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Sorab Shroff


Margaret Thatcher: Our Britannia, Our Chief of Men

Posted: 08/04/2013 13:03

Margaret Thatcher is despised by many left-leaning Britons. However, how many of our former prime ministers are loved? We British have a need to take down uppity people. Margaret Thatcher, however, was something special. "The eyes of Calligula, the mouth of Marilyn Monroe," said Francois Mitterand of her. Her presence across the eighties was infuriating to some, intoxicating to others. Mention the word Thatcher in an article, essay or blog and the howling and hysteria begins.

She began a social revolution - in more ways than one. She was fresh blood in a Conservative party that was stuffed with upper class grandees. A Lincolnshire grocer's daughter led this country for 13 years. During her initial stint as party leader, some fellow Tory MPs openly referred to her as 'Hilda' - her middle name - to mock her lower-middle class background.

Because Margaret Thatcher was the first Western woman prime minister, the sheer visual example of a woman leading a nation helped us psychologically break other moulds. Since Thatcher's example, the Tory Chair has been occupied by a Muslim woman and the British Conservative party at one point had at least 13 out gay MPs (America's entire Congress has only a couple of openly gay representatives).

And she was so right about the Euro, wasn't she? "Are we going to have one single currency over which we can have no control over, which we cannot determine our own interest rate [over] or anything?" she asked.

Yes, Thatcher made errors. Perhaps she was too strident. She did not encourage or promote women MPs. She was socially too conservative - a disaster in the fight for gay equality. And Section 28 was one example of that. But overall, she made Britain better, more prosperous. Average incomes rose 25% during her time as Prime Minister. More than that, she made Britain strong again. Strong as a nation. It is easy to tax people so that we can have more welfare, more coal miners, more state spending. But Britain doesn't have an empire to tax any more. And in the end, there is only so much one can tax the rich, before even that runs out. The only way to build a strong country is to free people to set up businesses, employ people, grow the economy. She had the intelligence to understand this - and the courage to say so.

She was an undeserved blessing to Britain, a kick in the pants. To say, "Sorry, the State just can't keep spending," is a very difficult message to deliver. A message recent generations of Western leaders haven't been able to deliver. State overspending, and the bailing out of failing banks has brought the West to its knees in the recent crises. She said, "It is not governments which create wealth, but people - provided we have policies that encourage people to do it. We need to get away from the debilitating concept of the all powerful state which takes too much from you, to do too much for you."

Her policies caused understandable pain amongst coal mining families, who slowly, lost everything. Conversely, is it really the state's job to mine coal, run airlines or to prop up manufacturing? Should the state subsidise every dying profession? Before her, the unions went on strike each time new technology or job losses were introduced. Rubbish on the streets, unburied bodies, Britain held to ransom. She broke that union control. As Martin Amis once said, she was the dry nurse who gave us the medicine we did not want - but knew we needed. She made Britons more self-reliant, more modern, more decisive.

She stood up for her views. She said that her medicine was better in the long run for Britain than the fast running out comfort of socialism. And this is why ordinary people voted for her. Not because she went round giving free TV licences and handouts like Labour always does. But because they knew that the money for all of that came from everyone's own pockets, their own taxes.

There is a reason the iPad and the iPhone was created and designed in the US and built in the East, with the profits returning to shareholders in the West. There is a reason Dyson is conceived and designed in Britain, built in the East, with profits returning to the West. This is because the societies with free-markets, where the state doesn't decide what you say, what you do, what you create, are societies of great creativity.

Amidst all the dull talk of the booming "tiger economies" of the East (something we have heard for forty years now) and the pressure of more regulation from the EU, Britain is still one of the world's richest nations. This is because, unlike many Eastern countries, a creative businessman here doesn't need to wade through months, sometimes years of paperwork. We have less bureaucrats and so less corruption is encountered. Unlike the East where the state decides who can trade (the Indian "licence raj" was a legendary example of how politicans and their cronies ran entire industries, preventing the creatives from rising up). Thatcher was responsible for dismantling much of the bureaucracy nightmare.

Even the critics of the right accept now that, "we're healthier, wealthier, more comfortable, and longer living than ever before... our standard of life is on average higher than emperors of the past." This is the ethical case for free markets. Charles Murray the libertarian said, "From the dawn of history until the eighteenth century, every society in the world was impoverished, with only the thinnest film of wealth on the top. Then came capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. Everywhere that capitalism took hold, national wealth began to increase and poverty began to fall. Everywhere that capitalism didn't take hold, people remained impoverished. Everywhere that capitalism has been rejected since then, poverty has increased."

