Travel to the US with an English accent, and before too long you’ll be asked about Winston Churchill. Wait a little while longer, and you’ll be asked about Margaret Thatcher. But what is the fascination with these two titans of British political history that makes them so appealing to our friends stateside?
Ronnie and Maggie in White House talks in 1985
Churchill stood against the fascist onslaught during the Second World War, and was one of the first people to recognise and give voice to the post-war expansion of the Soviet empire. His name has become synonymous with a period of history in which the US, with the help of its allies, not only won victory in a truly just war, but marked the start of a period of economic domination in which the US became the predominant global power, a role it still clings to, albeit by its fingertips, today.
The case of Thatcher, for followers of the current political climate in the US, is a little more interesting. Thatcher has become synonymous with President Reagan, a man who over the past decade, has been bizarrely deified by the Republican Party, as well as more reactionary members of the American right, many of which have come to dominant the national conversation, particularly since the election of Obama.
"I’m a Reagan Republican" is a term oft heard on TV news shows and Internet comment boards, while the notion of “Reaganomics”, though widely discredited as nothing more than ‘trickle down”, is often held up as a counterpoint to the flagging policies of the current administration.
Reagan believed in the free market economics of Friedman and Von Hayek, of which Thatcher too was a disciple.
Moreover, Thatcher went perhaps further than her Washington counterpart, voicing her belief that a free economic society led to a more free society overall. The pair stood together in the face of the Soviet threat, first by opposing it, then, following the promotion of Mikael Gorbachev, through a friendship initiative that enabled the Soviet leader to put through economic reforms, changes that eventually led to the empire's collapse.
Writing in the Washington Times, Nile Gardiner, the British conservative commentator and director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, said:
"For the current generation of leaders on both sides of the Atlantic, Lady Thatcher remains a role model of fortitude, principle and leadership at a time of economic upheaval and mounting threats to international security. Her great wisdom and example are sorely needed now as much as they were when she came to power in 1979."
"The world has lost a true champion of freedom and democracy," declaimed Nancy Reagan on hearing of Thatcher's death. Writing in this newspaper, Mehdi Hasan suggests she was anything but, arguing Thatcher was "a close friend and admirer of the thugs, thieves, despots and racists who ruled over those nations in the 1980s".
Still, for Americans on the right she remains, as Obama called her, "one of the great champions of freedom and liberty". For them, Reagan won the Cold War and increased prosperity with Thatcher staunchly allied to the old actor in defiance of military and economic socialism. No wonder news of her death sparked grandees of the right into action, lining up to proclaim their ideological solidarity.