The more realistic we are in assessing Lady Thatcher, the more positive we find we should be, and the more outstanding she and her achievements seem, says Iain Milne.
A small, square, largely unnoticed plaque inside York Railway Station testifies to much about the history of modern British governance. Amongst the worst economic ills besetting the UK in the ’70s, money was being devoured in inflation and in subsidising doomed industries, at the heavy cost of capital investment critical for jobs and the country’s future.
In both the state and private sectors, Margaret Thatcher made a huge contribution to reversing this – one of her numerous contributions to the country’s long-term recovery to such successes as it has subsequently had. Although they tend to get lost from sight in blurred and emotive current retrospect, these kind of concerns necessarily led policymaking.
The need for investment and innovation beyond the state’s capacity was a critical industrial problem, not shirked by the Thatcher government in the state sector where necessary, but most successfully answered in many areas by privatisation. Archbishop Justin Welby’s Easter warning against our tendency to pin far too much – hopes, hates, expectations – on individuals might appear to have been peculiarly ill-timed, before a week publicly so dominated by one lady.
But in fact the reverse is true. Idolisation of her is not wholly helpful, and the sum total of claims being made both for and certainly against Lady Thatcher are vastly beyond anything any individual could have achieved even had they wished to. She was not, in fact, a superhuman or demonic force who single-handedly punched a hole in the Belgrano, tore down the Berlin Wall with her bare hands, and returned home to set the sin of avarice burning in City hearts.
She was, instead, a committed Christian woman, with flaws and hopes, ideas and dreams, and decent patriotism; who spent her life to trying to get what she considered to be useful things done, out of those things which practically could be done; and managed to actually achieve much more than most in a similar position ever have.
I do not mean to portray anyone but the strong-willed and firm woman her closest confidantes saw her to be. But I do mean to say that when she took the time to carefully answer a child’s letter asking whether she was as good as Jesus in 1980, or when she spoke with great passion, if less theological art, to the General Assembly in 1988, it was not mere sophistry, but her humanly attempting to act in accordance with, and articulate, what she thought and believed.
I also mean to say that when criticising common usage of the term ‘society’, she did not necessarily see this in the way critics and friends, in the light of their own assumptions, have done (it is worth recalling, for example, that a couple of years later she acknowledged value in ‘fraternity’ in the same breath as she mocked the French Revolutionary expression of it).
And I do mean to say that her later key role in rallying Tory Euroscepticism, despite her previous leading support for the Common Market, derived not from hypocrisy, lunacy, or even senility (as, typical of many, even the admiring Radek Sikorski myopically implied recently), but from the real constants in her character – willingness to approach questions with considered values and scepticism, yet still prepared to be convinced by reason, to come to firm decisions, and to do her best to support her conclusions publicly.
All three of these examples of her character also show a striking willingness to differ publicly from everyday consensus on subjects she had thoughtful moral and intellectual opinions on, especially compared to today’s public figures. It seems to me that fellow supporters have spent too much of the last week distracted by the nastier invective she is continuing to get.
It is sad that due to assorted failures of institutions, public morality, and individuals’ decisions both in and far from government, Britain is not as free from 1970s-style division and weakness as it should be. But in much where things are better in this country, Lady Thatcher played her part in replacing discord with harmony.
That harmony has rarely been based on her personal character should be irrelevant in a country whose unifying figure should be our monarch (who chose to personally award Lady Thatcher the Order of Merit for her distinguished service).
Many things were wrong with the era she lived in, perhaps especially the 1980s, and even if one hopes some of the more ridiculous anti-Thatcher myths will soon be punctured, it is an understandable human fault that some who suffered for one reason or another in her era of ascent fall into the trap of blaming the dominant figure of the era for its problems.
But for the rest of us, in turning from our sadness at her passing, we shouldn’t fret about a small minority whose pathetic and pitiable hollow gestures are getting attention.
