Thatcher's record stands up to the very best
The verdict of history is bound to look upon Margaret Thatcher very favourably indeed
The death of Baroness Thatcher has deprived Britain of a truly formidable political leader. Like her great political idol, Winston Churchill, Lady Thatcher was possessed of spellbinding self-confidence, incredible tenacity and a remarkably consistent political philosophy. She was possessed of a deep conviction that certain things were necessary to enhance the fortunes of the nation and to secure the liberty and prosperity that was the birthright of all.
Unlike many of the politicians in our 'celebrity-driven' age, Margaret Thatcher never needed focus groups or opinion polls to dictate her policies or beliefs. She was, to quote Tony Benn, a signpost rather than a weathercock. She sought to lead her countrymen and shape opinion, not follow the prevailing (and often fickle) political mood. And in 1979, she knew what needed to be done to rescue a Britain mired in defeatism, fatalism and negativity.
The Britain she inherited had long been on a downward path. Its economy had been battered by the legacy of socialist state planning and crippling taxation, both of which reduced its international competitiveness. Its political class had been in thrall to union power and to the constant threat of paralysing industrial action. The IMF loan under the Callaghan administration had made Britain an international laughing stock.
Thatcher sensed that people wanted more freedom, less state interference and a greater share in economic prosperity. Above all, she realised that the west faced the twin threats of Soviet communism and international terrorism and that only decisive and courageous action could properly safeguard our liberty. What she brought about was a truly remarkable revolution in domestic and foreign policy.
Mrs. Thatcher's belief in individual freedom and self-reliance led her to end a penal system of taxation. By reducing the highest rate of tax from 83 percent down to 40 percent, and slashing the basic tax rate, she ensured that the state could no longer act as the senior partner in people’s businesses. She also understood what the post-Keynesian generation of politicians did not: that a lower taxed economy could stimulate economic growth and provide extra revenue for the government in the process.
The economy was further transformed with the series of privatizations that took place in the 1980s. Suddenly, people had cheaper and more efficient power supplies and businesses could drastically cut costs. Thanks to deregulation, privatisation and much needed reductions in union power, she created the conditions for the booming enterprise economy of the 1980s.
People miss the essential point about her philosophy, which was that wealth, instead of being endlessly redistributed, had to be created. But it also reflected her profound belief in individual freedom: that people should be able to keep more of their hard earned money in order to take more control over their lives. This was a philosophy not of greed but of self-reliance and individual responsibility.
Self-reliance could not mean anything unless it involved removing the pernicious power of the trade unions. In the 1970s, these unions had repeatedly held previous prime ministers, and the country at large, to ransom. Thanks to the Thatcher revolution, laws were passed which banned secondary pickets and made it illegal to call a strike without a ballot. She saw off the onslaught from Arthur Scargill's NUM and by the end of the decade, dramatically reduced the number of days lost to strikes.
Her belief in self-reliance was also powerfully echoed in her decision to allow people to buy their own council homes. This policy allowed over a million people to join the ranks of the property owning classes, transforming council estates at a stroke.
But her achievements did not end there. In foreign affairs, she showed a steely resolve on world issues that enhanced British prestige around the globe. She was a fierce opponent of world communism and rightly stood with President Reagan, decrying the evils of the Soviet system. Having survived an IRA assassination attempt, she knew that weakness in the face of terrorism would be suicidal. Thus she remained a determined foe of Colonel Gaddafi and correctly supported the US attack on Libya in 1986. As she told the House of Commons in the aftermath of the raid: "Terrorism has to be defeated; it cannot be tolerated or side-stepped".
Her resolve was never more prominently displayed than in 1982 after the Falklands invasion. She might have been forgiven for refusing to send a naval task force to confront Argentina, using the argument that Britain simply lacked the resources for such a confrontation. But she saw off the doubters and helped the Royal Navy win an inspirational victory. It was a genuinely transformative moment in Britain's modern history, a sign that this nation could not and would not be pushed around by its enemies.
Despite her initial enthusiasm for the Common Market, she took on the European hierarchy and negotiated an annual rebate for Britain. She saved the country billions of pounds every year as a result. She also defied the Foreign Office by becoming the First British PM to visit Israel and striking up a warm, though not uncritical, relationship with the Jewish state. She recognised that Israel was a democracy in a region beset by autocracy and had entirely legitimate security concerns. Her support for Soviet Jewry throughout the 1980s was certainly inspiring.
Baroness Thatcher was indomitable in spirit and unyielding in her most cherished convictions. Despite the failure of some policies, she fundamentally changed the British political landscape and in so many ways transformed her country for the better. Above all, she gave much needed moral leadership to the West during the Cold War, making her a towering symbol of liberty and democracy. For these reasons, the verdict of history is bound to look on her very favourably indeed.
Jeremy Havardi is a journalist and the author of two books, Falling to Pieces, and The Greatest Briton
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