Monday, April 08, 2013

on Margaret Thatcher

Farewell to the Iron Lady: Margaret Thatcher (1925–2013)

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1980, during her first term in office. She died of a stroke on April 8, 2013, at the age of 87

Whatever you thought of Margaret Thatcher — during an unbroken stretch in office from 1979 to ’90, the former Prime Minister, who died on April 8 after a stroke at the age of 87, attracted both passionate support and deep loathing — you never doubted her force of will. The Iron Lady showed her mettle again and again, wrenching Britain, often brutally, out of a malaise and sense of all-encompassing failure that had blighted it for much of the era after the end of World War II. This meant not only facing down opponents but also critics in her own party, who ran scared as the strong economic medicine she prescribed sickened swaths of voters. “To those waiting with bated breath for that favorite media catchphrase, the U-turn, I have only one thing to say,” she declared at the 1980 Conservative Party conference. “You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.”

Britain keeps state papers secret for 30 years. A trove released at the end of 2011 revealed a leader who might have been more sensitive to public opinion, and counterarguments, than legend suggests. In July 1981 she authorized secret contacts with Irish republicans to try to halt the hunger strike by Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners that would see 10 of their number starve themselves to death. During the same month she fended off hard-liners in her Cabinet who proposed consigning the riot-torn city of Liverpool to “managed decline.” But these stirrings — of conscience or pragmatism — also prove that she was prepared to override resistance from those closest to her. Indeed, her peremptory manner with her own colleagues attracted the attention of Britain’s inspired satirical TV puppetry show, Spitting Image. In one sketch Thatcher and her Cabinet are seated in a restaurant. She orders raw steak. “And what about the vegetables?” the waiter inquires. “Oh, they’ll have the same as me,” Thatcher replies.
A Boudicca, she led her nation into battle in the Falkland Islands and fought off attempts to draw the U.K. into a closer political embrace with Europe. “She has the eyes of Caligula and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe,” observed French President François Mitterrand, revealing the queasy mixture of antipathy and attraction she stirred in many of her male associates.
Ronald Reagan’s feelings for his helmet-haired, be-handbagged friend in Westminster were more clear-cut. She was his ideological soul mate and theirs was a truly special relationship. Together they reinvigorated political conservatism, and by refusing to believe that history moved in only one direction, led a challenge to Soviet communism that in the end saw its fall.
As the first female Premier not only of Britain but also of any leading industrial democracy, she forged a template by which women anywhere might measure their ambitions. At the time, many of us in the U.K. found it impossible to savor her achievements. Most brands of feminism held that women were (at least) as capable as men of governing, but there was also an anticipation that we would bring different qualities to the job, not least empathy for the underdog, a consensual approach and a determination to do right by the sisterhood. Thatcher appeared to glory in her utter lack of these instincts, stigmatizing the poor as work-shy, decrying consensus politics as “the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies” and averring “I owe nothing to women’s lib.” In 2009, I mentioned to a friend, who had also lived through Thatcher’s polarizing reign, that I had just encountered our old bĂȘte noire at a party. More than a quarter of a century had elapsed since we had marched down a street chanting, “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie! Out, out, out!” but my friend reacted with undiminished hostility. “Why didn’t you punch the old bag?” she snarled.
In truth I had long since revised my views of “Maggie.” You can argue that her economic reforms ought to have been introduced with greater care for their social impact, but not about whether most of them were necessary. The history of Thatcherism is also a history of the failure of the left to articulate any viable alternative. This analysis was shared by Tony Blair, who was able to build on Thatcher’s economic legacy after remodeling the Labour Party into an electable force.
But even if I still harbored resentments, the frail woman I encountered at the U.S. ambassador to London’s Christmas drinks evoked quite different emotions. A year previously, her daughter had publicly confirmed that her mother was suffering from dementia; the initial symptoms appeared in 2000. I first saw the evidence of this deterioration at a photo shoot for TIME in 2006. A devoted assistant and a brace of security officers ushered a woman with disheveled hair and a crumpled face into the studio. As the hairdresser and makeup artist plied their skills, so the familiar, imposing figure emerged and with this transformation came renewed clarity and a graciousness that endeared her to the team working on the shoot. The only residual sign of her decline was her unshakeable conviction that Mikhail Gorbachev would shortly join us, no matter how many times I assured her he would not.
This was not simply the dementia talking. There had never been a plan to photograph the former leaders together, but TIME had photographed Gorbachev the day before, for an issue of the magazine featuring the Europeans who had done most to shape the world in the 20th century. Even before President Reagan, Thatcher spotted in Gorbachev, who became General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in 1985, “a man we can do business with.” She helped persuade a skeptical Washington that glasnost and perestroika were for real, and that some at least in Moscow had understood that their bankrupt society could not continue in the ways that it had done before. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Europe’s annus mirabilis, she had her vindication.
Yet in a curious sense, the end of the Cold War was also her political undoing. She would not accept, as her contemporaries Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl did, that a new, post-Soviet architecture was needed in Europe. As the U.S. gratefully looked at Europe as “job done” and turned its attention to other matters in the world — the dysfunction and violence of the Middle East, the rise of China — she stood obdurate against the impulse toward closer political and economic integration of the European nations, helping to foster divisions in her own party that would eventually lead to her ouster and are once again widening the Channel between Britain and the rest of Europe. In November 1990, she lost the Conservative leadership and was driven from Downing Street with tears glistening in her eyes.
