May the spirit of Thatcherism be with us
SOPHIE QUINTIN ADALIJudging by the distasteful celebrations of 21st century “useful idiots” of the passing of an elderly woman, one can conclude that the spirit of Leninism is alive and well. But so be it, Britain is a free country. Let us hope her legacy of liberty will not be forgotten by Europe.
No, no and no! Margaret Thatcher did not precipitate Britain into Dickensian poverty. The opposite is true. When she came to power in 1979 Britain was Europe’s Greece, its “sick man.” After her 11-year tenure, the country was more prosperous, not less.
But facts are inconvenient to the leftist commentariat, its memory selective. Hence the standard pieces about the “oppressed” miners rather than serious attempts to explain why the British government had to privatize or close loss-operating collieries to adjust to new economic circumstances. For the left, the taxpayers are a cow to be milked endlessly to subsidize dying industries. Forgotten too is the fact that Arthur Scargill, the leader of the miners’ union, was fighting to bring about the kind of dictatorship of the proletariat Josef Stalin had imposed with brute force.
It is a testament to her strength of character that the Soviet military came to call her the “Iron Lady,” a sobriquet she rather liked. In the early 1980s it clearly took brass political cojones for a woman to take on the patrician Conservative party establishment and earn respect on the homefront as well as the international stage. But the “bloody woman” (how some conservative MPs called her) surprised everyone by coming out with handbags full of wit and will.
Fighting the creaking welfare consensus was a challenge she relished, cleverly maneuvering against the proponents of the status quo in her party, and putting the bloated nanny state – the sacred dying cow inherited from the post-war era – on a diet. The tough, painful “austerity” medicine and measures to liberalize the economy brought the country back from the brink of social and economic chaos.
When the Soviet Union started to crumble, European Socialists became disoriented and more Europhile. She never tired of putting parliamentary democracy above the technocratic model they were pushing for. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Thatcher was at the pinnacle of her political career, having defeated communism at home and in Europe, emasculated the arrogant Argentine junta (Falklands war, 1984) and revived the British economy.
Driven by a vision of a free society she understood that compromises on principles would undermine her objective. Individual liberty and economic freedom were her ideals and Friedrich von Hayek’s opus, “the Constitution of Liberty” (1960), her inspiration. Yet when her party challenged her leadership in 1990, equality, not liberty was becoming the political mantra, including with the right. Then, New Labour and socialism in all its shades of collectivism – not neoliberalism – became the dominant ideology bringing the continent on the brink. Of what exactly, no one knows.
The flamboyant mayor of London put her political legacy in perspective with simplicity and clarity. “Thatcherism,” Boris Johnson said, “wasn’t about exalting the rich and grinding the faces of the poor. It was the exact opposite. It was about unleashing talent, and bursting open cozy cartels, and helping people to make the most of their talents and their opportunities.”
May her spirit of liberty continue to inspire new generations of women (and men) to build a freer Europe. Rest in peace.
Sophie Quintin Adalı is an analyst for www.libreafrique.org, the francophone project of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation.