How Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, saved Britain

Here’s an article from the UK Daily Mail with some more details about her.

Margaret Thatcher stood almost alone in driving through the tough policies now credited with saving the economy, secret papers reveal.

The Tory Premier had to take on her predecessor Harold Macmillan, Bank of England governor Gordon Richardson and even her own Chancellor Geoffrey Howe to push through the policies which pulled Britain back from the brink of economic chaos.

Documents released by the National Archives under the 30-year rule show the pressure Mrs Thatcher faced from the Establishment behind the scenes – and the extent to which she was isolated.

In 1980, the year after becoming Britain’s first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher embarked on a controversial programme to revive the moribund economy through deep public spending cuts and strict control of the money supply, intended to stamp out inflation.

He warned that while her programme of cuts might give a ‘sense of exhilaration’ to her supporters, the country was heading for industrial collapse and ‘dangerous’ levels of unemployment.

Macmillan, then 86, sent the letter following a meeting with the Prime Minister at Chequers in August 1980.

He criticised her for abandoning ‘consensus politics’ to pursue radical reforms and ‘divisive politics’, which he said went against the ‘essence of Tory democracy’.

It was Macmillan who coined the phrase ‘you’ve never had it so good’ in 1957 during the long post-war economic boom.

His brand of consensus politics is now credited with contributing to the economic malaise that brought Britain to its knees in the late 1970s.

Years later, in her memoirs, Mrs Thatcher poured scorn on consensus politics, writing: ‘What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner “I stand for consensus”?.’

[…]In 1981, 365 economists wrote to The Times urging Mrs Thatcher to change course and limit the damage caused by the recession.

But she was unmoved, and her tough stance succeeded in reducing inflation from 27 per cent to four per cent in four years, putting Britain on the road to recovery.

Mrs Thatcher’s economic views were heavily influenced by the right-wing Cabinet minister Sir Keith Joseph, with whom she set up the free market think tank the Centre for Policy Studies in 1974.

Both drew on the work of the influential American economist Milton Friedman whose monetary theories challenged the post-war consensus on economic thinking.

I recommend reading the whole article for some more articles where Lady Thatcher had to stand against everyone and hold onto her convictions in the teeth of the majority.

Here’s an article from Forbes magazine that summarizes her effort to turn Britain around.

Excerpt:

It’s hard to appreciate today how desperate Britain’s condition was before Thatcher took office.  Its economy was a laughing stock, the perennial sick man of Europe.  Strikes were endemic and union bosses effectively governed the country.  Her Conservative Party had long ago made its peace with the welfare state and the ethos of high spending and high taxes. While the previous Tory Prime Minister, Edward Heath, wanted to revive Britain, he hadn’t a clue how to do it. In a make-or-break showdown with the coal miner’s union, Heath called a special election under the banner “Who Governs Britain?”  Heath lost and unions’ dominance in Britain seemed secure.

Great leaders have an astute sense of taking advantage of circumstances. Even though Heath had lost two elections, none of the senior party officials would challenge him.  At the time, Thatcher was not regarded as one of the party’s major figures.  But she was the only Tory who firmly believed in free markets and in Britain’s ability to become again a proud nation based on the principles of liberty. She was a devotee of Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman and of the idea of paring back big government and giving free enterprise room to flourish. Astonishingly she beat Heath in a leadership fight in 1975 and led the Tories to victory in 1979.

Immediately she began slashing income tax rates and reining in galloping spending and fighting inflation.  She also exhibited that critical sense of timing. When she took office, she was faced with a potential strike of nurses whose union was demanding huge pay increases. Thatcher compromised in a way that some thought she didn’t have the backbone to turn Britain around.  Instead she was exhibiting a great politician’s sense of knowing when to pick a fight.  Thatcher eventually pushed through major labor union reforms and made it clear she would not tolerate any union riots or violence.  Shortly after Thatcher won reelection, the coal miners union, which had destroyed Heath, decided to take her on. But unlike Heath Thatcher was fully prepared.  The big showdown ensued and Thatcher beat the coal miner’s union resoundingly. It never recovered from that defeat.

Thatcher knew the deadweight on the economy of excessive taxation. She cut the top income tax rate from 98% to 40%. She cut the corporate income tax rate from 52% to 35%.

One of Thatcher’s greatest innovations was the systematic selling off of the government’s business assets, dubbed privatization.  After World War II Britain nationalized enormous swaths of the economy which actions subsequent Conservative governments left largely untouched.  Thatcher sold government companies off and her example has been followed by countless nations around the world.

In the area of privatizations, she did two remarkable things. She sold off much of Britain’s public housing.  An enormous number of Britons, far more than in the U.S., lived in these government-owned buildings. Thatcher pushed the sale of these apartments to occupants at low prices and on very advantageous terms. The purpose was to begin to shift the mentality of people and their dependence on government. Her other smart move was in the privatization of government-owned companies:  offering a significant number of shares to workers at very low prices.  Union leaders hated privatization but their opposition was undermined as their members realized that they could do very well buying cheap shares in these newly-privatized entities.  Here again she was changing peoples’ thinking:  pro-big government workers now saw themselves as share owners, taking on more of a capitalist mentality.

