The Lady’s Not For Turning


The passing of Lady Thatcher marks the end of a truly remarkable woman. Love her, hate her, it is simply undeniable that Britain radically changed under her premiership. Don’t think of her as a politician, think of her as a one woman revolution. Someone who took a country that had lost faith in itself, which had become the sick man of not only Europe but the Western World, and gave it a repeated slapping leaving it richer, stronger, and more confident than when she had entered Downing Street eleven years earlier.

There will be those who rejoice at the death of Lady Thatcher just as there will be many who feel saddened by her passing. For those who do not mourn her death I can understand their reasons. The closing of coal mines did damage large industrial communities that have never since recovered. Her grappling of the trade union barons helped to bring about the end of British ship building. Thatcher’s determination to drive through neoliberal policies resulted in some, who were resistant to radical change, being left behind. There is justification within these arguments to have a dislike for a woman who is perceived to be the enemy, who destroyed a way of life. However it is not only ignorant but also short sighted to blame Thatcher for all of the problems these communities faced.

Unions are there to represent their members and I support them in that fundamental objective. Yet in the 1970s and 80s the unions had become controlled by Marxists such as Arthur Scargill who considered the self confessed ‘socialist’ Labour Party of Wilson and Callaghan to be too right wing even for him. The unions brought down Ted Heath’s government of the early 70s and were increasing pressure on the Labour government to significantly raise wages, in some cases 35% above inflation. As a result inflation hit an eye watering 25% in 1975, interest rates plummeted and the recession deepened. International investment fell substantially and to the world our politics, our society and our economy appeared mortally ill.

Many who gloat at the death of ‘Thatcher the evil milk snatcher’ often forget the dire state the country was in before she became Prime Minister. Many within the Labour Party and on the left of politics today still do not agree with what Lady Thatcher did, but there is often consensus that something had to be done to deal with the mess the country was in. Labour never tackled the social and economic problems of the 70s out of a fear that the unions would split the Party. The only alternative to bring about some form of spring to a long winter of discontent was therefore to elect Margaret Thatcher Prime Minister, leader of a Conservative Party unchained from union paymasters, and that’s just what the country did.


Lady Thatcher was a conviction politician who had been elected in 1979 on a radical manifesto of privatisation, monetarism and neoliberal economic reform. She believed that freedom from government was crucial, that we should be able to run our own lives the way we want without the interference of the state. She implemented the Pit Closure programme not out of a determined attempt to destroy the working classes, but as the first step towards economic reform that was in desperate need. The unwillingness of union barons to cooperate and negotiate with the Conservative government led to strikes and civil unrest. The National Union of Miners kept their members out on strike for up to a year due to Scargill’s frantic insistency of bringing down another government. He failed. The Pit Closure programme was hard fought however coal mining simply was not profitable. Rising wages and increased costs meant the industry was uncompetitive and could no longer be subsidised by a country which was on its knees, and had to be bailed out by the IMF only some six years earlier. When coal mining was privatised only four pits out of nearly 20 were found to be making a profit. Increasing demands by the unions in terms of working hours and pay also meant the death of the ship building industry in the UK, as once again this industry became too costly and uncompetitive against emerging specialist nations such as Germany. Thatcher could be hard and uncompromising but to hail her as the pin up boy of hatred for destroying lives is incongruous. There are so many factors that brought down mining and ship building, not least an intractable self destructing ability of the unions. But Lady T did what was difficult yet absolutely necessary to end the unprofitable areas of the economy with the ambition of creating a new invigorated economy.

We often hear that Thatcher destroyed the NHS, this is far from true she restructured the NHS and increased the organisations budget by around 32%. She never attempted to privatise the health service and in fact it was Blair’s Labour government who introduced competition of the private sector into the NHS in the late 90s. Spending on Law and Order increased by over 50% as a result of an economy that was booming under her tenure. The right to buy your Council home was one of Thatcher’s greatest meritocratic achievements. Because of her fervent belief in self reliance hundreds of thousands were able to buy their homes for the first time. Many people like those in my family who had come from the working classes and a Labour background were finally given choice over the direction we wanted our lives to go. The buying of council houses empowered women just like my mother who faced the prospect of never being a homeowner to buy their home. The British people were able to become wealth creators and share owners under Thatcher’s privatisation policy of state owned industries such as British Telecom and British Gas.