Dominic Lawson said, "Socialism destroys moral responsibility and those who make fortunes in competitive markets (through lower prices or better goods) are serving the public good more than any trade union leader." Thatcher understood that.

Democracy is the West's noblest, highest virtue. Thatcher spoke out for democracy, economic freedom and free markets everywhere and she pushed for Eastern Europe, then under vicious communism and totalitarianism, to be free people. The whole of Europe (not just Western Europe) is now democratic and Thatcher's stridency in condemning communism helped achieve that.

That's not to say that having economic freedom makes people happy. But here too, Thatcher's world has a consolation: "Money if it does not bring you happiness, will at least help you be miserable in comfort," said Helen Gurley Brown.

The people who criticise one of the West's (and capitalism's) greatest recent heroines take the privileges we enjoy in the West for granted. These privileges include 'free' education, and, in large parts of Europe, 'free' healthcare, pensions and other benefits. These critics are economically illiterate. They don't realise that these things don't exist in most countries in the world - most people in this world don't have access to quality, free healthcare from the state because their economies are broken. These Western privileges come from economic growth, taxes, employees and corporations. The lefties who criticise open markets (and the excess, the rise and fall, that goes with markets) seem to think education, healthcare, pensions and benefits are god-given, they just materialise out of sunshine, music and mist. They have foolish delusions that an all-powerful benevolent state is guiding them.

Thatcher's father never went to university. "The path to power - there wasn't a path there," she said. "There was no path there," she repeated. "You made it yourself."

"In Britain, we prefer to imagine that the people who [make it to] the top are stupid, and ideally, hatefully so," said Ben Machell in a different context. We aren't as socially mobile in Britain as other countries are - sadly it's too much of who we know, not what we know that determines success. So when someone has broken through that terrible trap, broken through that magnificently, and made it to the top, we should cheer.

In her later years as PM, she became grand, almost imperial. "We are now a grandmother," she boomed, using the royal "We," when her beloved son Mark became a father. Over time she moved from a kind of diligent confidence to a glittering confidence, attending the opera in Paris, looking like Elizabeth I, as the Tory boys in London plotted the downfall of their splendid mother. But why shouldn't she have been confident, glittering, imperial? She had overcome class discrimination and centuries of (still existing) crushing sexism to become the first female leader in the Western free world. When Obama overcame centuries of racial discrimination by becoming the first black US President, we cheered at the evidence that human beings could sometimes defeat old prejudices. Why not the same with Thatcher? She deserves to be imperial in our history because like Churchill, she rescued Britain from peril. Britain, despite a lack of vast quantities of oil or natural resources, despite the end of Empire, despite everything, is amongst the worlds top economies. Thatcher freed us up to achieve this.

There are a great many intelligent commentators who criticise Thatcher interestingly. These commentators don't harp on in the usual, borrowed postures, sprouting second-hand ideas - they actually have a point. Hanif Kureishi's sparkling criticism of Thatcher's Britain also contains an acknowledgement of how she changed our country, made it less provincial. In Something To Tell You, his novel about desire, loneliness, sex and middle age, he reflects on Britain today, the Britain Thatcher helped mould. He says, "Now, of course, we live in Thatcher's psyche if not her anus, in the world she made, of competition, consumerism, celebrity and guilt's bastard son, charity: bingeing and debt."

The truth is, most of us are no longer interested in going back to the overtaxed, nationalised, foreign exchange-controlled Britain of the 70s, the Britain Thatcher liberated. As we live in our Britain of plenty now, with greater choice, the price we pay for it are the children of celebrity and consumerism: with the X-Factor and Tesco being the horrendous elder siblings. I think it's a fair price to pay. Before Thatcher, Britain felt like a big grey country, everyone discussing decline. The reason we could afford taxpayer funded regeneration of cities, Tate Modern, museums and all the other sparkling, wonderful public spaces of culture sprouting all over the country (including, later, the dazzling Olympics), all this flow of delicious warm milk flowing from the teat of the state, washing down all over us - all this was only because Thatcher cut the debt in the eighties, and cut it savagely, so that the State was not weighed down with debt and dizzying rates of interest in the nineties and early noughties.

