I knew the end was close with the sad news that the Iron Lady would be spending Christmas in hospital last year – while her spoilt children were far from her bedside, with one even partying in Barbados – of all places. From then on I looked forward with a strong sense of sadness to her last days, and the ever advancing years brought her mortality more to the fore of my mind. Even then, however, I did not expect the date to be so close as it became.
Now that she is gone, it is apt to muse on her legacy and the effects that she and her type had on the world – and whether it will be seen in such a positive light for years to come, despite – or even perhaps because of – her economic policies becoming the basis for all modern parties to build upon. It is interesting to contemplate people’s changing perception of what were once considered radical and untested policies, considering that big-state socialism is virtually vanquished, and most of the modern opponents to classical liberalism are deficit-building Ballsites.
British politics, and Britain in general, was in dire need of repair in 1979. With rubbish lying uncollected in the streets and the chaos which surrounded the country being magnified and catalysed by huge trade union action: paralysing British industry and services in the ‘Winter of Discontent’ of that year. Austerity after the Second World War had culminated in the doomed attempt to raise the national spirits of the ‘Festival of Britain’ in 1951. The dullness of post war reconstruction, the greyness and grittiness of 1948 – which fed into Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-four’ – was vastly different from the endless leafy summer of Edwardian England, in which the Tory party had flourished, and most of the grandees of the party still mentally occupied.
Despite the welcome intervention of the sixties, Britain returned to its grim status under the Labour administrations of Wilson and James Callaghan. Losing influence in a two power world was also supplemented by national worries about health, services and the power of the big unions – which continued to be a force to be reckoned with – holding the ability to cripple the economy with strikes, as well as the facility to continue their dominance, by continuing the corrupt ‘closed shop’ – compelling all workers to join a union, thus compounding their power.
Thatcher rightly attacked the unions with vigour, venom and strength. They were retarding the dream of a modern, productive Britain, and their particular dominance in the Public Sector, such as the then-nationalised British Gas, BT and BA. While their influence grew, the nation could not prosper – and the growth Britain needed could not be achieved. Her actions were swift and decisive. Acts outlawing the ‘closed shop’, as well as limiting the striking power of unions, outlawing unofficial and small-scale strikes were made law in 1980, 1982, 184, 1988 and 1990.
The effect this had was profound. Before these Acts hit the statute books, eighteen men had to be employed to run a single printing press in Britain’s newspaper industry – vastly more than the European standard. The unions were hurting efficiency of the country, damaging its industries and making it less productive – in turn badly affecting its citizens and even their own members. We have Baroness Thatcher to thank for curtailing this racket.
In foreign policy, she was magisterial, with the best known example of bravery being the Falklands War of 1982, with the Prime Minister courageously taking the risk of sending the expeditionary force across the Atlantic in such a way which pessimists said would be impossible. There was also the decision to sink the Belgrano when it was outside the ‘exclusion zone’ set up by British vessels. The rationale behind the action was that it constituted a ‘clear and present danger to our ships’, as she put it in a later interview. This has since been proven correct, but in the intervening decades, not all saw eye-to-eye with her on that issue.
I hope that her view on the Falklands, so magnificently vindicated in their recent referendum, will be the majority one in history’s glare. The Guardian and scumbags like George Galloway may cry ‘Imperialism’ (if they have stopped saying even more asinine things first), but the Islanders themselves, who have so much to thank her for, still treasure her aid in their own darkest hour. In fighting one of the most brutal and repressive South American regimes she helped the Argentinians topple the junta, and return to democracy too.
Unfortunately, her record on Europe is not so pristine. The Single European Act of 1987 agreed to greater centralisation of EEC countries, and had a sadly tangible effect on the loss of our sovereignty, despite her famous ‘No! No! No!’ on the subject. This is not as well known as Major’s dithering at Maastricht, probably because the force of her remarkable personality kept the party in line, and did not tolerate major dissent within the government.
But it is with America that the main ‘Special Relationship’ lay – a bond of co-operation against the force of Soviet communism and the tyranny of the Politburo and socialism itself. Despite the sad lack of any US endorsement of the defence of the Falklands, there were still huge benefits. The move of free nations to mutually support each other was also seen in the First Gulf War, during her last year in office – when a grand coalition joined together to defend the citizens of Kuwait from annexation by a barbarous regime in the grip of a crime family.
She used to say that: ‘[If] I live [longer] I am annoying the Lefties? Then I want to annoy them a lot more.’ When I first read this, more than a year ago, I hoped she could have her wish; and just carry on. Now that she no longer can, I hope that those who stand for the things in which she believed can continue to value the economic and political freedoms she so espoused.