Margaret Thatcher (Part 2)

Margaret Thatcher (Part 2)

Margaret Thatcher is one of my heroes and I have a three part series on her I am posting. “What We Can Learn from Margaret Thatcher,”By Sir Rhodes Boyson and Antonio Martino, Heritage Foundation, November 24, 1999, is an excellent article and here is a portion of it below:

Foreign Policy

Few politicians in history have the opportunity or ability to shine in domestic and foreign policy. Margaret did both. She was patriotic and had no compunction in unfurling that flag. Her patriotism was instinctive and struck a chord with the British people. They saw her as a powerful leader who stood up for Britain.

She didn’t pretend to be a diplomatist, and actually said of herself, “I know nothing about diplomacy, but I just know and believe I want certain things for Britain.” These were increased respect for Britain as a leading power, limitations on European pretensions, and a close alliance with the U.S.

This latter was the most important and productive, and was cemented by the mutual attraction and meeting of minds of President Reagan and Margaret Thatcher on most issues. It enabled her to fight a war 8,000 miles away in the Falklands. She had the backing of the British people, but she needed American help. It was given, and she never forgot this. Neither did she forget European procrastination and obstructiveness. Later, she was to use her prestige to nudge President Bush into the Gulf War.

Britain remained America’s strongest ally. She stood with America against terrorism in the Libyan crisis. Most important, she stood with President Reagan on the Strategic Defense Initiative but ensured that what was good for America did not undermine NATO, nor undermine the nuclear deterrent necessary for the rest of the West. It proved to be the final piece in the jigsaw that saw the end of the Evil Empire and the collapse of Russian Communism. The Iron Lady had played her part, and the chemistry that had worked with Reagan similarly worked with Gorbachev.

The repercussions of the changes that were pursued by the action of these three people were immense. The world was made a different place. As Margaret Thatcher herself said after leaving office, “The US and Britain have together been the greatest alliance in the defence of liberty and justice that the world has ever known.”

Margaret Thatcher’s part in the fall of Russian Communism bridged her American and European policies. She wanted the Eastern European countries free and absorbed into the European Community. This would dilute French and German dominance of Europe and make more likely a community of independent national states. From 1980 to 1988, she visited Eastern Europe as often as she could — Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Russia, and Poland. She was popular and was seen as the champion of the values they wanted — national determination, liberty, and the free market. She raised British prestige and gave the people of Eastern Europe hope.

The European Community

Her dealings with the European Community were a different matter. There was no meeting of minds with her European partners. The protectionist, bureaucratic structure was contrary to British tradition. The Foreign Office and the majority of her Cabinets were pro-Europe and believed in consensus. Margaret Thatcher didn’t, and in British interests managed to have the Common Agricultural Budget reduced and in 1980 handbagged the Commission into agreeing to a rebate for our contributions.

The price she paid was high. The economic recession in the late 1980s persuaded her into the single market. She saw it as beneficial for commerce and the extension of free trade. Her continental partners saw it not only as economic but political: the move to a single European state.

All three parties and the British public have moved their stance on Europe since 1970, when we first joined the Community. The present Conservative position of wanting to keep Sterling and against political integration fits the mood of the majority of the British people. The party should shout this loudly from the rooftops. It is a potential election winner. Europe however, was Margaret Thatcher’s nemesis. Perhaps it is fitting she was in Paris when her fate as Prime Minister was sealed.

A Remarkable Legacy

Margaret Thatcher was a conviction politician and left a remarkable legacy. Beware Mr. Blair: There is no third way. He has benefited from the sound economy he inherited. He also has the precious legacy of an electorate well-versed in monetarism during the 18 years of Conservative government. He has pledged to continue the fiscal policies for two years. They are now up, and the pressure is mounting within factions of his party for him to spend.

Significantly, the crude banners of a pressure group demonstrating outside the Labour Party conference last week read: “Stuff the market, tax the rich.” His continuation of the privatization policy is compromised by government private partnership. His rhetoric to keep the trade unions at arm’s length is already undermined by his actions. Privileges have already been introduced via the back door of the socialist-led European Community laws.

We should all remember that the three most successful Conservative leaders who won three successive elections were Lord Liverpool (early 19th century), Lord Salisbury (late 19th century), and Margaret Thatcher. They were all right-wing. They did not seek the center. When Margaret Thatcher was given the Winston Churchill Award by the U.S., the citation read: “Like Churchill she is known for her courage, conviction, determination and willpower. Like Churchill she thrives on adversity.” They were both loved and hated but left their mark.

Sir Rhodes Boyson was one of the architects of the Thatcherite Revolution and served in several senior posts in the Thatcher government. He delivered these remarks at a meeting of The Heritage Foundation’s Windsor Society in Sea Island, Georgia, on October 3-6, 1999.

Antonio Martino

What role did leadership play in making the last two decades of this century so radically different from the first eight decades? I shall argue that Margaret Thatcher’s and Ronald Reagan’s leadership has translated the revolution in economic thinking into actual policy changes.1 Also, by bringing those ideas out of the ivory tower and into the political arena, they have contributed in shifting the focus of political debate in a direction more favorable to a free society. If today’s political discourse is so radically different from what it has been for the greatest part of this century, this is certainly due to the intellectual giants that have prepared the revolution — Friedman, Hayek, Buchanan, Stigler, to name just a few — but also to a great extent to two world leaders — Reagan and Thatcher — who have allowed those ideas to be implemented and, by so doing, to be known to the masses.

An Epochal Change

It is gratifying to look back at the political climate which has prevailed for most of this century and compare it to the present one. The century that is coming to its end has been the century of the State, a century of dictators, the century of Hitler and Stalin, as well as the century of arbitrary government and of unprecedented intrusion of politics into our daily lives. It has produced the largest increase in the size of government in the history of mankind.2 Just to mention a single, but very significant, indicator: In 1900, the ratio of government spending to GDP in Italy was 10 percent; in the 1950s, 30 percent; and it is now roughly 60 percent. Similar considerations apply to most countries.

For the greatest part of the 20th century, the prevailing intellectual climate has been in favor of socialism in one form or another. The future of freedom, of a society based on voluntary cooperation, free markets, and the rule of law, appeared uncertain, to say the least.3 Many people had become convinced of the “inevitability of Socialism.”4 There is no need to insist on this point. We all remember how gloomy the political scenario was for freedom fighters until recently.

In the course of the 1970s, things started to change.5 Gradually, pessimism subsided and a new mood started to take hold. More and more people were expressing dissatisfaction with the old socialist prescriptions and indicating a preference for market mechanisms. Socialists of the old school became fewer and fewer. As a result, believers in a free society began to hope for the future of a liberal order.

A notable precursor of the change and a conspicuous exception to the then prevailing climate of pessimism was Arthur Seldon, co-founder of the Institute of Economic Affairs in London. In a letter to The Times on August 6, 1980, he went as far as to predict: “China will go capitalist. Soviet Russia will not survive the century. Labour as we know it will never rule again. socialism is an irrelevance.” At that time, this view was regarded as preposterous, an eccentric example of English witticism. Ten years later, it seemed prophetic if not obvious.

What brought about this radical change? Why has political rhetoric, and at times even actual policy, changed so much?

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