Monday, 15 April 2013

Reflections on Margaret Thatcher

I haven't thought about Margaret Thatcher for a long time, and would have allowed her death to pass without comment. However, as everyone else is making such a fuss about it, I suppose I may as well slip in my own two cents' worth.

I was 25 years old and living in England when Margaret Thatcher came to power in the election of 1979, but I abstained in that election and in the following one in 1983, not being persuaded by any of the parties. By the time of the 1987 election, I'd left the country; so Margaret Thatcher was the last prime minister I experienced as a UK resident.

Wikipedia sums her up as follows: "Her political philosophy and economic policies emphasised deregulation (particularly of the financial sector), flexible labour markets, the privatisation of state-owned companies, and reducing the power and influence of trade unions."

As I agree now with all of these policies, and would probably have agreed with them then, it's rather odd that I didn't rush out and vote Conservative. However, I've never been in love with the Conservative Party, and perhaps what was on offer wasn't as clear then as it seems to commentators now in retrospect.

I believe quite simply in liberty, which is what you have when no-one is threatening to use force on you. I could never see Margaret Thatcher as a libertarian; she had some policies that were all very well, but she was too fond of getting her own way. I was offended, for instance, by the way she squelched local government. I believe in local autonomy, but she didn't.

The Community Charge (or poll tax) was introduced long after I left the country; from a distance, I viewed it with puzzlement. It seemed a curious political mistake and I wondered why she was so set on it. Perhaps, by then, she thought she could walk on water. Well, she couldn't; and I think it put an end to her career. I don't blame the Conservative Party for ousting her at that point; she seemed to have passed her sell-by date.

As far as I remember, I took little interest in her foreign policies, though they seem to have been partially successful. The Falklands War was pretty much an accident. Once Argentina had made the mistake of invading, to let it keep what it had rudely taken would have been humiliating and spineless, as a matter of principle; and yet in practice the Falklands were a small thing to fight a war over. It is a great pity that the world has no effective international law to settle such disputes once and for all.

Perhaps the great weakness of Margaret Thatcher, which still makes her own party rather embarrassed by her, is that she was so lacking in charm that she stirred up a large nest of furious enemies. The Economist comments that "Tony Blair won several elections by offering Thatcherism without the rough edges." It seems to me that being willing to antagonize people is not an asset in politics, in the long run. The most successful politicians are those who not only implement their policies but persuade people to like them.