It was a rare defeat for someone who had beaten Britain’s class system and dusty attitudes to women in the workplace to rise to the summit of public life. Margaret Hilda Roberts was born in 1925, the daughter of a small-town storekeeper in Lincolnshire, a featureless county in the east of England. Devoted to her father — who served as an alderman and mayor in their town — she took a degree in chemistry at Oxford, where she first dabbled in Conservative Party politics. She married Denis Thatcher, a successful businessman, 10 years her senior, in 1951, and two years later gave birth to twins, Mark and Carol. After an arduous battle to convince her own party and voters that she had the right stuff to be a politician, she won a seat in Parliament for Finchley, a constituency in North London, in the 1959 election, and was quickly recognized for her intelligence and energy. From 1964 to ’70, the Labour Party governed Britain, but when the Tories, against the odds, won the 1970 election, Edward Heath, the new Prime Minister, made her Secretary of State for Education and Science. After Heath lost power in 1974, she ran against him as party leader in 1975 and, to the astonishment of Britain’s famous chattering classes, was successful. In 1979, as the minority Labour government of James Callaghan floundered and Britain’s antediluvian labor unions visited their grievances on long-suffering voters, her party won a decisive victory. She secured two more terms of office, in 1983 and ’87, extending her majority in the House of Commons on both occasions, at the time an unprecedented feat in modern British political history.
As Prime Minister, Thatcher was motivated by a few simple principles. Government regulation — and confiscatory taxation — neutered the animal spirits of capitalism; the world was a dangerous place, in which it paid to be on one’s guard; Britain was not finished; communism was an evil that threatened the world and stunted the life chances of those who had to live under its heel. But beyond that, she understood what it was that a significant strand of ordinary people wanted from political leaders: not necessarily ringing phrases and great speechifying (though she could certainly do that), but a sense that decent lives, decently lived, were worthwhile; that growing prosperity was not a sign of capitalism’s rapaciousness but the mechanism by which families could live a little better each year.
In the first few years of her first term in office, she squeezed inflation out of the British economy and made plain that those enterprises that could not compete in the modern world would not be rescued, as had been the case under her predecessors. Britain, the world’s first industrial nation, saw its smoke-blackened heartlands rendered into rust heaps. As unemployment climbed and riots broke out in the cities, her position appeared precarious. But by 1982, the economy was beginning to show the first signs of life. That spring, she refused to accept that the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands was a done deal and dispatched her armed forces across the Atlantic to fight a fierce little war. Triumphant, she won re-election in 1983 and then took on the coal miners — the vanguard of the old left-wing English working class — crushing them in a yearlong strike. Like many of her victories, the casualty toll was high, with communities blighted and families plunged into grinding poverty with no means of escape.
She had arrived in Downing Street in 1979 improbably quoting St. Francis of Assisi. “Where there is discord,” she intoned, “may we bring harmony; where there is error, may we bring truth; where there is doubt, may we bring faith; and where there is despair, may we bring hope.” She failed in the first objective at least, and the human costs of Thatcherism — and the unequal distribution of hope — mean she may prove almost as divisive in death as in life, as Britons squabble over her legacy. At her own request she will not be granted a state funeral, though many believe she deserves one.
There are those, like my friend, who feel a more appropriate response would be to dance on her grave. I cannot share that view, and not only because I believe Thatcher left Britain, on balance, in better shape than she found it. Politicians have forfeited public trust in recent years, relying too heavily on spin and connecting too little with voters. Thatcher’s greatest flaws — a strength of conviction that brooked few moderating influences, a strength of character that rendered her viscerally incapable of understanding human vulnerabilities — were also her greatest assets. There was little difference between the public figure and private one. She was motivated by her belief in what she could deliver to public office, not by what public office could deliver to her.
So when she clutched my arm at that Christmas drinks party, I wasn’t tempted to recoil. She seemed disoriented and a little anxious. Now even the teased hair and mask of makeup couldn’t disguise that she had become the sort of person she once least understood: someone incapable of looking after herself. A colleague attempted to engage her in conversation about world affairs, but she stared at him, blankly. I commented instead on her clothing. In recent years she had taken to wearing shades of deep rose and magenta instead of her signature blue. “I do think pink is such a friendly color,” she said.
The 2011 biopic The Iron Lady focused on the poignancy of Thatcher’s declining years. While Meryl Streep’s performance in the title role was uncannily accurate, the film’s depiction of Thatcher’s legacy was far less so. That she overcame obstacles of class and sex to rise to power tempered her resolve, but it isn’t the reason she will be remembered as one of the most significant leaders of the 20th century.
By standing shoulder to shoulder with Reagan and calling Soviet communism for what it was — a cruel sham, an economic failure — she helped liberate those Russians and East Europeans who had spent generations with their dreams on hold. Many of her own countrymen will never accept that she performed a similar function for Britons. She was not an empathetic person, not one to suffer fools gladly (or at all), not one who could appreciate that men, women and families could imagine different ways to a satisfying life from the one that she thought best. She was hardheaded, perhaps hard-hearted. She was that most polarizing of beings: a conviction politician. In our current age of weak leaders transfixed by oncoming global crises like rabbits in the headlights, it’s sobering to realize that the Lady’s not for returning.
Obituary: Iron Lady Thatcher changed face of Britain

