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Margaret Thatcher's Legacy for Britain

The following is an adaptation of my thoughts at UCL's Conservative Society some months ago concerning the issue of the Conservative Parties vote of no confidence that lead to the resignation of Margaret Thatcher, her legacy for Britain and why she's so undeserving hated by the hard left.

When one enters parliament through members lobby there are four prime ministers commemorated and immortalized in statue form. The first of these figures, David Lloyd George seeded the beginnings of the welfare state, the second Winston Churchill served his tenure protecting us from physical annihilation during the Second World War, the third, Clement Attlee nationalized the health service and sought to drive Britain down the road of socialism and the fourth, the late Baroness Thatcher brought great economic revolution at the end of the Cold War.

It's been said of British politics that these last two figures though diametrically opposed were the only elections that ever really mattered. But it's difficult to appreciate the magnitude of Thatcher's achievement without understanding the calamity of what preceded it. In the decade before she took office we had become known across the world as "the sick man of Europe" we had one of the worst economies in the continent, inflation in double figures, a three day week, a loan from the IMF, price and income controls, large scale nationalization, the winter of discontent and mass strikes that had forced the resignation of a past prime minister. With nothing but low industrial productivity, it came to be known as the "British disease".

Worst than that there was an eerie consensus that the British were finished as leaders on a world stage. 'Goodbye Britain, it was nice knowing you' read the title of the Wall Street journal four years prior to her election. But with unshaken confidence in what must have sounded like a delusion Margaret Thatcher would repeat the mantra 'Britain's best days are not behind us. Britain's best days are ahead of us'. Nobody but her foresaw the large scale investment, the Economic Big Bang of 1986 that her side supply policies would bring to the UK. When she left office after the longest tenure of any democratically elected prime minister she left us with a country that had become a leading force in Europe and the single market with the second largest growth in the EU, the fastest growing productivity rate in the OECD and a capital that would out grow the world on financial services.

Throughout the eighties she unhinged state monopolies and carried out the largest privatisation scheme in our history "every man and woman a capitalist" she cried "I want every man and woman a capitalist" and even though the Labour party complained bitterly about her policies they would later ratify their manifesto and keep her economic policy, her foreign policy and even some of her social policy. But yet curiously among a certain kind of leftist Margaret Thatcher is utterly despised.

There's something of a pervading myth in Britain that the '80s was a time of great selfishness. That she somehow or other left us a nation knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. If true one might wonder how it is she won three general elections but the arguments against Thatcherism are always the same 'she shut down all the old industries'. Though completely untrue (manufacturing output increased 7.5 percent under her tenure) it's a caricature we've come accustomed too. She stopped tax funding coal mines which no political party with any seats in either the House of Commons, House of Lords or European parliament want to see reopened.

What she was interested in was free market libertarianism, ending tax payer subsidies and reducing the size of the state. Which at the time had some control over almost every detail of one's social and domestic life, prices, dividends, wages even how much money you could take abroad. She showed that a successful economy was not state controlled or noncompetitive but built off the backs of hard working men and women striving to achieve for themselves and their families. "A man may climb Everest for himself but at the summit it's his fellow country man's flag that he plants" and she gave countless thousands the chance to start their own business under the enterprise allowance scheme and many more the chance to own their own home in her right to buy policies.

But for Thatcher, if freedom was worth defending for Britain it was also worth exporting abroad. That's why she became the first European leader to take such a strong stance against the Soviet Union. She wore that insult "the Iron Lady" as a great badge of honor. It's why she became a major figure in the anti-apartheid campaign, having been claimed by a former British ambassador to South Africa as being the most involved western figure in the world and it's why she went to war in the Persian gulf and in the Falklands. Every time for the betterment of freedom and liberty.

My position is very clear. I believe Margaret Thatcher was our most successful prime minister and never have I been happier with any other political figure. In the entire time she was in the public domain she was the epitaph of dignity and grace. Even only hours after the attempt on her life or the murder of two of her closest colleagues she never departed into the rage of her enemies. God knows she could be a fierce and fiery adversary and thank God that she was but she always displayed a highly appropriate amount of respect.

Perhaps what's truly remarkable is sheer amount she achieved. From the start it was never expected of her to actually reach number ten especially at a time when a conservative couldn't be leader and era when a woman couldn't be prime minister, Thatcher was both and from the very start she was destined for greatness. In her first year she oversaw the transition of Rhodesia into Zimbabwe. Something successive Labour foreign ministers had failed to do. This wouldn't be the last time she gave it to the establishment either. In the Anglo-Irish agreement she gave up the UK's ridiculous claim to be the sole barer of sovereignty over Northern Ireland furthering the peace process there and again in 1985 she became the first western leader to meet with Mikhail Gorbachev setting in motion a chain of events that would free millions from the shackles of a hideous form of state communism.

Her record in office had secured her the largest electoral victory since the second World War but despite her unmatched achievements the real enemy came from within her own party.  Faced with the resignation of Nigel Lawson she appointed John Major as chancellor who suggested joining the European Exchange Rate mechanism to counter act inflation. Thatcher could not be seen to loose a second chancellor and to her dismay at the proposal a vote of no confidence was called in 1990 in response to her eurosceptic views on adopting a new currency (even though she created the single market) and she resigned mid term. This came as the lowest ever moment of the modern Conservative party.

But for the left what I suspect is the real source of hatred has nothing to do with any specific policy instead it is her unwavering success. She never lost an election and somehow achieved the impossible. Reversing decline and spurring increases in all levels of income, all while increasing public spending, lowering taxes and paying off masses of debt from previous governments. She converted large numbers of trade unions and working class voters to the Conservative party and for that she can never be forgiven. The late prime minister David Cameron said quite rightly that her real legacy lay not in the fact that she lead Britain. It's that she saved Britain.


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