RIP Margaret Thatcher

margaret-thatcherThe BBC and other outlets are reporting that Margaret Thatcher has died following a stroke. She was Britain’s first and only female Prime Minister and one who changed the political landscape. While we in the Liberal Democrats often have disagreed with her, there is much to reflect on in her lasting legacy.

Our thoughts are with Lady Thatcher’s friends and family at this time. Comments are open below for tributes only, please.

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42 Comments

  • Paul In Twickenham 8th Apr '13 - 1:45pm

    Comments are open below for tributes only, please.

    Then perhaps the best thing is to say nothing. I simply quote something from elsewhere:

    “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money” – Margaret Thatcher.
    “The problem with Thatcherism is that eventually you run out of North Sea Oil” – a zerohedge reader.

  • Paul Pettinger 8th Apr '13 - 1:47pm

    Thank you for making me politically active – I don’t know what I’d be doing right now if you were not for you

  • “only female Prime Minister ”

    So far.

    Also the longest serving of the 20th century.

  • Lady Thatcher was nothing like the figure that a certain section of her party has since invented. Her acheivement with the Single European Act is the best example.

  • Mrs Thatcher was one of that small breed of post-war female conviction politicians like her contemporaries Barbara Castle and Shirley Williams. A forceful personality backed by a sharp intelligence and natural ability to communicate with the general public.

    Few Libdems would enthusiatically support much of her Conservative party policy platform, but as is often said – Like her or Loathe her you could not ignore her. As the first woman Prime Minister in British history during a turbulent period, both domestically and on the International scene, she will be remembered for the transformation she wrought in British politics during an era of industrial strife and class division.

    At the end of her premiership, she was treated shoddily by the men in grey suits and deserved better.

    RIP Baroness Thatcher.

  • Although Mrs. Thatcher governed with strong parliamentary majorities for more than 11 years, she never netted her party more than 44% of the vote — in fact, despite the mythology, Conservative vote share dropped with each election while she was in power, even in the triumphant post-Falklands election recently commemorated. Because she never had to win a real majority, she was able to govern from the far right without worrying about the popularity of her agenda. Thatcher’s attempt to impose a poll tax was just an escalation of her game of playing to an ever-narrower base, and her downfall showed that this tendency had begun to frighten Tory bigwigs.

  • Alex Sabine 8th Apr '13 - 3:59pm

    Clearly, with Attlee, one of the two outstanding prime ministers of postwar Britain if you judge political leaders by the ambition and scope of their agenda and how much of it they achieve.

    On the international stage she also undoubtedly raised Britain’s standing in the world from the depths of the 1970s ‘sick man of Europe’ status, and played a key part in the end of the Cold War. And despite her ideological and personal closeness to Reagan, her robust handling of the relationship with the US is an instructive contrast with the supine approach taken by Tony Blair.

    The macroeconomic record during her time in office was mixed; the deep 1980-81 recession had its roots in the failed policies of the previous two decades, but the second recession in the early 1990s was largely self-inflicted by the Lawson credit boom and his misguided policy of shadowing the Deutschmark (which was a proxy for the even more misguided policy of joining the ERM, which Thatcher wisely blocked for as long as she could).

    On the other hand, the structural changes and supply-side reforms – on trade union law, privatisation, tax reform, competition replacing state planning and industrial subsidy – laid the foundations for the much more modern, dynamic and entrepreneurial economy we have today. Notwithstanding our serious economic challenges, the fundamentals of the private enterprise economy are incomparably stronger than they were in 1979, in both product and labour markets.

    Perhaps inevitably for someone determined to confront the economic and industrial problems that Britain faced in 1979 (not just relative decline, but chronic inflation, repeated currency crises, overmanning and trade union militancy), she was a polarising figure. Sometimes she seemed to relish confrontation, and this – as with the miners’ strike – left a bitter taste even when the battles she fought were ones that had to be won.

    I went to university in Durham and in that part of the country she was a hate figure. But what was striking was how much of the opposition was visceral rather than rational.