 (Reuters) - Margaret Thatcher, the "Iron Lady", was a towering figure in British 20th century politics, a grocer's daughter with a steely resolve who was loved and loathed in equal measure as she crushed the unions and privatized large swathes of industry.

She died on Monday, aged 87, after suffering a stroke. During her life in politics some worshipped her as a modernizer who transformed the country, others bitterly accused her of entrenching the divide between the rich and the poor.

The abiding images of her premiership will remain those of conflict: huge police confrontations with the miners' union, her riding a tank in a white headscarf, and flames rising above Trafalgar Square in the riots over a local tax which ultimately led to her downfall.

During her 11 years in power, she clashed with the European Union, agreed to hand back the colony of Hong Kong to China, and fought a war to recover the Falkland Islands from Argentine invaders.

She struck up a close relationship with U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the Cold War, backed the first President George Bush during the 1991 Gulf War, and declared that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was a man she could do business with.

She opposed sanctions on South Africa as a means to end apartheid and was a firm supporter of Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator.

To those who crossed her she was blunt to a degree - "the lady's not for turning", she once informed members of her own Conservative Party who were urging her to moderate her policies.

Others who crossed her path, particularly in Europe, were subjected to withering diatribes often referred to as "handbaggings", named after the glossy black leather bag she invariably carried.

Britain's only woman prime minister, the tough, outspoken Thatcher led the Conservatives to three election victories, governing from 1979 to 1990, the longest continuous period in office by a British premier since the early 19th century.

With Reagan, she formed a strong alliance against communism and was rewarded by seeing the Berlin Wall torn down in 1989 though she worried a unified Germany would dominate Europe.

Gerry Adams, head of the Irish Republican Army's political wing, said her policies in Northern Ireland, where thousands died in a struggle over British rule, had done "great hurt" to people there.

Her reformist - some would say radical - conservative agenda broke the mould of British politics, changing the status quo so profoundly that even subsequent Labour governments accepted many of her policies.

The woman who became known simply as "Maggie" transferred big chunks of the economy from state hands into private ownership.

"The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money," she once said.

Her personal credo, founded on competition, private enterprise, thrift and self-reliance, gave birth to a political philosophy known as "Thatcherism".

But her tough economic medicine put millions out of work, alienated many and largely destroyed industries such as mining.

Her combative stance antagonized allies in Europe and her intolerance of dissent eventually led to her downfall.

"A brilliant tyrant surrounded by mediocrities," was how former premier Harold Macmillan described her. "That bloody woman," was the less charitable verdict of Edward Heath, another prime minister and her predecessor as Conservative Party leader.

At the peak of her powers, Thatcher's sheer personality made her one of the West's best known figures. A workaholic, she put in 18-hour days, after which she would relax over a glass of whisky.

After winning the May 3, 1979 election, she launched social and economic reforms designed to end what she saw as a spiral of industrial decline, crippling taxes and intrusive state control, a period under the Labour government that had become known as the "winter of discontent".

Fighting inflation-boosting pay rises and modernizing the economy meant curbing the power of organized labor.

After changes to the law and a bitter year-long strike which ended in defeat for the miners in 1985, the days when unions could dictate to British governments were over.

Britain held its breath in 1982 when Thatcher dispatched a naval task force to the Falkland islands, which had been seized by Argentine invaders. Despite losing several warships, the British eventually reclaimed the south Atlantic islands 74 days later. A total of 649 Argentines and 255 British troops died.

An opinion poll in 1981 rated Thatcher Britain's most disliked prime minister of all time. But, two years later, after the Falklands war, she was swept back to power on a wave of patriotism and in 1987, her third successive election victory gave her another big majority in parliament.

