Editorial: The lady who changed how economies are governed

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Margaret Thatcher's social views stemmed from her Christianity and a belief in the importance of individual rights. Photo / Supplied
Margaret Thatcher's social views stemmed from her Christianity and a belief in the importance of individual rights. Photo / Supplied

During her 11 years in power and up to the time of her death, Margaret Thatcher divided the British people as few leaders before her. Supporters lauded her revitalisation of Britain's economy, her taming of the trade unions, the re-establishment of the nation as a world power, and her contribution to the fall of communism. Detractors decried the social unrest, high unemployment, industrial strife and cultivation of a culture of greed between 1979 and 1990.

Few trod the middle ground when it came to the Iron Lady and the creed of Thatcherism. One to do so was the activist singer Tom Robinson. In 2004, he noted that "it's an uncomfortable fact, even for those of us who violently disagreed with her, that Britain is overall a more vibrant and prosperous society than in 1979, even if its inequalities are greater".

Margaret Thatcher, of course, hated that middle ground, or, indeed, anything smacking of consensus. Born in 1925 the daughter of a Lincolnshire grocer, her views were shaped by the failure of appeasement in the lead-up to World War II.

Aggression, she said, must always be firmly resisted. Policies, likewise, had to be pursued resolutely. "The lady's not for turning," she once famously observed at a Conservative Party conference. Since her departure, there has been no substantial turning from her policies, either. Tony Blair's Labour Party, having inherited a robust economy and well-ordered and confident society, conscripted many of Thatcherism's tenets.

Margaret Thatcher's social views stemmed from her Christianity and a belief in the importance of individual rights. If there was nothing novel in this, nor did she invent a new economic policy. Rather, she and Ronald Reagan brought monetarism into the mainstream, with their advocacy of reduced state intervention, free markets, entrepreneurialism, less taxation, and the privatisation of state assets. The implementation of this programme was made the easier by Britain's dire state when she claimed power. The country was commonly described as the sick man of Europe. A postwar decline had been exacerbated by the power wielded by trade unions and a general sense of despondency.

Margaret Thatcher proposed to change all of this, and she did. From 1982, Britain provided a ready canvas as it started to pull out of its worst post-World War II slump. Spurred on by her leadership and a sharp curbing of inflation and interest rates, people soon had the confidence to start their own businesses and buy shares. This sparked a high level of social mobility - and the yuppie.

Her uncompromising style allowed her to be outstanding in foreign as well as domestic policy, an achievement rare among politicians. In the midst of her first term, Argentina's invasion of the Falklands provided the opportunity to establish her credentials. If Britain's recapture of the islands was a close-run thing, it, nevertheless, occasioned a wave of patriotism, and applause for her decisiveness. In President Reagan, she found a leader who shared her view of the world. Transatlantic co-operation blossomed, especially with the taking of a sterner approach to the Soviet Union. Ultimately, this played a part in the end of the Cold War and the downfall of communism.

In 2008, a Daily Telegraph poll found Britons regarded Margaret Thatcher as their country's greatest post-World War II Prime Minister. Soon after, her policies were being blamed in some quarters for the global financial crisis. This, almost two decades after she resigned as Prime Minister, illustrated the depth of feeling towards her right until her death. Such was her status that it is almost forgotten she broke new ground for women at Westminster. She never made much of that, just set about fixing a country and changed the world.

- NZ Herald

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