Margaret Thatcher: Death of a political colossus
Margaret Thatcher was a great citizen of the world. Quite an epitaph for anybody’s time on Earth
In an era of political pygmies, whose greater concern is for opinion polls and dubious consensus politics, it is hard not to look back with nostalgia to a very different era. An era when Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan – both conviction politicians – represented a style of leadership that is so glaringly absent from today’s world stage.
We lost Reagan some time ago. And now we have lost Maggie too. In common with many of my countrymen, Margaret Thatcher’s passing has brought with it a genuine sense of sadness. Not only for the long-expected loss (she had been very ill for a while) of a British political colossus, but at the absence of vision and political integrity that her remembrance flags up both in Britain and beyond.
I was at college in the 1970s. I remember only too well the genuinely appalling state of Britain’s economic affairs and the general malaise felt everywhere as the country was fast-becoming a basket case economy. Margaret Thatcher changed all that. Yes, she was a divisive figure. But even her political enemies admired her (as we found out later when even Labour PM’s feted her) because everyone knew what she stood for.
She said what she would do and she did it. No spin. It was Maggie’s sheer dogged determination in doing what she believed was “right” for the economy in the 1980s that dragged Britain back from the edge of the economic abyss.
I believe she will be as lamented in the US as in the UK. Along with Churchill, America (and the free world generally) never had a truer friend than the Iron Lady: “I am ally of the United States. We believe the same things, we believe passionately in the same battle of ideas; we will defend them to the hilt. Never try to separate me from them.” Further, she called the United States “the greatest force for liberty the world has ever known” – a wholly different perspective from the anti-Americanism that has long dominated in European politics.
Maggie’s creed was simple enough: “My politics are based on things I, and millions like me, were brought up with. An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay; live within your means; put by a nest egg for a rainy day; pay your bills on time; support the police.” Her key economic belief in “sound money” policies was, as she often pointed out, “the bedrock of sound government”.
Something she found missing whenever socialist dogma prevailed. “The trouble with socialism,” she said, “is that eventually you run out of other people’s money”. No wonder she always regretted signing the Treaty that took the UK into the socialist quagmire that is the European Union. So when Britain found itself a net contributor to grossly mismanaged EU funds, she famously ‘hand-bagged’ its leaders demanding: “I want my money back!”
She got it too, in the form of an annual negotiated rebate settlement still in place today. And her many concerns over the very nature of the entire European Union project, especially economic integration, have been more than borne out in the current crises being experienced across the Eurozone.
But her first major hurdle in office was the need to break the growing tyrannical power of the Trade Unions, whose leaders in the 1970s were regularly beating a path to 10 Downing Street to dictate their latest unrealistic wage and working condition demands. These demands enhanced further the burgeoning entitlement culture and programme of nationalization and subsidy – and all at a time when the country’s economy was rock bottom.
The most iconic public fight came when Mrs Thatcher took on King Coal, or rather coal’s powerful union leaders in 1984. It was a fight triggered by her loathing of anything that smacked of socialist ‘collectivism’. exemplified by the then coal unions’ attitude to nationalism and state ownership. The miners had already brought down the previous Conservative government (led by Ted Heath) after it forced a ‘three-day working week’ on the country. But Margaret Thatcher was made of much sterner stuff than Heath, and she had the economic strength provided by growing domestic North Sea gas and oil revenues to rely on.
She won. And with national trade union power broken her government set Britain on a very different economic path. Whether it was energy, trade, et al., Britain found itself once again on the path of capitalistic endeavour and the ideals of the free market which would aid wealth creation. It transformed Britain’s economy.
By the time she left office in 1990, as she said herself, “We’re happy that we leave the United Kingdom in a very, very much better state than when we arrived eleven-and-a-half years ago”. It was an indisputable economic fact.
Since leaving office Margaret Thatcher never lost her interest in international affairs and the key issues of the day, including the environment. Climate alarmists are often quick to point out how Mrs Thatcher was instrumental in setting the political ball rolling over concern for global warming. While that was indeed the case, they fail to mention how, by the time she had left office, she was of a thoroughly different mind.
Under the heading ‘Hot Air and Global Warming’ in her book Statecraft, she acknowledged how the science on climate was in fact “extremely obscure”. More significantly, she saw how any “plan to alter climate” would have to be achieved on a global scale that she saw would prove a “marvellous excuse for worldwide, supra-national socialism”.
Above all, she astutely predicted how downright poisonous to national democratic institutions a supra-national bureaucracy-regulated war on carbon dioxide emissions would prove. Uniquely among political big-hitters at the beginning of the 2000’s, she took the view: “Actually, President Bush was quite right to reject the Kyoto Protocol.” Anyone reading this whole section should not be left in any doubt about Margaret Thatcher’s latter-day climate sceptic credentials.
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, on hearing about Margaret Thatcher’s death after a stroke tweeted that she was a “great leader, a great prime minister and a great Briton”. But she was more than that. Margaret Thatcher was a great citizen of the world whose furtherance of individual, national and international freedoms and ideals were, and will continue to be, her abiding legacy.
Quite an epitaph for anybody’s time on Earth, I would say.
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