Margaret Thatcher R.I.P.
A dear friend in Britain recently asked me how I rated Margaret Thatcher as a PM.
I replied that I find it highly ironical that an intelligent woman, from very modest beginnings, who managed to pull herself up to lead such a great country by dint of natural intelligence, hard work, determination and courage, should be vilified by the very people to whom she had set such an example. The current behaviour of many Britons saddens me beyond words. Long after the rest of the world has forgotten or gotten over the politics of class so many in that country still wallow in its stinking mess.
That great paragon of progressive politics, the BBC, very recently published The Great British Class Survey. Not content with only three classes, class obsessed Britons have created another four classes to help them work out where they fit in life. I needn’t go on, save only to say that this confirms my view that sociology is akin to tea leaf reading.
But, let us return to the three Maggie Thatchers – Thatcher the Stateswoman; Thatcher the Prime Minister and Thatcher the woman.
Thatcher the Prime Minister was undoubtedly controversial; anyone who could drag Britain out of the class-bound economic and social slough into which it had slipped in the 1970’s was always going to be controversial. Sadly the great unwashed voting public have short political memories. Britain in the 1960s and ‘70s was a social and economic basket case. No wonder De Gaulle argued so hard against admitting the country to the Common Market.
Both political parties were to blame. The Labour Party rejoiced in the slime and the Conservatives just tut-tut-ed. The egregious Edward Heath as Conservative Prime Minister made things worse.
Thatcher stared down the unions, kick-started the economy, restored faith in the British banking sector and the pound and, more importantly, restored the faith of Britons in themselves. In doing so she tore at much of the social fabric of the country. It was a fabric that was long overdue for a good wash. Out-dated class politics; an economy based on class divisions; privilege and power wielded disgracefully by union leaders and boardrooms alike and finally and pitifully, a broad and mute acceptance of Britain’s terminal decline.
Certainly the Thatcher Revolution destroyed state run industries such as coal, steel and auto making. Concomitantly, communities all over the country were subject to severe social dislocation. No one ever said that history stays on permanent hold. The sad reality was that those same communities could not compete on the international economy. Bankruptcy and social chaos were staring Britons in the face, the International Monetrary Fund was trying to get through on the decrepit telephone system – yet many could not accept it.
“We’re British, we’ll muddle through”. Hogwash. Muddling through was what got the country into the mess in the first place; that and the tacit acceptance of the welfare state, moral decline and the lack of fire in the collective bellies of the polite society.
Do people really want to go back to the ‘70s? I think not.
Thatcher provided the opportunity for so many Britons to own their own homes. She introduced the idea of an incentive and reward based economy. She was resolute in standing up for Britain in Europe, and in international forums she made Britain once more a force for good in the world. All in eleven short years. There was much more she could and would have done had not the traditional cowardice of the Conservative Party let her down. Major! Really?
What about Thatcher the Stateswoman?
In making Britain a force for good in the world, Thatcher stood resolute against communism and tyranny. She and Ronald Reagan can rightfully be credited for their massive contribution to the fall of the Iron Curtain. In doing so she helped change the face and course of world history.
She was feared in Europe and changed forever the nature of Britain’s relationship with the EU. She recognised the manifest failings of the United Nations and said so. Her triumphant political and military gambit in the Falklands sealed Britain’s international resurrection and Britain’s then understated generosity to the Third World was widely appreciated.
Most importantly however, as a Stateswoman, she gave the world Thatcherism – and the will and example for change. Her political and economic philosophy was adapted around the liberal democratic world. The nouns Thatcher and Britain were, for a brief decade, inter-changeable.
And Thatcher the woman?
Margaret Thatcher stands as an exemplar for women who want to succeed in the corporate world of politics and business. Her legacy is how to succeed without resorting to just being a ruthless toe-cutting ball-breaker. Throughout, she maintained a strong feminine presence. She was a wife and mother, she was always immaculately groomed, dignified and a personification of womanhood.
Significantly, and unlike her guttersnipe progeny in Australia, she remained true to her convictions. What you saw was precisely what you got with Margaret Thatcher.
In conclusion - Margaret Thatcher was far from perfect. She was controversial, she created divisions and pushed and pulled swathes of reactionaries out of their comfort zone. I am filled with a sorrow tinged with anger to see so many of these neo-Luddites still denying the material successes of the history and legacy of the Thatcher Revolution. It speaks volumes about one of Maggie’s failures – despite overcoming it herself, she was unable to quash Britain’s obsession with class.
But in eleven short years she reshaped her nation; she changed the course of world history; she gave the world a political philosophy and she remained pre-eminently a woman.
No mean record. Her country should be rightly proud of her.