imagesLady Thatcher’s economic revolution created a growing middle class. Many in my family who had been lifelong supporters of the Labour Party had a realisation that only with Maggie as Prime Minister would we be able to become part of a wider world that had always been closed to us. This was a world that we now had prospects in and potential to succeed for the first time in our lives. Lady Thatcher inspired people and taught us that aspiration is not something to be ashamed off. With hard work and determination we can achieve but that will only come from the effort of the individual which is absolutely accurate. She once famously said that if you work hard you’ll be surprised how often you’ll succeed, never were truer words spoken as the UK went from an unemployment rate of nearly 17% to one of the lowest we had ever had, that of 4%. If Cameron gets 11 years in power he will be lucky to see GDP rise by 5%, yet Thatcher oversaw a staggering 24% increase in GDP and she was rewarded by the British public by winning three successive election victories. In terms of votes Thatcher won almost 100,000 more votes during her last election then she did in her first, Blair on the other hand lost well over 4 million votes between his first and third election victories. Thatcher’s strong relationship with Reagan and her backing of Gorbachev to the US as a ‘man we can do business with’ successfully helped to bring about the end of the Cold War. The Iron Ladies belief in the extraordinary ability of man if set free from the state ran through every policy, initiative or war she was ever involved in.

The social democratic consensus implemented through Keynesian economic policies failed Britain in the 1970s. Radical neoliberal reform was needed to improve Britain’s standing in the world again. The reforms Thatcher introduced were not reversed by the last Labour government and in fact Tony Blair argued that it was his job to build upon Thatcher’s legacy. With her death the outcry from the international community has been astonishing. From Julia Gillard, Kissinger, Obama, to Gorbachev and even Banki Moon, the world recognises the important role that Lady Thatcher played, not only on the world stage fighting for democracy and freedom, but also how she rebuilt a nation that had become scared of its own shadow. Under Thatcher Britain once again has become a leading international force.

There are not many leaders of the free world today who we can all say we have been touched by, for good or bad. Blair was in power for ten years yet few of us can see how he affected our lives, the opposite is true of the Iron Lady. For myself I’m biased, she acts as an inspiration to me and someone I admired tremendously. I don’t write this article pretending it to be impartial, it’s not and I know I shall get attacked for praising a woman who can only be regarded as one of Britain’s greatest post war Prime Ministers. However we have to recognise that for many, and I would argue the majority, she acts as an inspiration and someone who revolutionised the way we think and live. She is the reason I entered politics and why I fight for the things I do. Lady T taught me that if you feel passionately about something and want to make a difference, then stand up and fight for what you believe in. I literally owe her everything. She changed the way in which we think about government and the civil service, that the state is your servant and not your master. She fought for democracy and for her people. Many of us, even those who despise her, are better off today, thanks to her toughness and resolve. History will remember her favourably as a lady who made Britain proud of itself once again, who gave us a renewed sense of purpose and as someone who did what needed to be done against all adversity. A great Briton has died this week, love her or loath her I can’t foresee the emergence of any politician with the vision, determination, strength of character and balls that the Iron Lady had.



Discussion18 Comments

  1. avatar

    The fact you argued that nothing the Blair government did has affected any of us shows just how short sighted your analysis is. The legacy will always be tainted by Iraq but their achievements speak volumes for how much the coalition intends to undo.

    I think people have to realise that since Thatcher was such a divisive character, likewise her legacy will always be this. For every achievement that her supporters can list, her detractors will counter it. What some people saw as her creating a new generation of home owners, others will say this caused the housing market boom. Likewise, the economy boomed due to deregulation but set the tone for the crash in 2008.

    Missing from a lot of tributes has been her support of General Pinochet, her contempt for Nelson Mandela (calling him a terrorist), support of the Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the training given to soldiers of Pol Pot’s regime. However this can hardly be misconstrued, yet will (somewhat unsurprisingly) rarely be mentioned by her supporters.

    I haven’t celebrated her death, but nor have I been brought to tears.

    • avatar

      The fact that I have argued noting the Blair government, very rarely, certainly does not illustrate how he affected us and bares no relation to my analysis. If you read my article properly you will note that I am arguing about the direct achievements of Thatcher that affected our lives, of which there are none in relation to Blair. The fact that I have used Blair as a comparison simply shows an understanding of political history, that Blair was not a great achiever of policy politics unlike Thatcher. Will we still be arguing about the legacy of any modern PMs many years after they leave office and pass away? I would suggest probably not, unlike Thatcher.

