Iron Lady? Try Lucky Lady

So all hail to the Iron Lady, and may she rust in peace. But don't forget that she and the British people were extremely lucky. By all the laws of probability, it shouldn't have worked out like it did.

Forget the Iron Lady. Mrs Thatcher should really be called the Lucky Lady. Consider the enormous run of luck she had from 1974 through to the late 1980s.

1.Ted Heath, the Tory Prime Minister, lost two elections in 1974, despite being ahead in the polls in the first one. He was an unattractive leader both to the electorate and his own MPs. This opened up the possibility of a challenge.

2.The front-runner to challenge Heath, Keith Joseph, made a controversial speech and had to withdraw. Other candidates much more obvious and qualified than Thatcher failed to stand. She had guts to put herself forward but it was a real surprise when she won the Tory leadership in 1975.

3.Initially Mrs T made little impression as Leader of the Opposition and Prime Minister Jim Callaghan was more popular. In 1978 he was ahead in the opinion polls and was expected to call an election. Surprisingly, he didn't, opting to wait until the following year. This was a terrible mistake, because the trade unions went on strike in the winter of 1978-9. There was chaos, bodies went unburied, and despite a poor performance from Mrs T during the campaign, she won an overall majority of 44.

4.Her approval rating in 1980 fell to 23 percent, the lowest level ever recorded for a Prime Minister. In 1982 the Argentine military government invaded the Falkland Islands. She recklessly decided to send a taskforce to retake them. This was a really difficult logistical exercise, and it very nearly blew up in her face. She was lucky to win the war - otherwise she would have had to resign.

5.She was also incredibly fortunate to face Michael Foot as leader of the Opposition. He was a charming man but extremely left-wing and he came over as a ranting agitator. He had long supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which was unpopular. The Labour Manifesto in the Election of 1983 was rightly called "the longest suicide note in history."

6.She was also lucky that Roy Jenkins and three other prominent centre-right leaders of the Labour Party left to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP). This split the anti-Tory vote and enabled Mrs Thatcher to win the 1983 and 1987 elections despite winning a lower percentage of the vote.

7.The Lady was also blessed with Arthur Scargill, the extremist leader of the National Union of Mineworkers. With extraordinary arrogance and miscalculation, he called his workers out on strike without allowing them to vote on it, during the summer of 1984, when demand for coal was low, and after the government had been building up coal stocks. After a year out on strike, the miners had to capitulate.

8.Finally, she was lucky to just escape being blown up by the IRA at the hotel she was staying at in the early morning of 12 October 1984. Five people were killed and many injured.

Luck is not something that successful people dwell on. In retrospect, the success of people who become great leaders appears inevitable. But very often they only become great because of the confidence and reputation that sustained good fortune allows. It is absolutely the same in business, and in every other walk of life. Early success gives confidence and track record, and any luck that contributed is quickly forgotten.

Since Margaret Thatcher could have come unstuck if any of the eight lucky conditions had not applied, the cumulative odds against things happening as they did are very high.

And in the end, of course, luck runs out. If early good fortune gives a lift, continual success contains the seeds of its own destruction. Mrs Thatcher had too much success, and stopped listening to her friends and advisers. Otherwise she would never have persevered with the hugely unpopular poll tax in 1989-90. Convinced that they would lose the next election if Thatcher remained, she was removed by her own party.

I believe that Margaret Thatcher saved Britain from becoming a pale imitation of Eastern Europe under the Communists. I remember what it was like in the 1970s and early 1980s, when state businesses were appalling and the unions ran the country. I am happy that she had her run of extraordinary luck. I also like the fact that she said what she thought. So all hail to the Iron Lady, and may she rust in peace. But don't forget that she and the British people were extremely lucky. By all the laws of probability, it shouldn't have worked out like it did.


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