Tributes/criticism to Mrs Thatcher have been lined up for many years.
Many initially opposed her but time has perhaps been kinder to her than to many of her opponents. She will be remembered as the lady who turned around Britain’s ailing economy. Up until 1978, Britain was known as the sick man of Europe. Within 10 years, Britain’s economy had recovered sufficiently to be held up as something of a model for neo-liberals worldwide, albeit still buffeted by continued cycle of boom and bust.
She will be remembered as the prime minsiter who stood up to General Galtieri, who recaptured the Falklands and, perhaps above all, as the conqueror of Arthur Scargills’s National Union of Mineworkers. That strike was perhaps the most pivotal battle between a government and organised labour in recent history.
There was one moment during the strike when Thatcher spoke of an attempt to “substitute the rule of the mob for the rule of law”. She was referring to employees unable to reach their workplace due to organized secondary picketing. Looking back on those words, they seemed to resonate. Whatever view you take of the origins of the strike, it was a battle to the finish. To those who opposed her, let;s ask a simple question: Would Britain have been a better place if Scargill had won – brought down the government – and Neil Kinnock installed in Downing Street?
An important fact to remember in coming days when you can expect a lot of brickbats from the Left is that Thatcher defeated all her opponents. Wilson resigned during her watch, she defeated Callaghan in 1979 and then Foot in 1983 and Neil Kinnock in 1987, as well as the thuggish Scargill during the miners’ strike. Ironically, she was eventually brought down by her own side when she was challenged for the leadership by Michael Heseltine.
Perhaps Thatcher’s most salient and persistent criticism was of Europe. She was regarded in some quarters as an obsessional anti-European but most people, looking at the debris of a federal Europe around us now, would have to admit she had a point. “No socialism by the back Delors,” she once screamed in a memorable conference speech. Some may ponder those words when we see a Europe more split between north and south than ever before and poorer members depending on bailouts from wealthier neighbours.
The hard Left will be celebrating but most people will have a grudging admiration for a lady of clear vision and principles who stood against the tide in the 1970s and showed us another way. I suspect also that many people in the UK – of all political persuasion – will secretly wish that Britain had a leader of such strength and integrity at the helm now.
She was a signpost, not a weathervane.
* Margaret Thatcher (nee Roberts): October 13 1925 – April 8 2013.
(Margaret Thatcher, on a visit to the US in March 1981. Photo: Williams, U.S. Military/Wikimedia Commons)