It is a tribute to Margaret Thatcher that she is not loved for being nice to everyone. Her legacy is still fought over. She is bitterly hated by many. As Alan Clark said in response to a question about why she wasn't liked: "Like? Like? She's not there to be liked, you idiot! She just is!"

Often, I think, she is most hated by people who hate themselves - because these people have led pacifying, plastic, approximated lives. Lives with compromise. Lives without risk. People who haven't even tried to identify or achieve their dreams. I'm not saying everyone who disagreed with Thatcher hasn't achieved their dreams. I'm talking here about some people who have been wasting their lives hating her, waiting for her death. "One's life must matter, Dennis" says Meryl Streep, playing Thatcher in The Iron Lady, the glorious depiction of her large and significant life - and her King Lear type fall.

Thatcher is also loved by many because she stood for something - and she acted on it. Irrespective of whether it was fashionable or not. This is the definition of being alive. Of courage. Of passion. The opposite of dullness. A recent YouGov opinion poll showed that we consider her our best post-war prime minister. The silent majority feels differently about her. She remains a powerful consolation for those who believe in aspiration, self-reliance and hard work. Margaret Thatcher was our Britannia. She was the revolutionary Cromwell we needed for our times. Margaret Thatcher was, as Dame Antonia Fraser so famously said of Cromwell, Our Chief of Men.

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  • Margaret Thatcher - General Election

    Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher leaving 10 Downing Street after the Conservative Party won a convincing majority in the General Election.

  • Denis and Margaret Thatcher

    Baroness Margaret Thatcher reunited with her husband Sir Denis Thatcher, this afternoon when he returned home after spending the last few weeks recovering from his six-hour coronary by-pass operation. * Sir Denis the husband of former Conservative Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher, who is 87-years-old, said he was looking forward to a relaxing weekend in their home in Belgravia, West London. 15/6/03: His family said that the 88-year-old had been readmitted to the Royal Brompton Hospital in London for tests following major heart surgery in January. *30/10/03: Baroness Thatcher will be joined by her twin children, Carol and Mark, at a memorial service to pay tribute to her late husband, Sir Denis Thatcher. Sir Denis died in June, aged 88 having undergone major heart surgery six months earlier from which it appeared he had made a good recovery.

  • 141666717

    David Montgomery/Getty Images)British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, circa 1985. (Photo by David Montgomery/Getty Images) (Photo by David Montgomery/Getty Images)

  • Politics - Helmut Kohl Visit - Chequers, Buckinghamshire

    Margaret Thatcher and Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany at ease in the grounds as they had three hours of 'relaxed and very friendly' talks at Chequers, the Prime Minister's country residence. They agreed more emphasis should be laid on the warmth of Anglo-German relations.

  • Thatcher and David Cameron meet for dinner

    Baroness Thatcher and Conservative leader David Cameron meet for dinner at the Goring Hotel in Victoria, south-west London.

  • Order of the Garter ceremony

    Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh sit with the Knights and Ladies of the Garter in the Waterloo Room at Windsor Castle before a Garter Service at St George's Chapel in the castle grounds. * The Knights and Ladies of The Most Noble Order of the Garter are, from left: front row, The Duke of Grafton, The King of Spain, The Queen of Denmark, The Duke of Gloucester, The Princess Royal, The Duke of Edinburgh, The Queen, The Prince of Wales, The Duke of Kent, Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg, The Queen of the Netherlands, The King of Norway. Second row; Page of Honour The Honorable John Bowes-Lyon, Sir Edward Heath, The Duke of Devonshire, Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover, The Duke of Wellington, The Chancellor Lord Carrington, Lord Richardson of Duntisbourne, Lord Bramall, Viscount Ridley, Lord Kingsdown, Baroness Thatcher, Page of Honour Lord Carnegie. Third row; Lord Inge, The Duke of Abercorn, Lord Ashburton, Sir Edmund Hilary, Sir Timothy Coleman, Sir William Gladstone and Sir Anthony Acland.

  • Royalty - State Visit of Queen Beatrix - 10 Downing Street

    Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands (l) and Prince Claus (2nd from right) with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at 10 Downing Street.

  • Politics - PM Margaret Thatcher - Clydach Vale, Rhondda Valley

    Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with Welsh Secretary Peter Walker at Clydach Vale in Rhondda Valley, where she saw derelict land being reclaimed as part of a factory development.

