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Who needs friends when you have enemies?

April 9, 2013

Margaret Thatcher 1925-2013


She had wonderful enemies. From the student politicians who branded the junior education minister Mrs. Thatcher, milk snatcher! for withdrawing milk subsidies from rich farmers and over-fed kids, right through to Galtieri and Scargill, she could not have asked for better.  Only her European ones let her down.

In the depths of the 1981 recession 364 economists wrote to The Times criticising her monetarist second budget. Asked in parliament to name two economists who supported her policies she came up with Patrick Minford and Alan Walters, prompting a nearby civil servant to mutter, good job she wasn’t asked to name three! The 364 are now all forgotten or recanted, and the economy turned at that very moment, but she needed a better enemy. A South American dictator, right out of central casting, stepped up to the plate.

Britons still remembered how appeasing the last fascist to invade his weak neighbours had turned out, so all she had to do was win the Falklands back. It was close run but she did it, and went on to win the following election in a landslide. It was time to tame the unions, roll back the state and stand up to communism. Again she was lucky in her enemies.

There was much sympathy for the miners. They did a dirty dangerous job and had suffered as pit after pit became uneconomic, but they were led by a madman. Arthur Scargill was an unrepentant Marxist who made no secret of his desire to bring down the government and usher in centrally planned utopia.  Thatcher had prepared well, built up coal stocks, and crucially was able to split some miners away from the main union. It took a year, and changed Britain forever, but the strike failed.

Lesser enemies, Ken Livingstone and the Greater London Council, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and a string of hapless Labour Party leaders came and went, but Thatcherism marched on. Council houses were sold off, airways, utilities, and dozens of state-owned companies privatised, and Soviet communism collapsed without a fight.  Despite being nearly murdered by the IRA, she signed the Hillsborough Agreement with the Republic. It prompted a revolt of all the Unionist MPs, but was the first step to peace in Northern Ireland.  Apart from the Poll Tax, none of her signature policies were reversed by subsequent governments. Most were extended.

But there was the knotty problem of Britain and the European Union. Half her party regarded the entanglements of membership as a price worth paying for free trade, and half didn’t. For eleven years she rode both horses, doing her best to cast Jacques Delors, a barmy French socialist, as the enemy. But he wasn’t up to the role, and in 1990 she came unstuck.  Her successors didn’t make that problem look any easier.

Apart from encouraging self-sufficiency, Thatcher generally steered clear of social issues. Perhaps she had enough other battles to fight. More likely she was out of step with her party. Long before she was famous, she had voted to legalise both homosexuality and abortion, and by all accounts she was never too bothered by the sexual shenanigans of her ministers. Good for her.

She deserves a poem, but I’m not qualified to do her justice.

Jim Thornton

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 19, 2013 8:39 pm

    A very gracious recant by one of the 364. I was wrong. She didn’t go far enough.

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