Margaret Thatcher – a leader who brought hope and delivered change
From Brother Ivo:
The last few days have rightly and necessarily been devoted to tributes to, and evaluations of, the legacy of Lady Thatcher.
Her funeral on Wednesday will also capture our attention, although sadly there is a real possibility that this will be for the wrong reasons . Fortunately, nothing such people can do could dent a reputation that has already been well-burnished by every serious politician across the globe.
Lady Thatcher herself would be quietly content that the country she loved remains a society where people have the right to be wrong; and she rightly observed that when folk have been reduced to levels of puerile abuse, they are actually acknowledging the paucity of their own intellectual argument.
The nonsense over the Wizard of Oz song is hugely ironic in that her opponents are criticising her by adopting a free-market mechanism to express their views.
For Brother Ivo’s part, one of the most impressive illustrations of her courage, integrity and intellect is illustrated in her appearance on Soviet television towards the end of the Communist era in a groundbreaking conversation with three of the top Soviet journalists. They interviewed her live, expecting to be able to humble her. Years later, one of their number acknowledged that he was both proud of having taken part in the debate, and that they were collectively beaten by an opponent who demonstrated superior arguments and a better command of her brief. The interview transcript is well worth reading.
With such tributes from her ideological opponents, there is little risk that her legacy might be damaged at the hands of political pygmies.
The parliamentary tributes have been well quoted and, with a few exceptions, were finely judged. It is within that same respectful and fair tradition that many have acknowledged that the Leader of the Opposition acquitted himself with dignity on an occasion where he was undoubtedly conflicted by the need to be respectful, while being conscientiously unable to echo without qualification the fulsome praise from the benches in front of him.
The life of Margaret Thatcher presented in a clear form the question many politicians have to ask themselves, and none more than Ed Milliband: ‘What kind of politician am I?’
They come in a variety of forms. Some are braggarts and opportunists. There are the low-key servers of their local communities – and there is nothing wrong with that. There are those who bring life experiences and experience from local government, business, the professions, the armed forces, or the trade union movement. Often, they act as restrainers of ill-judged action, advising where practical problems may lurk in places unconsidered by those thinking on higher planes. Often the ‘poor bloody infantry’ know better than their superiors.
However, as the Iron Duke and the Iron Lady may well be discussing now, ‘victories are won by the led, but they are conceived in the minds of leaders’.
Some leaders achieve their status through a ruthless and planned ascent of the ladder of power, whilst others arrive by a more circuitous route. Those, like President Obama, arrive as unknown quantities, whilst others build their support with a clear set of well-articulated beliefs and policies which have convinced colleagues and electorate alike over a prolonged gestational period.
Ed Miliband appears to be in the Obama mold.
He, like the President, achieved power by overcoming a more experienced and seemingly natural successor to the outgoing leader. Having previously held significant office, he does not exactly arrive at his position as the ‘clean skin’ which helped Mr Obama avoid scrutiny of his record from a supine media. But Mr Miliband continues to hold his current policy cards very close to his chest, which is the very antithesis of Mrs Thatcher’s open approach. She used her time as Leader of the Opposition to ensure that none of us was in any doubt that things were about to change, and change drastically.
All this current examination of Lady Thatcher – much of it reaching younger voters who never knew her – is coming as a challenge from beyond the grave to Mr Miliband, highlighting the need for him to do the same.
He is being urged to develop his ideas into a coherent programme by Tony Blair, who is perhaps the nearest recent parallel to Lady Thatcher in the Labour ranks, not least in his record of electoral success, wartime experience, and removal from power by his ‘friends’.
Subsequent to Tony Blair’s intervention, we have seen Lord Mandelson and Alan Milburn sharing his concerns, which indicates that Mr Miliband’s failure to secure majorities either with his MPs or constituency parties has left him exposed to such critiques as he fails to demonstrate a significant platform of ideas based upon well-informed convictions.
Lady Thatcher deliberately confronted the post-war consensus, which held that the ‘commanding heights of the economy’ were state-owned; this was not, however, driven by a desire to exclude anyone.