  • Royalty - Queen Beatrix and Margaret Thatcher - London

    Queen Beatrix and Prince Claus of the Netherlands meet with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at Downing Street during their state visit to Britain.

  • Margaret Thatcher's papers

    File photo dated 17/06/07 of Margaret Thatcher and the Duke of York as a hand-written note by Lady Thatcher appears to show how she grappled with her response to the Duke of York's deployment as part of the Falklands task force.

  • Margaret Thatcher's papers

    EMBARGOED TO 0001 FRIDAY MARCH 22 File photo dated 01/10/88 of Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe as Lady Thatcher's 1982 private papers include a number of brief mentions of figures who would go on to play a significant role in public and political life. They include an early meeting with Robert Mugabe, who had been elected as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe in 1980.

  • Margaret Thatcher Lays Flowers at Bradford City Fire Site

    Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, watched by her husband Denis, lays a wreath among the hundreds of other floral tributes near the turn stile area of the Bradford City football ground, Yorkshire, where many of the 52 victims of the tragedy were found.

  • Dutch Royalty - Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and Prince Claus - 10 Downing Street - London

    During the second day of their State visit to Britain, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and Prince Claus are greeted by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at 10 Downing Street, London, for luncheon.

  • Politics - Thatcher Education Secretary - 1970

    Conservative MP Margaret Thatcher (the future British Prime Minister), Secretary of State for Education and Science.

  • Politics - Thatcher wedding day - 1951

    Unsuccessful Conservative candidate for Dartford, Margaret Hilda Roberts, 26, on the day of her wedding to Denis Thatcher at Wesley's Chapel, in London.

  • Politics - Conservative Women's Conference - 1973

    A popular event in the two-day programme of the Conservative Women's Conference was the address on education by Margaret Thatcher, Education Secretary.

  • Thatcher and the Red Army Dancers.

    Margaret Thatcher enjoying a chat with dancers from the Red Army Ensemble -- Moscow Military District, at the Royal Albert Hall.

  • Politics - Thatcher Wedding Day - 1951

    Unsuccessful Conservative candidate for Dartford, Margaret Roberts, 26, at her wedding to 36-year-old Denis Thatcher at Wesley's Chapel, in London.

  • Politics - Conservative Party Conference - Blackpool - 1970

    Prime Minister, Edward Heath sports a smile which lasted during a three-minute ovation he received at the opening of the annual Conservative conference at the Winter Gardens. Sharing the platform with him is Margaret Thatcher, Secretary for Education and Science.

  • Politics - Margaret Thatcher - 1975

    Margaret Thatcher, Conservative MP, receives a kiss from her husband Denis.

  • Politics - Margaret Thatcher - 1975

    Conservative Party leader Margaret Thatcher, at working her office at the House of Commons.

  • Politics - Margaret Thatcher - 1975

    Conservative MP Margaret Thatcher, 49, in her Chelsea home kitchen, before making her challenge for the Conservative Party leadership and a place in political history.

  • Politics - Thatcher and Reagan - 1975

    Former California Governor Ronald Reagan presenting a silver dollar medallion to Opposition Leader Margaret Thatcher when he visited her in her House of Commons office.

  • Politics - Conservative Local Government Conference - 1979

    Margaret Thatcher speaking at the Conservative Local Government Conference at Caxton Hall, London, when she angrily accused the Government of having tried to whip up non-existent emotions in the referendum campaigns.

  • Politics - Margaret Thatcher - Shadow Education Secretary - 1969

    Margaret Thatcher, spokesperson on Education in the Conservative Shadow Cabinet, at the Houses of Parliament.

  • Politics - General Election 1979

    Margaret and Denis Thatcher get away from it all with their 25-year-old twins, Mark and Carol, by strolling through the grounds of Scotney Castle, Kent where Mrs Thatcher has a National Trust flat. She is relaxing before the battle ahead to become the first female Prime Minster.

  • Politics - Margaret Thatcher - Chelsea, London

    Conservative Party leader Margaret Thatcher in a jubilant mood outside her Chelsea home, after Tory victories in by-elections at two former Labour strongholds - Workington and Walsall North.

  • Silver wedding anniversary.

    Margaret and Denis Thatcher with their children, Mark and Carol, at their Chelsea home on the day of their silver wedding anniversary.

