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How Should Thatcherites Remember the '80s?


Every now and again, when I talk to people about the '80s I'm told that it was a time of unhinged selfishness, that somehow or other we learned the price of everything but the value of nothing. I can just remember that infamous line from Billy Elliot; 'Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher. We all celebrate today because its one day closer to your death'. If it reflected the general mood of the time, one might wonder how it is she won, not one but three elections.

In an era when a woman couldn't be Prime Minister, her launch into power was accidental owing in part to Manchester liberals and the Winter of Discontent. Yet I'm convinced her election victory in '79 was the only one that ever truly mattered. Simply consider the calamity of what preceded it, the 1970s was a decade of double-digit inflation, power cuts, mass strikes, price and income controls, and the three day week. Britain was sick, it needed fundamental restructuring but no one seemed to quite understand the remedy.

Up until Ralph Harris - founder of the Institute for Economic Affairs - began fielding candidates neither party had been particularly inclusive of classical liberalism. A breakthrough would come with the election Enoch Powell, Geoffrey Howe, Nick Ridley and eventually Keith Joseph who would covert Thatcher herself, to his cause. They were among the first to realize that Britain's problems came from big government; both Labour and Conservative who contracted out domestic policy to the hard left.

After eleven and half years in government, Britain had the highest productivity in the OECD, the second highest growth in the European Union, a surge in living standards and a capital that would outgrow the world on financial services. Throughout the '80s she unhinged state monopolies and carried out the largest denationalization scheme in our history "every man and woman a capitalist" she cried "I want every man and woman a capitalist".

Despite its success - us Thatcherites should be honest - our ideas of small government, fiscal conservatism, social liberalism, free markets and euroscepticism have never been the prevailing view of the Conservative party, which today is largely One Nation Conservative. An interventionist and somewhat protectionist strand of the party.

Still on a number of issues we reach a lot people, whether its private enterprise, tax cuts, free trade, welfare reform or just plain old text book, individual liberty. Most people appreciate their worth, when the rights of the individual are conserved, the nation at large succeeds, as the lady herself said "a man may climb Everest for himself but at the summit its his fellow country man's flag that he plants".

Looking back at the Thatcher era, it was time of liberation in more ways than one, not just at home but by ending the detente policy that allowed communism to spread across Europe, a decision that would change the world and free countless numbers.

Even through a lens of Soviet propaganda millions of people had heard a message of hope and in the Falklands, Thatcher had shown that a nation like ours doesn't surrender to a fascist military gang.

Yet despite these achievements, among a certain kind of leftist, Thatcher isn't hated but despised. The argument against her is virtually always the same, she closed down old industries, which isn't even true. Manufacturing increased by 7.5 per cent during Thatcher's tenure and only declined as a per cent of overall GDP, as it has in every developed country.

Whether or not we're talking about her achievements with debt reduction, the Anglo-Irish agreement, the transition from Rhodesia into Zimbabwe, the Lawson boom, the financial Big Bang or keeping Britain out of the eurozone, for some leftists it just doesn't matter. She will always be hated. She took a country that was bleak, bankrupt and broken, and transformed it into a prosperous, perennial power. For that she can never be forgiven. 

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