergone during the past sixty or so years. If you believe that this is necessary then a Margaret Thatcher type figure obsessed with the economy at the expense of the culture wars would not change any of this – and neither will David Cameron."

Yes, this is indeed necessary, and it can only be done by someone with Margaret Thatcher's courage, determination, commonsense, ability to think radically and willingness to confront vested interests. Someone who can do this for culture, and do it again for the economy, without any of her defects. In fact, we probably need a entire Cabinet of such people. I don't see many candidates on the Shadow front bench, certainly not Cameron.

4 May 2009 at 21:28  
Anonymous Martin Sewell said...

Englishman, when you contemplate the predicament of the underclass, instead of respnding in the knee-jerk left wing way, why not reflect a while on the thoughts of Benjamin Franklin that the worst thing you can do for a pauper is to make him complacent in his poverty.

Whilst I acnowledge much of Mrs T's achievement, and will defend her against unthinking attack, I think there is something in Alan Bennet's view that she was elected to take on the bullies but became the biggest bully of them all.

4 May 2009 at 22:47  
Anonymous not a machine said...

i find it rather strange that history doesnt really take much away from her , the country was in a mess in 1979 , as it will be again in 2010 . if labour is a failiure to all with its survelliance , stasi state , its near ruination of basic educational standards and its need to punish what is productive to make its destructive vanities a success, then what else can i do but celebrate , a thing of beauty that fought the dire forces of concrete and uniformity , that labour want to call a society .

She is reminder , that eternal vigilance is required to keep a society falling into the darkness of state control

5 May 2009 at 01:04  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thatcher's reign was long. She was elected in 1979, and still there in 1990! Why were there no General Elections in the 1980s?

5 May 2009 at 01:07  
Anonymous gh said...

Mrs T was only one person, she did her best, she was surrounded by Traitors, in her party, in Wetminster and Whitehall.

5 May 2009 at 03:53  
Anonymous no nonny said...

Anon 01:07 -- What post-democratic part of the Neu World Order are you suffering under?

When Britain was a free and deomcratic country we regularly had General Elections: Mrs. Thatcher was never Queen Margaret. She led the Conservative Party to victory in the General Elections of 1983 and 1987.

5 May 2009 at 04:08  
Anonymous Nelson said...

Chris Palmer. I make no apologies or defence of my comments, without a doubt she aws the last decent PM this country has had, while it is true that the lady makes no claim to deity, she stood up to the rabid rants of the parliamentary forces of both sides that wanted to drag us into the EU for their own ends, this ultimately cost her the position of PM. She infuriated the EU by refusing to be a doormat, but due to the treachery of her predecessor, who remember sold us a pack of lies about a 'common market' was unable to release us from the bonds that had snared us.
There has been no PM like her since & I would question you as to who would be able to wear the mantle of power in such a capable way today?

5 May 2009 at 11:15  

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