Sunday was the 30th anniversary of Margaret Thatcher’s election as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
London Mayor Boris Johnson pays tribute:
But, even as an apathetic and cynical teenager, I could see that she was doing some tough things, and the moment I came down most vehemently on her side was the Falklands conflict of 1982. So many people I knew seemed to think she was wrong, and bellicose. I remember my grandfather frequently saying that he was going to shoot her. You will still meet left-wing bores who say that she deliberately ignored the “Peruvian Peace Plan”. And yet what she did was so clear and so right.
I was 14 at the time, and remember all the predictions of disaster.
The Argentinian junta had taken by violence a British protectorate, in clear contravention both of international law and the wishes of the islanders. It took fantastic balls to send the antiquated British Navy half-way round the world, and risk disaster on those desolate beaches and moors. It took nerves of steel to sink the Belgrano, and, frankly, I don’t think there were any other Tory politicians who would have done it.
Sadly Boris is probably right.
By the end of the Eighties, she had cut taxes and the economy was roaring away; and it wasn’t just that the country as a whole seemed to have recovered some of its confidence and standing in the world. Individuals were able to take control of their destiny in a new way. They were no longer completely beholden to local authorities for their housing: they could buy their own homes, and to this day, as any Tory canvasser will tell you, there are people across Britain who will always vote Tory in thanks for that freedom alone.
Her vision was a property owning democracy.
She gave people the confidence to buy shares, to start their own businesses, to move on and up in society – and there was more social mobility under Margaret Thatcher than there has been since. She was a liberator, and she gave the Labour party such an intellectual thrashing that they ended up changing their name. In some ways, the most significant political legacy of Margaret Thatcher is New Labour (now being abolished by Gordon Brown).
Blair in many ways carried on her legacy. Brown, indeed, is not.
But she believed she had to shatter the post-war consensus that the solution to every problem was always an expansion of the state. Indeed, she did not think much of the word consensus itself, since it was not only too Latinate for her taste but also because it probably masked a conspiracy by cowardly politicians to dodge the hard questions, and, if you look at the consensus that now exists around, say, academic selection, you can see that she is right.
A consensus can be wrong, and in fact often is.
Margaret Thatcher will always divide the British people, not least since we are ourselves divided. There is a part of us that will always dislike the acquisitive, appetitive instincts she seemed to espouse, and yet we also recognise that they are essential for economic success. More than any leader since Churchill, she said thought-provoking things about the relationship between the state and the individual. Some of them were unpalatable, some of them were exaggerated. But much of what she said was necessary, and it took a woman to say it.
The simple truth is she changed Britain, and the world, for the better.