  • Margaret Thatcher's papers

    File photo dated 26/4/1982 of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Wide divisions within the Conservative party over how the Government should respond to Argentina's invasion of the Falklands are revealed today as Margaret Thatcher's 1982 private papers are made public.

  • Politics - Margaret Thatcher - Vacuum Interrupters Ltd - 1981

    Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wears protective clothing as she tours the premises of Vacuum Interrupters Ltd.

  • Politics - General Election 1979

    Margaret Thatcher waves from the doorstep of Number 10 Downing Street in Whitehall, London, on the day of the General Election.

  • Politics - General Election 1979

    Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher in a thoughtful mood when she hosted her party's press conference in London, as the 1979 General Election campaign entered its final week.

  • Politics - First Female Prime Minister - Downing Street - 1979

    Britain's first women Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher arrives at no.10 Downing Street to take up office following the Conservative victory in the general election.

  • Politics - Conservative Party Conference - Blackpool - 1979

    A jubilant Margaret Thatcher acknowledging the standing ovation after her speech on the final day of the Conservative Party Conference at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool.

  • Thatcher Falkland Island surrender talks

    Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher facing an enthusiastic reception from well-wishers outside No 10 Downing Street, in London, on her return from the Commons, where she told MPs talks on a surrender by Argentina of the Falkland Islands were in progress.

  • Margaret Thatcher in garland.

    Margaret Thatcher addressing a crowd at Stoneleigh near Coventry wearing a garland presented to her by an Asian constituent.

  • Politics - General Election 1983

    Margaret Thatcher with her husband Denis greets supporters at a rally in Fleetwood during her campaign visit of the North West.

  • Politics - Conservative Party Conference - Blackpool - 1977

    Conservative party leader Margaret Thatcher with 16 year old Rother Valley schoolboy, William Hague, after he received a standing ovation from delegates at the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool.

  • Margaret Thatcher won a landslide victory

    10th JUNE: On this day in 1983 Margaret Thatcher won a landslide victory to start her second term of power. The window of success frames the jubilant Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher waving to well-wishers after her election win. At Tory Party headquarters, she told flag-waving supporters "My victory is greater than I had dared to hope".

  • Politics - Thatcher and Tongan king - 1983

    Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher looks pensive as she awaits the arrival of King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV of Tonga at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.

  • Politics - General Election 1983

    Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher returning to 10 Downing Street after winning the election. Instead of entering her official residence, she insisted on walking to the end of the street and the corner of Whitehall to shake hands with well-wishers.

  • Politics - Reagan and Thatcher - 1984

    Ronald Reagan has a word in the ear of Margaret Thatcher on the day that Thatcher becomes the longest-serving Prime Minister in the 20th century.

  • Politics - Thatcher and Reagan - 1984

    Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, left, with American President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy.

  • Politics - Channel Tunnel Agreement - Canterbury Cathedral - 1986

    Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with French President Francois Mitterrand at the Chapter House, Canterbury Cathedral, when the Channel Fixed Link Treaty was signed by the foreign secretaries.

  • Politics - General Election 1987

    Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gives a three-fingered salute outside 10 Downing Street as she begins her third successive term of office following the Conservative victory in the general election.

  • Margaret Thatcher and Francois Mitterand - Channel Tunnel

    Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President Francois Mitterand at Canterbury Cathedral for the signing of the Channel Fixed Link Treaty.

  • Politics - Economic Summit Banquet - London

    Left to right: Queen Elizabeth II, American President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at Buckingham Palace when they attended a special banquet hosted by the Queen following the London Economic Summit.

  • Politics - 250th Anniversary of the Prime Minister's office - Downing Street, London

    Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is joined by Queen Elizabeth II and five former PMs at 10 Downing Street, London, as she hosts a dinner celebrating the 250th anniversary of the residence becoming the London home of Prime Ministers. (L-R) James Callaghan, Lord Home, Thatcher, Lord Stockton, the Queen, Lord Wilson and Edward Heath.

  • Politics - Margaret Thatcher - Victory Ball - 1987

    Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis lead off the dancing during the Victory Ball at the Empress Hall, Blackpool.

  • Politics - Margaret Thatcher 10 Years in Power - Downing Street, London

    Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street, London, ten years after they moved in, following the 1979 general election.

  • Politics - Thatcher and Family - Downing Street - 1989

    Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher outside 10 Downing Street, in London, with her son Mark, daughter-in-law Diane, and two-month-old grandson Michael.


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