Where were you when you heard? I was, of all places, sitting on a sofa in Southampton’s IKEA store. The news, though not surprising, filled me with deep sadness. Margaret Thatcher’s death diminished the world’s stock of greatness in a way that few people’s deaths do.
Sitting there on that sofa, my mind filled with images from the Thatcher years. Maggie at the dispatch box, Maggie in a tank, Maggie on the campaign trail. The strikes, the Falklands, the privatisations. The economic recovery, the poll tax riots, the floppy-haired wets. Images so famous they have become clichés. Every image spoke of the grit and determination – the conviction – of this most remarkable woman. Here was a prime minister who believed. Here was someone who was prepared to do battle for her beliefs – and who would relish the fight.
President Obama paid homage to Thatcher as ‘one of the great champions of freedom and liberty’. Of how many other politicians would that be true? Very, very few. In Britain you could probably count them on the fingers of one hand. In part that’s because of Thatcher’s success; she largely won the battle for economic freedom, even if some of the territory has since been ceded. But in part it’s because conviction seems to have gone out of fashion. Managerialism is the vogue now. Politicians working hand-in-hand with the civil service, delivering the liberal establishment’s policy agenda.
Of course, that’s not true of every politician. If I had to pick the three most successful cabinet members (excluding David Cameron, who I do rate quite highly), I would chose Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and Eric Pickles. They all hold challenging portfolios, but they have in common the willingness to pick fights with the right people. Michael Gove has launched bold offensives against entrenched vested interests in education. Iain Duncan Smith has challenged decades of destructive welfarism. Eric Pickles has taken on town hall fat-cats and Conservative-in-name-only councils. These ministers by themselves make the Coalition worthwhile.
But the Coalition isn’t enough. I’m a Conservative and I want a majority Conservative government. In order to achieve this, the Conservative party must channel the spirit of its greatest leader. We must complete the Thatcherite revolution. We must be revolutionaries if we are to win again.
The Conservative party is at its best when it’s fighting for freedom and individual liberty. The Prime Minister must be prepared to take the fight for economic and personal freedom deep into the heart of enemy territory. We must be unabashed in our support for property rights. We must press on with welfare reform. We must restate the intellectual case for free markets.
We must also accept, as a party, that social freedoms are the natural concomitant of economic freedom. That means embracing policies such as gay marriage and more liberal drug laws. It means abandoning attempts to regulate the press. It means accepting that people will make choices about their lives with which we disagree.
Much is made of how the Conservative party must be more diverse and appeal to broader strata of society. Well, the 2010 intake was probably the most diverse in our party’s history. They are also Eurosceptic, fiscally conservative and socially liberal. They are the Modern Thatcherites. I am not surprised; Thatcherism’s appeal is far more broad than narrow, special-interest dominated socialism, or traditional paternalistic conservatism. It is an ideology for all people, one that promotes self-improvement and equality of opportunity. It’s an ideology for the real-world, not for the fluffy, cloud cuckoo land of wishful thinking and make-belief inhabited by the modern left.
Margaret Thatcher is called divisive. She can’t have been that divisive; she won three general elections and is consistently rated one of our greatest ever Prime Ministers. She showed that by fighting for freedom, by standing by your beliefs, you can change the course of history. Her legacy must live on in the Conservative party.
Nicholas is a member of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.