Much will be written about Baroness Thatcher. It will be black or white, as she would have wanted. 'You don't bring about change through consensus' was one of her maxims. Like many others, I experienced the consequences of this approach to politics. In the 1970s I and the team working with me had built up an engineering business. We had moved from something called a 'fly-press' which required muscle to knock holes through sheet metal, to a sophisticated computer-controlled machine, which we designed and built, selling for tens of thousands of pounds. Our primary market was Britain, followed by Europe and our three main competitors were from Japan, Germany and the United States. In 1979 we made a profit of £500K on sales of £5 million. The following year that profit had fallen to just £30,000 and at the end of 1981 we had to throw in the towel.
As a struggling young company we were woefully under-capitalized and when our home market collapsed and sterling went through the roof, crushing our exports, all a consequence of the Mrs. Thatcher's determination to destroy the unions which had come to dominate much of Britain's manufacturing industry, we had no fat to carry us through. Companies, good and bad, fell like nine pins. Trading estates across the country were hollowed out and became wastelands. This was a civil war and like all such, was far from civil and its aftermath devastating. I and thousands like me had to pick ourselves up from the wreckage and build new lives.
Germany took a different path. Its leaders did believe in consensus. Britain's unions had been infiltrated by a ragtag of left wing firebrands who, like Baroness Thatcher, did not believe in agreement. For them, ideology came first and the companies they worked for a distant second. While Germany set about the slow task of improving its productivity, Britain's left wing shop stewards engineered strike after strike for inflation busting wage rises, bringing the nation to its knees. Mrs. Thatcher was a product of her times. For several decades, weak government, spineless management and a complacent people had allowed the country to descend into near anarchy. She saved us from ourselves.
So we must learn the lessons from her time, not just eulogize or damn her. There are right ways and wrong ways of conducting affairs which can only be discovered through discipline, rigorous thought, honest competition and hard work. Unless we keep finding intelligent ways to earn our living, fairness and all those ideologies which purport to serve it (but which, more often than not, serve only those who expound them), will be a meaningless concept.
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