One for the Gipper
As a statue of Ronald Reagan is unveiled in central London, our UK Political Editor, Harry Cole, reflects on “the great communicator”, and why the UK should take a moment to reflect on his glorious legacy.
I cannot weave personal memories of Ronald Reagan into this piece. I was two when he vacated the White House.
Unlike every President after him, I have no memory of seeing Ronald Reagan in office, live on the television or wowing a conference hall.
But I am of the generation that owes more to that President than any other. We have lived as Reagan’s legacy has grown.
I have felt the mark that Reagan left on the world every day of my life, and that it is not something that people just a couple of years older than I am can say.
Without always being conscious of it, with age and education, I have seen the mark that one man has left upon history. In what would be his centenary year, I am acutely aware that many of the most politically engaged people I know rarely take a moment to reflect on Reagan’s influence.
With the defeat of communism, Reagan and Thatcher closed a chapter in history that would more than ensure they left the world in a better state than they found it.
We are the generation that knows what it is to be free.
We have never had the threatening cloud of oppression or imminent destruction hanging over us or engulfing our lives, though our nation’s finances are in as desperate a state as America’s were when Reagan took office.
Today’s enemies of freedom come in a different guise, and the financial gloom that now faces the world was triggered by even more dangerous causes. But Reagan’s methods for fixing these problems are timeless.
As British teenagers and students spend their summers travelling through eastern Europe, the Balkans and beyond, freely and without hindrance, they should take a moment to remember those who fought for those freedoms.
The world is a safer and freer place because of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
Do the thousands of students who have taken to the streets this year to demand a continuation of their privileges realise, as they smash up symbols of capitalism, that the institutions of capitalism that were set free by Reagan and Thatcher have footed the bill for their entire existence?
The UK and the USA are richer because Reaganite and Thatcherite agendas were adopted around the world.
Students today should count their blessings that they are not fighting for the right to have universities while they are demanding that the state pick up the entire tab for them to attend.
A little less Che and a little more Ronald would help to ease the irony meter, starting in the classrooms and lecture theatres.
But it’s not just my ungrateful generation of students and Left-wingers that should look to Reagan as a shining light.
Those who were cutting their political teeth back in his day, now have their hands on the political levers and the economic tiller.
Reagan presided over a financial revival the like of which every government should be working towards today.
His pro-business, tax-cutting and deregulating agenda began back in his gubernatorial days in California between 1967 and 1975.
In his first term he cut the budget and raised tuition fees: a good start. But David Cameron should take heed that that was indeed just the beginning.
So far, Cameron has implemented the lessons of Reagan the Governor -- it’s time to step up to Reagan the President.
Income tax as well as government spending must be cut if you want to create growth. Reagan’s inaugural words should be hammered home to every school child, student, union-official, civil-servant, Member of Parliament and Minister:
“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.”
And to those looking to be provocative, in the context of the Soviet bloc, of course Reagan supported the freedom to form trade unions.
No one in Britain today is disputing that right, but merely asking the union movement to take stock and think of the broader economy before it embarks on its tirade of disruption.
Perhaps it could also find the decency to try and justify why scarce taxpayer funds should be used to pay for its staffing and office costs across the public-sector?
The fate of the front line air traffic control unions that Reagan took on and beat in 1981 bears testament to how those who threaten lives, or drag children into their battles, can and must be faced down.
As our leaders continue to surrender control of our daily lives to the vast European “project”, perhaps they should take a moment to reflect again on Reagan’s inaugural address in which he laid down his ground rules:
“From time to time, we have been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by and of the people. But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?”
A far more eloquent case for a “big society” than David Cameron, or any of his allies, have ever managed to put forward.
You always hope that no leader will ever have to console their nation in response to great tragedy. But after the 1986 Challenger disaster, Reagan’s “to touch the face of God” speech sealed his reputation as “the great communicator”.
At times of crisis, be it over bin Laden or Gaddafi, and at times of national reflection such as the Good Friday Agreement and the apology for Bloody Sunday, Blair and Cameron have shown rare glimpses of Reagan-like charisma.
But Reagan’s rhetoric and his ability to “connect” still seem to be in a class above this new generation of leaders. Messers Blair, Cameron and Obama must surely know they are a long way from the Brandenburg Gate in June 1987.
When that bronze face appears on your television screen today at the unveiling of the statue to Ronald Reagan, take a moment to acknowledge history and look to it to guide us through our modern woes.
Reagan set his country free, and that influence was felt around the world.
Both Left and Right in the UK should do a little more to remember what freedom really is and to reflect on what the state is for.
Freedom came at a price and it’s time we made the most of the gift bequeathed to this generation by the last.
"Presidents come and go. History comes and goes. But principles endure."
It’s time for the children of “the Gipper” to pull their finger out.
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