Opinion: Margaret Thatcher reinvented Britain

 Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher points skyward as she receives standing a ovation at the Conservative Party Conference in 1989. Credit: Getty Images
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher points skyward as she receives standing a ovation at the Conservative Party Conference in 1989. Credit: Getty Images

To say Margaret Thatcher was a divisive figure is perhaps the understatement of the year.

She transformed the fortunes and global standing of my native U.K. But the social damage caused, in some parts of the country, by her policies remains to this day.

In the late 1970s, when she became prime minister, Britain was sick. Unions dictated policy to government.

The pre-Thatcher government had to limit the working week to three days because of power cuts caused by nationwide strikes. Many of my teenage years were spent in darkness as electricity was cut off with Third World frequency.

We had a choice of two TV stations; if you wanted a telephone installed, you had to wait for weeks before the nationalized service would respond.

Britain had to go cap in hand to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.

Then Maggie arrived.

A bonfire of regulation ensued and, amid much violence, she smashed the unions. The economy boomed, we became a nation of shareholders and property owners.

We got national pride back when we kicked the Argentinians out of the Falkland Islands and for the first time in decades the world listened to Britain.

She terrified and inspired fellow heads of government in equal measure. Europe was no match for her. Ronald Reagan found a soulmate in her. Thanks to Maggie, Britain was back.

But there was a dark side. Heavy industries — nationalized and subsidized — were closed by the Thatcher government with ruthless determination.

The resulting unemployment was a national tragedy. Those working class areas suffer to this day.

Generational unemployment has resulted. Crime, drug use and poor standards of aspiration and education followed.

Britain needed Thatcher’s surgery, but the cure was almost as bad as the disease.

What is indisputable is that few modern politicians, anywhere in the world, will ever match her legacy. She was a woman of strength and conviction, for good or ill; and the gray men and women of today’s politics are pygmies by comparison.


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