    Few people seriously suppose we can go back to the days of fixing prices, wages, dividends and rents by statute, or via ‘beer and sandwiches’ with the union barons; nor that we can subsidise dirty coal that no one wants to buy; nor that commercial enterprises should be run by Morrisonian nationalised corporations; or that punitive income tax rates are the way to maximise revenue (though this idea is making a comeback in Hollande’s France, with predictable results). Things which are now looked on even by Labour as quaint relics of an almost pre-modern economy were at the time fought tooth and nail.

    Indeed, perhaps the true measure of a political leader’s impact is how much of his/her legacy comes to be accepted (even if reluctantly) by opponents. What is striking about Thatcher is that, while she herself remains a hugely controversial figure, most of the key reforms of her period in office have endured and become part of the common ground of politics. Those politicians who claim to detest all her works are, it seems to me, indulging in what Nye Bevan called (in another context) an ’emotional spasm’. Either that or they have an extraordinary hidden agenda to turn back all the reforms of the 1980s and reintroduce capital controls, put the union barons back in charge of economic policy, reintroduce the closed shop and return a swathe of industries to state ownership.

    Had she stepped down of her own accord shortly after her third election victory in 1987, Thatcher would have left at the height of her powers and reputation. But it wasn’t in her nature to leave gracefully: there were still enemies to be fought, dragons to be slain. As it happens, her instincts on economic management and on the evolution of the European project proved sounder than those of her Cabinet foes Howe, Lawson and Heseltine. But the sense of mission that had served her so well now turned into a fortress mentality and a hubristic belief in her own infallibility, which led to the disastrous poll tax.

    Whatever you thought of Thatcher’s policies, it is churlish to deny her personal courage and fortitude. The BBC’s then political editor John Cole (someone with left-leaning political convictions very different from Thatcher’s) conveys this nicely in his memoirs in several contexts, but in particular in her stoic and defiant reaction to the Brighton bombing. There is also the paradox that someone who often came across as harsh and strident in her public rhetoric showed great consideration and kindness in her private dealings with colleagues and even political opponents. She was not the ogre that those on the left caricatured her as.

    One quote that I think nicely catches her governing style is from Roland Quinault, who in a recent book on ‘British prime ministers and democracy’ said that, where many recent PMs were essentially elitists uncomfortable with democracy, Thatcher was ‘a democrat by conviction, if not by temperament’.

    And in this forum, where I suspect many will portray Thatcher as anathema, it is worth recalling Jo Grimond’s judgement in 1980 that: ‘Liberals must stress at all times the virtues of the market, not only for efficiency but to enable the widest possible choice… Much of what Mrs Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph say and do is in the mainstream of liberal philosophy.’

  • paul barker 8th Apr '13 - 4:02pm

    She stood up to the bullies of the “Left” & their Faschist allies in the IRA, for those things alone we should remember her with gratitude.

  • An economically Liberal policy agenda without the socially Liberal supporting cast; nevertheless, this Liberalism opened the floodgates to much beneficial social change subsequently.

  • Paul McKeown 8th Apr '13 - 4:31pm

    I can’t say I particularly liked her, particularly after she lost the premiership, after which she glowered in the background, ever ready to undermine those who succeeded her in the leadership of her party, whilst reversing a number of her policy positions apparently for nothing other than spite, but also I suspect because she was manipulated by a trusted, but small clique within her party who were irreconcilable to any modernisation.

    Nevertheless, at a human level, I understand the loss her family are suffering. Condolences.

  • David Allen 8th Apr '13 - 6:10pm

    I agree with Nick (and with Ed M), who have delivered simple tributes which neither applaud nor denigrate Mrs Thatcher’s specific political standpoint. That is what is appropriate at this time.

  • Like Many others this day we Celebrate her passing shame 40years to late the Damage she did to the people of this country will not be forgotten and we still paying the price of her policies

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Apr '13 - 6:36pm

    I think it is worth pointing out the good that she did. She was right to pursue freedom over communism and a good day’s pay for a good day’s work. People dispute her methods, but she had noble aims.

  • She did more than anyone to get rid of grammar schools. I can’t think of anything more positive than that.

  • Alex,

    you quote from Jo Grimmond in 1980 in concluding your tribute ‘Liberals must stress at all times the virtues of the market, not only for efficiency but to enable the widest possible choice… Much of what Mrs Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph say and do is in the mainstream of liberal philosophy.’