Believing in home ownership, she wanted it extended; believing in a participatory capitalism, she wanted ‘Sid’ to have his share of the success. She was content to be linked to Europe but not to see her country subsumed to it. Ironically, the one area where conservatives do criticise her is in her mistaken acceptance of the comprehensive educational model rather than the grammar school model that had been the vehicle for her own meritocratic ascent.
When Mr Miliband criticised her in relation to South Africa, he might have been gracious enough to have acknowledged that her opposition to economic sanctions was founded on her concern for its effects on the ordinary African. She may or may not have been wrong in this, but if she hesitated to join the consensus for those reasons, it was not an ignoble consideration.
Few will deny The Lady respect for being authentic in her views. Hers was not an administration devoted to focus groups or overly interested in securing power through ‘triangulation’ of policy options to manoeuvre the party into a winning position at the cost of a policy capitulation.
Rightly or wrongly, she was a conviction politician who considered the way forward and led in that direction. Mr Miliband is not offering much evidence that he is of similar calibre, and the recent reminders of what a true leader looks like throws him into an especially poor light. He is beginning to try to distance himself from the Blair government (though perhaps significantly less so, the Brown responsibility) but not with any bold analysis.
He appears happy to provide sound-bites about ‘moving forwards not backwards’ and suggesting he has ‘new solutions’ on immigration. His style of interview technique, however, could not be more different from that of Lady Thatcher. Consider his answers HERE; we have the words of change but not the slightest indication what the new policy on immigration might look like. How will he reduce the numbers? By how many? What if the EU objects? Where is his ultimate red line? What price is he prepared to pay to win the argument?
Questions such as these were always thought through by Lady Thatcher. She brought in experts; she tested them and only gave ground or accepted their advice after a rigorous examination of the options. Like the late Lord Denning, her approach was ‘I may be right, I may be wrong – but I am never in doubt’.
Mr Miliband seems constantly in doubt. He is entitled to be.
He was a close adviser within the inner sanctum of Britain’s worst post-war prime minister. Unlike Mrs Thatcher, he has no experience of the world outside the Westminster bubble; neither does he have many close advisers to offer that wider perspective. He does not have the full confidence of his brother, his MPs, or his constituency associations, and one suspects that, if in doubt, the only consensus he will seek is that from the left. Policy seems to be shaped by his Trades Union backers like Len McLuskey and Mark Serwotka, or celebrity lightweights like Eddie Izzard or Hugh Grant.
The worst contrast with The Lady, however, is that his current priority seems to be not policy development but campaigning and marketing. Evidence for this comes from his appointment of a special adviser straight out of President Obama's Chicago Democrat machine, which is a byword for corruption and uncompromising class warfare.
Arnie Graf is a follower of Saul Alinski. If readers are unfamiliar with Saul Alinski's book Rules for Radicals , Brother Ivo suggests it is worth looking at.
Tony Blair has warned his successor against shaping his party into the party of protest instead of government. The appointment of Mr Graf suggests that, in contrast with how serious politicians like Lady Thatcher operated, Mr Miliband is attracted to the politics of the community organiser-in-chief, who, after four years in office, continues to operate in campaign mode, dividing by class and sectional appeal rather than argument and policy solution.
No admirer of Mrs Thatcher is entitled to feel very aggrieved by political polarization, and The Lady herself was happy to have a stand-up fight to test the strength of argument with anyone, friend or foe alike. Significantly, because she sought solutions based upon principles that challenged and benefitted all equally, she was able to draw into her consensus many who were of different background but were persuaded by her analysis and strength of conviction.
It is worth recalling that once convinced of the correctness of a course of action, she could and did offend her friends and presumed supporters. The old City of London, the legal profession and many comfortable businesses were shaken by her willingness to drag them where they did not want to go. She changed things forever for them, and many have found in retrospect that she was right.
These recent days have reminded us all that winning is good for a politician’s reputation but it is not enough. Once you have ignited the hope you have to deliver the change. Some can, some can’t. The Lady did.
(Posted by Brother Ivo)