Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Maggie Thatcher was my Prime Minister

I was in my early 20s when I went to live in England. Maggie Thatcher had already been in power for several years. The Falklands War was won but she was still doing battle with the miners' union and others who wanted to return Britain to the stagnation and apathy that characterised life in Britain since the Second World War.  British politics in the decade up until Thatcher's election was the politics of appeasement – successive governments caved into the unions and left-wing grievance groups and the moribund economy reflected a lack of enterprise and initiative that was evident to any visitor.

What I most admired about Maggie Thatcher was her courage. She was an outsider, not part of the Tory establishment at all. She was a compromise candidate when she was elected to lead the Conservative Party following the inept Ted Heath, but she quickly made the job her own. It is often a characteristic of great political leaders that their greatness does not become evident until they step into the leadership role.  I am sure that few people in the Conservative Party in 1975 would have realised that they were electing a leader who would go on to become the longest serving British prime minister of the 20th century and one who is now remembered by many, including me, as the greatest peacetime leader of the current era.

Her critics today accuse her of enriching the powerful at the expense of the little man, but my experience of living under her leadership was the opposite. She was very much of her lower middle class origins and she never forgot it, priding herself on knowing the prices of groceries and empathising with the difficulties of the average family in making ends meet. She took on the entrenched interests of the unions, but she also took on the rich and powerful. At the same time as she was pursuing her policy of a "property owning democracy" forcing local bodies to sell their huge holdings of council flats and houses to tenants, she was also doing battle with the Dukes of Westminster and Cornwall, the two largest property owners in Britain (the latter, of course, being the pseudonymous title of Prince Charles) to sell ground leases that their families had tightly held for many centuries to the leaseholders.

I didn't agree with everything that she did it. For example, I think she prolonged the conflict in Northern Ireland (although, to her credit, it has emerged subsequently that she initiated secret negotiations with the IRA that ultimately resulted in the Good Friday Peace Agreement).

Her historical achievements will be recognised long after her petty critics are forgotten – winning the Falklands War at a time when Western nations seemed incapable of winning any sustained military battle, staring down the Soviet Union together with Ronald Reagan with the resulting collapse of that evil regime and, most of all, showing Britons that they could once again call their country "Great."

I think the best tribute to "our Maggie" came from MP George Galloway, who is best known for his support for the murderous President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Galloway said that he hoped Maggie Thatcher rotted in hell.  I am sure Maggie would not be upset by such a comment from a thug like Galloway.  In any event, if that is her final destination, I imagine she will be sitting there clutching her handbag, drinking her glass of sherry, and pressing her point in a debate with Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, Benjamin Franklin and Winston Churchill.

Maggie Thatcher demonstrated that a person of principle could stand by those principles and still be elected leader of a major Western nation.  The unprincipled, weak-willed, expedient politicians who dominate the leadership of almost every Western government today would do well to observe her example.