    Interestingly, Milton Friedman claimed that “the thing that people do not recognise is that Margaret Thatcher is not in terms of belief a Tory. She is a nineteenth-century Liberal.”

    Mrs Thatcher herself stated in 1983: “I would not mind betting that if Mr Gladstone were alive today he would apply to join the Conservative Party”. In the 1996 Keith Joseph memorial lecture Mrs. Thatcher argued that “The kind of Conservatism which he and I…favoured would be best described as ‘liberal’, in the old-fashioned sense. And I mean the liberalism of Mr. Gladstone, not of the latter day collectivists”

    She seemed at times to harken back to the simple certaintities of the Victorian age in this respect and reject much of the more nuanced modernity and social democratic advances of Twentieth Century Liberalism.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Apr '13 - 8:07pm

    In fact David, you are right.

  • Martin Lowe 8th Apr '13 - 9:45pm

    Whilst she enacted some measures that we should be grateful for (the Single European Act and the groundwork for the Good Friday Agreement), it still has to be mentioned that she was possibly the most divisive figure in British political history since Oliver Cromwell. Trying to wallpaper over this fact is not performing any objective service whatsoever.

  • She was the first female prime minister. I mainly know her from my Dad’s frequent and comical rants and banning stuff. As for the political legacy. Not actually that great in retrospect.
    But condolences to her family and friends. Lost my dad recently and I wish them luck getting through it.

  • For me, Thatcher’s legacy is “Rip off Britain”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Apr '13 - 1:00am

    David Allen

    I agree with Nick (and with Ed M), who have delivered simple tributes which neither applaud nor denigrate Mrs Thatcher’s specific political standpoint. That is what is appropriate at this time.

    Yes, I gave my views on Margaret Thatcher’s long term influence on our country just a few days ago here. Just after the news of her death, however, is not the time for saying anything about her political views. From what I wrote previously, it can be seen I would argue against some of what has been said here. She was obviously very influential, for today let’s leave it at that.

  • I despised most of her policies but she had principles, everyone knew what they were, and she stuck to them. Not many of today’s leading politicians from any of the major parties have those attribute and politics is poorer for it.

  • She was a hero to me as a girl. A clever woman from a working class background didn’t have to be limited – she showed that ambition and hard work could get you to Oxbridge, success in a “man’s job” and No 10. There is plenty to criticise in her policies but much more to thank her for. She was absolutely inspiring to many women now in their 30s and 40s, a great role model, and always conducted herself personally in a manner that put her enemies to shame. Imagine how atrocious this country would be now if Labour had won in 1979.

  • Stuart Mitchell 9th Apr '13 - 8:05am

    I’ve never bought the “you may not like her policies but you’ve got to admire her” line. Every single one of the qualities we are expected to grudgingly admire – her strength, determination, fortitude, sticking to her “principles” no matter what, etc etc – are qualities she shared with all of the most tyrannical despots in history. Strength and fortitude are not characteristics to be admired in themselves when they are put to malevolent ends.

  • I believe that she was a failure in her own terms. She espoused the principles of her father Alderman Roberts which were self-reliance and an obligation to the community. Sadly self-reliance was eagerly transformed into self-interest which has corrupted our national ethos and destroyed her second principle.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 9th Apr '13 - 8:43am

    Freedom of Information Act was brought in, along with Widdecombe that did make a bg difference to my life as a Councillor in a very labour dominated council who were determined I would find nothing out, see nothing and say as little as possible.
    Don’t forget what was either good or bad was not the act of one person, nothing could happen without the backing of more than half of the MPs in Parliament. Whatever we think of the electoral system, people voted for that Government, not once, but 3 times.

  • God Bless Lady Thatcher. We all loved her and we will carry on loving her. Let her rest in peace. RIP, Iron Lady….

  • In addition to getting rid of grammar schools when education secretary, her government also scrapped the two tier secondary exam system and replaced it with the GCSE. Her government instigated the largest percentage increase in the proportion of youngsters going on to higher education (continued by Major). Student numbers doubled between 1989 and 1993. All progressive and good policies and all currently hated by Gove and his knee-jerk supporters.