      I do at times think Thatcher chose her international friends badly. In terms of Pinochet she was always grateful for his support during the Falklands conflict. Thatcher was also supportive of him because he initiated democratic reform of Chile, however I am under no illusion that he was a dictator. Lady T would probably acknowledge that she got it totally wrong regarding Mandela, but it is easy to criticise with hindsight.

      Lady Thatcher certainly had short comings, as we all do as human beings. But in an article dedicated to her I was not going to highlight them.

      The fact that 23 years after she left office we are still debating Thatcher only illustrates how she fundamentally changed this country.

  2. avatar

    Astonished that this article has provoked the fewest comments of all the Thatcher ones on here. It’s by far the funniest. It’s a vivid account of a young man’s cry wank.

    • avatar

      Golly gosh, G, if you’re the same ‘G’ attacking a number of articles, you evidently enjoy de-constructing people a bit too much… Quite possibly the last refuge of someone trying to avoid constructing their thesis…

  3. avatar

    I was not the greatest Thatcher fan of all time, but I appreciate what she did for the country. She had the balls that many politicians don’t today. Overall I think she did good and your piece is pretty fair in addressing some of those common criticisms of Thatcher.

  4. avatar

    A gushing tribute that couldn’t be any sicklier if it was dipped in sugar. I certainly agree that Thatcherism taught people to have ambition and aspirations. What you missed out is that she also taught people that it didn’t matter how many others you trampled on to get to the top, and that the mess you left behind wasn’t your responsibility to clean up. I’ve honestly never read so much drivel in my entire life.

    • avatar
      James Binns

      You are absolutely right to have that opinion, she was a controversial figure. I don’t really understand why you read the article if you knew it was in dedication to her but thats by the by. I don’t think you can blame Thatcher for how people took on her policies. She did not actively go out and teach greed and I would say that was by far a very small minority who acted in such a way. Besides it is not greed to want to own your own property, to buy shares and be able to afford a good standard of living. This was a world that up until Thatcher, was closed to many of the British people. Lady Thatcher certainly did not teach that “the mess you left behind wasn’t your responsibility to clean up”! She spent 11 years of her premiership cleaning up the mess of the previous Labour government and I can’t see how you can justify that comment.

      • avatar

        I think the communities which were left devastated by her policies would take a different stance. She left them jobless, destroyed their families and communities and did very little to ease their strife in the aftermath of the miner’s strike. I’d call that leaving a mess behind and not cleaning it up.

        • avatar
          James Binns

          To say she destroyed families in the context you use implies in some way that she actively went about it as an aim/ambition, which is a fanciful suggestion to say the least. Family and marriage break ups are not simply down to one person or one set of policies. That difficult decision comes down to various factors. Lady Thatcher did leave miners jobless and I am the first to say that she did not re-invest in these people. She had hoped that these communities would take the initiative provided to them through her policies and make their own way, however people who only know one way of life could not do it themselves. The government should have helped these communities in some form to become Thatcherite success stories. However you have to appreciate that this area of the economy was simply unprofitable and being propped up by hard working tax payers, not to mention the IMF bailout! Hard as it was this industry simply could not continue. Never forget that more mines closed under Wilson and Callaghan than Lady Thatcher, but obviously people have selective memories. As I said, Thatcher tried to clean up a mess left by the previous Labour government. She did not get it all right, god no, but she had the conviction to at least try and thank goodness she did because we’re far better off for it!

  5. avatar

    Stood up to protect this country’s citizens and interests, and for that I will never forget.
    “We do not want a single foot of foreign territory; but of our territory we shall not surrender a single inch to anyone.”
    RIP, Lady of Iron.

  6. avatar

    In this article James makes clear what side he is on. I expect even he admits that Mrs Thatcher wasn’t perfect, we all make mistakes but the point of this article wasn’t to list her failings. I can understand why she is seen as divisive but as James tries to explain, the country was already divided between those who simply wanted to get on and work and the minority of Marxist trade unionist bullies who held successive democratically elected governments to ransom. As for this idea that she preached a “greed is good” agenda again I can see why people think this but there are examples throughout her life of her generosity and many people who knew her will talk of her personal kindness. She never really cared for the trappings of power and refused a state funeral because she thought a flypast a waste of taxpayers money. If anyone was greedy it was some of the trade union leaders who demanded eye-watering wage increases without any concern as to where the money would come from to pay for it. One of the reasons why this recession is not as bad as it could have been is thanks to the labour market reforms enacted by her government.

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