We should be positively celebrating a life well lived and, overall, of substantial lasting benefit to this country and the wider world; and on getting on with the (very substantial) unfinished business she left behind.
And we should be inspired to approach today’s political problems with the same moral conviction without self-righteousness that she had, and the same commitment to truth, and to practical results for good. May God keep her.
Iain is a postgraduate law student at the University of Law (York), and Honorary Vice- President of the University of York Conservative & Unionist Association.
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.
I’ve often said, when people on either end of the political spectrum hate you, you’re probably doing the right thing. How many times have you been called a raving lefty by social conservatives and Adolf Hitler by raving lefties? Exactly.
The week following the death of Lady Thatcher has been a difficult one for the outpouring of hatred, bile and sheer disrespect from the left. It’s a wave of negativity that has weighed quite heavily on my shoulders and opened my eyes to just how fragile civility can be in our society.
But it is something of a comfort to find that the far right – or the nationalist left rather – has been just as scathing in its posthumous condemnation of The Iron Lady. A quick scan of some of the threads on Stormfront, for example (its slogan is ‘White Pride World Wide’), throws up some very familiar rhetoric, which can also be seen on this article and its resulting comments.
It confirms something we Conservatives and libertarians have been saying for a long time – that the ‘far right’ is just another strand of socialism – albeit a national socialism rather than an international socialism. The BNP’s economic policies, for example, are well to the left of Labour, spiked as they are with rampant racism, and the party frequently condemns globalisation and privatisation.
While some nationalists sympathise with Lady Thatcher’s confrontation with communism, republican terrorism, Brussels and an imagined opposition to immigration (which actually increased between 1979 and 1990), the majority despise her in much the same language as the left as the nemesis of the (white) working class.
While those on the left would love to equate Lady Thatcher with the far right, the fact is she spent her whole political life fighting against the policies of both national and international socialism – for privatisation against nationalisation, for equality under the law against special treatment for racial groups, for globalisation against protectionism, for one nation against the narrow interests of the working class and for an immigration policy serving the interests of the economy against either open or closed borders.
The international left may have been a stronger force than the nationalist left in 1979 but, by 1990, Lady Thatcher had defeated them both. Her interview with World in Action in 1978 was responsible for a collapse in support of the National Front, which had been rallying in the late ’70s, not with a condemnation of immigration and a pledge to end it entirely but with the simple refusal to ignore ordinary people’s concerns.
Despite later controversy over her use of the word ‘swamped’, Lady Thatcher explicitly called for moderation as a means to defeat extremism. She said: “People are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture. If we do not want people to go to extremes we ourselves must talk about this problem and we must show that we are prepared to deal with it. We are not in politics to ignore people’s worries. We are in politics to deal with them.”
It is wonderful example of the extent to which Lady Thatcher was tuned to the pulse of the electorate in the first decade of her leadership and the reason why she was able to win three consecutive general elections – because she listened to people’s concerns, spoke her mind and acted boldly. Today’s politicians, of all stripes, would do well to closely examine her example.
The news, breaking on Twitter earlier, that Rupert Murdoch was profiting from the sales of the song ‘Ding, Dong! the Witch is Dead’ have proven to be false, as the rights belong firmly to Time Warner.
The confusion may be explainable due to the recent purchase of a number of related rights pertaining to the ‘Wizard of Oz’ for the planned 2014 Film ‘Wicked’.
The sudden rise in the charts of the ‘Ding, Dong’ song from the 1939 film ‘The wizard of Oz’ is due to a campaign of the British left to spite the recently deceased former British PM Margaret Thatcher.
A second campaign in support of the Iron Lady has moved to replace the ascend of the song with the Notsensibles’ ‘I’m in Love with Margaret Thatcher’.
Thus the sweet irony still remains that a cultural battle is being fought over which side can purchase more in a free-market economy, which marks this episode as a whole a victory for many of the things Thatcher stood for in her remarkable political career.