Before Thatcher, many social observers thought that Britain had an ingrained, unchangeable, anti-commercial culture that would forever stand in the way of the country becoming an economic success. Yet within a decade of her taking office, Britain had the most vibrant, large economy in Europe, one even more dynamic, innovative than that of Germany’s.  London became a magnet for entrepreneurs from France, Sweden and elsewhere.

One unchangeable characteristic of a great leader is courage and that means taking career-breaking risks.  Thatcher demonstrated her mettle in the Falkland Islands crisis.  When the Argentinean military dictatorship seized Britain’s Falkland Islands, most military experts felt the Sceptred Isle simply did not possess the military means to take them back. Defying almost the entire political establishment which was haunted by both Britain’s current weakness and the memory of the Suez Canal debacle in 1956, Thatcher declared that the seizure would not stand and that Britain would go to war to take the Islands back. Thankfully she received critical help from the U.S. thanks to in large part the unrelenting efforts of Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger (who years later became Publisher and Chairman of Forbes). To the surprise of experts, Britain’s military expedition succeeded. The Argentinean military dictatorship fell and democracy was restored in that country.  For Britain the Falklands war was a huge boost to a demoralized nation. To the world it meant that once again tyranny would be resisted.

I recommend reading that whole article. It’s hard not to smile at a woman who clearly loved her country and worked to save it from poverty.

Why good men love Maggie

And now I must offend everyone. See, I have a theory about women. I think that women generally tend to be more beholden to the opinions and fashions of the crowd than men are. It’s not absolute, but it’s maybe two-thirds to one-third, in my experience. I think that it is generally hard for them to hold to their convictions in the face of peer pressure. That’s why so few young, unmarried women are conservative after graduating from college. As soon as they reach college, they are swayed towards liberal views by their need to feel good about themselves and their need to be liked by others. Their views at home were not rooted in real knowledge, they were just fitting in with their families and churches and saying whatever words they were expected to say. And then they go off to college and learn other words to say from another community that uses praise and blame to replace their former convictions with new convictions.

But Maggie Thatcher wasn’t like that. And here’s why:

John Ranelagh writes of Margaret Thatcher’s remark at a Conservative Party  policy meeting in the late 1970’s, “Another colleague had also prepared a paper arguing that the middle way was the pragmatic path for the Conservative party to take .. Before he had finished speaking to his paper, the new Party Leader [Margaret Thatcher] reached into her briefcase and took out a book.  It was Friedrich von Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty.  Interrupting [the speaker], she held the book up for all of us to see.  ‘This’, she said sternly, ‘is what we believe’, and banged Hayek down on the table.”  (John Ranelagh, Thatcher’s People:  An Insider’s Account of the Politics, the Power, and the Personalities.  London:  Harper Collins, 1991.)

Policies like unilateral disarmament, wealth redistribution and redefining marriage sound good to many women – especially in college, and especially when only one side is presented and the other side is demonized. The only way to resist ideas that feel good and ideas that get you peer-approval is to have formed your own views through independent study. Lady Thatcher’s economic policies were formed through a study of real economists like Nobel-prize-winning economist F.A. Hayek and Nobel-prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. The reason why she was able to hold to her principles is because she knew what she was talking about, and her opponents did not. She didn’t care about feeling good. She didn’t care about what other people thought of her. She knew was right, and that was enough to sustain her in trying times. She had the knowledge, and her opponents couldn’t change her core convictions by trying to shame her. It didn’t work.

7 thoughts on “How Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, saved Britain”

  1. It’s quite amazing the amount of hatred focused on Thatcher. Most of it based on the fantasy of how well the UK was doing before her and how better it would have been without her. Pure socialist/leftist drivel. I do think history will be kind and rightly so.

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    1. She was a divisive character – but she was despised by many Conservatives, aswell. The electorate never removed her from power – it was her own party. Much of the hatred directed towards her arose from the introduction of a Poll Tax – deemed to be grossly unfair (even by some fellow Conservatives) and the mass sell off of affordable social housing. Her eventual downfall was exacerbated by her oposition to the single currency, in Europe. She foresaw devastating consequences if a single currency was adopted within the European Union – and has been proved right. Globally, history might treat her kindly – but opinion is sure to be divided, here in the UK.

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  2. “, they were just fitting in with their families and churches and saying whatever words they were expected to say. ”

    You just described the first 25 or so years of my life. Thankfully, I skipped college for marriage to a military man, so that tempered things quite a bit.

    I’ve had many conversations with my daughters about this mentality of my youth. Looking back, I’m amazed at how ingrained it was that I do what was expected of me, even if it went against what I actually wanted to do. It was so bad that, when driving, I actually felt bad not taking exits. Someone built those and people were supposed to use them, after all, and even though I was going someplace else, I felt like I was somehow offending someone by not taking the exit, because it was *expected* of me!!

    As rather pathetic as that was, at least it was not harmful. This same attitude is why I started having sex as a teen, why I turned my back on a lot of what my parents taught me, and accepted social liberalism and politics. Thankfully, the example of my parents and their history did leave *some* iron in my backbone and I did not lean as far as I could have. Then I had children of my own and everything I believed because I was expected to believe them was completely torn to shreds. I’m a better woman for it.

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