  • Alex Sabine 9th Apr '13 - 1:28pm

    Joe,

    It’s hard to pigeonhole her in terms of ideological labels or historical traditions. She certainly wasn’t a traditional conservative, of either the Burkean/Michael Oakeshott ‘little platoons’ variety or the Disraeli social-reform tradition – although during an interview she once produced a copy of Disraeli’s Sybil from her handbag to make the point that she did believe in one nation!

    Above all, she had no time for the type of corporatist leave-things-as-they-are-so-long-as-the-right-people-are-in-charge approach embodied by the Wets, which by 1979 she (rightly in my view) regarded as paternalistic and having failed the country for at least 20 years. The fact that she’d had to endure the personal condescension of many of these people no doubt was grist to the mill.

    I wouldn’t call her a conservative of any type, simply because she had little instinct to conserve, and was generally indifferent to institutions. There were some (the armed forces, the monarchy, the Anglican church) that she had a conventional allegiance to, but she did not see it as part of her mission to strengthen them and foster other independent institutions between the citizen and the central state, as a traditional conservative would have. Individuals, families and nations were what mattered in her worldview.

    Personally I find the respect for tradition and civil society one of the more appealing features of traditional conservatism; it recognises that society is not merely the sum of its individual parts, and that we should not lightly discard the accumulated wisdom of previous generations (though of course it must be from time to time). Thatcher was often tone-deaf to this. Yet most of the vested interests she took on, the complacent institutions she challenged, were ripe for challenging in the Britain of 1979; they had ossified and become simultaneously creatures of the state and (in the case of the trade unions) above the law. As Jonathan Calder says on his blog, 1970s Britain was far from being ‘an Eden of neighbourliness and public spirit which her policies trashed’; the dominant instinct of the unions was not solidarity, but selfishness.

    Was she then, as Friedman suggested, a 19th century Liberal? I’m not so sure. I would say Friedman himself was, not only because of his economic views but also his advocacy of things like ending the military draft, drug legalisation and a general belief in ‘negative freedom’.

    Thatcher certainly borrowed liberally from the teachings of classical liberalism. Her upbringing as a grocer’s daughter made her instinctively support thrift, small business and enterprise; to dislike state bureaucracy; and to be proud rather than embarrassed by Britain’s being (as Napoleon said with disdain) ‘a nation of shopkeepers’.

    But ultimately I don’t think she saw it as her job simply to dust down the canons of the great classical economists and turn them into law (though Sir Keith Joseph did, to judge by the reading material he used to give his civil servants!). As her biographer Charles Moore writes today, her first thought about an economic question wasn’t necessarily ‘how will this improve economic freedom?’ (a la Hayek, Friedman) but ‘how will this allow Britain to come out on top?’. Often these would coincide, but I think it was the link between economic self-reliance and national pride that animated her, not an abstract belief in free markets.

    Likewise, she believed in individual freedom, but wasn’t above a bit of social engineering – above all in promoting home ownership (this often conflicting with her distate for debt) – and sought to restore the Victorian virtues, not licence. As she put it in 1981, ‘Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.’ And: ‘My policies are based not on some economics theory, but on things I and millions like me were brought up with: an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay; live within your means; put by a nest egg for a rainy day; pay your bills on time; support the police.’

    This politics-as-domestic-homily certainly rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way. In some ways it was the right-wing counterpoint to the sanctimonious drumbeat of the left which the British establishment had echoed over the preceding decades. But I think it does illustrate that Thatcher was motivated not by economic theory, not especially by power, certainly not by money, but by her own brand of morality which she saw as central to a mission of restoring Britain’s national pride. If it existed at all, ‘Thatcherism’ was a collection of instincts, convictions and prejudices embodied by the lady herself – ones that struck a chord with millions of traditionally non-Tory voters – not an ideology.

    Love her or loathe her – and personally I agree with Ann’s comment above that ‘thre is plenty to criticise in her policies but much more to thank her for’ – she was quite different from the caricature drawn by her political opponents. Perhaps if they understood her better they wouldn’t have been thrashed by her so often.

