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A lioness, Boadicea, Britannia incarnate; ‘Milk Snatcher’. Margaret Thatcher was a titanic figure of our nation’s history. She died aged 87, passing away in bed reading the morning’s papers. The world still moved, though she had moved the world many decades since. Her political philosophy united people from Poland to Chile, yet she divided a nation.
In 1979, Britain was a paradigm of a society in discord and decay; most evocative are the images of the streets consumed by rubbish and decay. Rolling increases in annual strike-rates, flagging growth, rampant inflation, Britain was not only cited as the Sick Man of Europe, but also as “ungovernable”. She broke the ancien régime of corporatism and governmental distortion. Believing in the right of individuals to run their own lives, as free as possible from micromanagement by the state, she de-regulated and de-nationalized much of public life: whether the privatization of Thomas Cook, British Airways, British Gas, or opening financial services to international companies. ‘The Big Bang’ in the City made London the global metropolis it is today; not just a condemned relic from a Wildean text.
‘Popular’ capitalism (as well as the desire to turn us all into home-owning Tories) was the central tenet of this pro-individual drive, and council-house selling expanded new avenues of opportunity and raised £18 billion for the Treasury. Lowering all levels of taxation, and focusing on income-yield rather than symbolic inefficient rates was also supreme. Despite very high levels of unemployment, there was an over-arching improvement for the great majority of people. The mid-to-late 1980s saw a period of widespread prosperity unparalleled since the heady days of 1960 – albeit fuelled by credit and turbo-charged consumption; yet Britain’s extrication from its car-crash economy, and journey to effortful achievement was complete.
Her success in achieving a £750million rebate from the European Union was dazzling, defeating the Argentine dictatorship in the Falklands War in 1982, as well as her impact on the Cold War’s ideological landscape: fomenting a closer working relationship between the West and the East, acting as an inspiration to thousands of oppressed Poles, and a figure of respect in Russia. However, the Iron Lady’s unfathomably close relationship with the brutal dictator General Pinochet is worthy of undeniable condemnation.
Fundamentally, your judgement of Mrs Thatcher’s colossal legacy should not be reduced to irascible cries of ‘Milk Snatcher’ or merry songs of ‘Ding Dong!’ Instead, it is something more elevated: what are your beliefs and principles? Do you have preference to be free from a state leviathan, or free from ‘oppressive’ market forces? How should personal industry be rewarded? Is the sky the limit?!
In a post-industrial town, with unemployment at its zenith in 1986, “freedom” looked bleak and – instead – a physical hijacking of communal existence. However, Labour’s James Callaghan acknowledged “Britain had been over-paying itself”: and why should a government pick winners and losers? There are no revolutions without victims, but with unions exploiting collectivist means for selfish ends, structural changes were of striking importance. Mrs Thatcher undoubtedly wanted to “roll back socialism”, and socialistic tendencies are deep-rooted in trade union organizations – and still to this day donate to the Labour Party. However, any affirmation that Thatcher’s assault on unions was exclusively about ideology neglects economic pragmatism. With inaction, a repeat of the economic morass of a union-imposed 3-day week would be on the cards ab aeterno: both the credibility of government and the nation’s energy network in tatters. While all leaders since post-war Churchill had wished to “conserve” for short-term stability and electability, Thatcher was the leader who performed one of the least desirable – but most necessary – jobs in modern British history. Anything else would have been unsustainable – not least undemocratic.
And this is her epitaph; she was a “necessary” prime minister. Without her leadership and her seemingly invincible premiership, Britain would not be the global power it still remains to this day. Marr catalogues her as a “political whirlwind [that] left Britain a richer, strong, and more self-confident nation;” and her task was forbidding. Our first female Prime Minister, and three-term leader, was even the mother of an ‘–ism’ for the Left to savage and the Right to eulogize. Her ideas mattered. She didn’t always practice what she preached – whether on European integration (taking us into the first political union in 1986, or her ideological displeasure at budget deficits (they rose year-by-year) – yet her bitter tonic equipped Britain with the necessary reform and style to challenge in the modern world.