  • Martin Lowe 9th Apr '13 - 1:54pm

    @Steve Way:

    I despised most of her policies but she had principles, everyone knew what they were, and she stuck to them. Not many of today’s leading politicians from any of the major parties have those attribute and politics is poorer for it.

    Tony Blair had principles that took Britain into the second Iraq War, and he still sticks by them.
    Is that justification enough to laud the man?

    If it isn’t, why isn’t what’s sauce for the goose sauce for the gander?

  • @Suzanne Fletcher – It was the Blair government which enacted (limited) FOI, a full ten years after Thatcher was ejected from office!

  • Stuart Mitchell 9th Apr '13 - 6:21pm

    Ann: “She was a hero to me as a girl. A clever woman from a working class background didn’t have to be limited – she showed that ambition and hard work could get you to Oxbridge, success in a “man’s job” and No 10.”

    I keep reading about Thatcher’s “humble” origins. It’s baloney. Her father (a Tory mayor) owned a couple of shops and was quite likely one of the wealthiest people in his community. Her path to Oxbridge wasn’t exactly obstructed by the fact that she went to private school. By most people’s standards, she had a very privileged upbringing.

  • Alex,

    “she was quite different from the caricature drawn by her political opponents.”

    John Major, writing shortly before Mrs. Thatchers death, said “she has been buried under myths and the myths heap higher with every passing year. So overpowering are the myths that today she divides opinion at least as strongly as she did in power. By both Right and Left she has been warped into caricature, the embodiment either of all political good, or of all political evil. To those who worship her, she was a tax-slashing Boadicea; to those who despise her, Satan in pearls.”

    Perhaps we will have to leave it to the next generation, the passing of time and the fading of passions for an objective historical verdict on the legacy of Thatcherism.

  • @Martin Lowe
    The difference is that Thatcher’s principles were there for all to see and for all to vote for or against (and I did vote against them). Blair took us to war quoting dodgy intelligence not on a great wave of principle. Blair tried to be everything to everyone, spin was not a great Thatcher trait. I will not shed a tear for her but I do wish we had more politicians prepared to stand up and be counted for their principles in the current crop.

  • Alex Sabine 9th Apr '13 - 9:23pm

    Stuart: By the standards of nearly all British prime ministers, and a majority of MPs at the time and probably today, she did have modest (though middle-class) origins. She shared this with Ted Heath, Harold Wilson and John Major, though in recent years the return to more privileged PMs mirrors the wider decline of social mobility since the 1960s.

    She grew up in a provincial Lincolnshire town, Grantham. One of her grandfathers was a shoemaker; the other a railway cloakroom attendant. Her father Alfred Roberts was a self-made man who opened two grocer’s corner shops and was also a pillar of civic life as a Methodist lay preacher, an alderman and eventually mayor of Grantham. (In terms of his political affiliation, he was originally a Liberal, turned to the Conservatives after the First World War, but sat for 25 years as an independent, Chamber of Trade representative on the borough council.)

    The FT obituary notes that ‘though far from poor by the standards of a provincial town in the Depression, the Roberts family had neither hot running water nor an indoor lavatory.’

    Thatcher went to the local grammar school, Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School, and later won a scholarship to read chemistry at Oxford.

    It would be wrong to portray her upbringing as in any way deprived; she never did so. It was ‘petit bourgeois’, her education meritocratic, and these influences seem to have imbued her with her brand of aspirational morality.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 10th Apr '13 - 8:33am

    @Terry G – but MT’s Government brought in FoI for Local Government – it made a difference.

  • Margaret Thatcher lived to the age of 87, which is a proper old age, and beats the UK average by seven years.

  • Stuart Mitchell 10th Apr '13 - 5:51pm

    Steve Way: “spin was not a great Thatcher trait”

    On the contrary – with the help of people like Tim Bell and the Saatchis, she more or less invented the modern era of spin-led British politics. Another one of her “achievements”, I suppose.

  • @ Stuart Mitchell

    “with the help of people like Tim Bell and the Saatchis, she more or less invented the modern era of spin-led British politics. Another one of her “achievements”, I suppose.”

    I think that is more of professionalising of compaining using more effective marketing techniques, I don’t think you can really see it as modern spin. Though that may be as there was less of a news monster to feed that makes “spinning” easier.

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