Thatcher ushered in an era of "popular capitalism" that raised home ownership in Britain to 68 percent and made one person in five a shareholder.

She launched a sweeping drive to privatize state monopolies such as gas, oil, steel, telephones, airports and British Airways, with electricity and water to follow.

But while Thatcherism made many better off, unemployment doubled by the mid-1980s to more than three million - a level not seen since the hungry 1930s. Opponents said Thatcher had created a nation divided between the wealthier south and the poorer north.

Thatcher developed a close relationship with Reagan, who called her "the best man in England".

It was the Soviet army newspaper Red Star that dubbed Thatcher the "Iron Lady", but she reveled in the nickname.

But when Gorbachev came to power in 1985, she formed a strong working relationship with him.

After Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, Thatcher cautioned President Bush against being "wobbly" in opposing Saddam Hussein.

Relations with Britain's European neighbors were strained over her reluctance to embrace plans for closer integration.

She demanded a huge refund on Britain's contributions to the European budget and brought European Community business to a virtual standstill until she got it.

She exerted a strong personal magnetism. The late French President Francois Mitterrand once said she had "the eyes of Caligula and the lips of Marilyn Monroe".

In 1984 an Irish Republican Army bomb attack on her Brighton hotel nearly killed her entire cabinet. She was unscathed, but five people died and some close colleagues were badly injured.

Next morning condemning the bombing, she told reporters: "This is a day I was not meant to see."

Within hours of the attack, and on schedule, she gave the closing address to her party's annual conference, vowing there would be no weakening in the fight against terrorism.

In 1984 Thatcher and China's then-Premier Zhao Ziyang signed a declaration under which Britain agreed to hand over Hong Kong to China in 1997 after 156 years of British colonial rule.

After 11 years in power, Thatcher bowed to a revolt and pulled out of a leadership contest with her former defense minister Michael Heseltine. A new local tax, known as the "poll tax", which had led to riots, contributed to her downfall.

"I fight on, I fight to win," she declared during the party leadership vote, but she resigned the next day.

Thatcher retained enough influence to ensure Heseltine did not succeed her, advancing the claims of her protege John Major, who served as prime minister until 1997.

"We are leaving Downing Street for the last time after 11 and a half wonderful years and we are very happy that we leave the United Kingdom in a very, very much better state than when we came here," Thatcher said with tears in her eyes.

She suffered a series of mild strokes in late 2001 and 2002, after which she cut back on public appearances and later canceled her speaking schedule.

Her decline into dementia was chronicled in the Oscar-winning film "The Iron Lady", with Meryl Streep. Cast as a bewildered widow, the very lonely Iron Lady was left only with her memories.
(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Giles Elgood)

Freedom’s Ambassador

What Margaret Thatcher understood about the West’s values that today’s leaders do not.

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher had no small talk. At a private lunch, which I can’t quite date—Denis was there, drinking whiskey out of a large tumbler, so it must have been more than a decade ago—I was seated across from her and at one point became the object of a tirade about the Russian president. “What are we going to do about Mr. Yeltsin,” she demanded, as if either she or I could do anything at all. She’d been out of power for several years at that point and was already forgetting thoughts in the middle of sentences. But whatever else she was losing, the desire to stick to the big issues and the larger subjects was still with her.
And this is what she was best at: the big issues, the politics of symbolism, the crafting of rhetoric. She was less good at nuance. Inside Britain she was the woman who sparked riots and ignored the advice of colleagues. But outside of Britain—in America, in Eastern Europe, even in the Soviet Union—she made herself into an icon, a symbol of anti-communism and the trans-Atlantic alliance at a time when neither was fashionable. She stood by Ronald Reagan in his battle against the Evil Empire. She used the same language as he did—free markets, free people—and entered into a unique and probably unrepeatable public partnership with him. It was useful to them both: If Reagan wanted to pull away from domestic scandals, he could appear with Thatcher on a podium. If Thatcher wanted to enhance her status, she could pay a visit to Reagan at the White House.
But their partnership was also useful to others, as Thatcher herself understood. When she arrived in Poland in the autumn of 1988, dressed in cossack boots, a full-length fur coat, and a fur hat, she decided to visit a farmers market, one of the few examples of “the free market” then available in Warsaw. She swept through the fruit stalls, swarmed by journalists and startled shoppers while the British ambassador scurried behind her, paying for jars of pickles broken in the fray. Her entourage then proceeded to Gdansk where she met Lech Walesa. By all accounts, the two conducted an awkward and mutually incomprehensible conversation.

Nevertheless she appeared with him in front of cheering crowds at the Gdansk shipyard and declared that "We shall not be found wanting when Poland makes the progress toward freedom and democracy its people clearly seek."And that gesture, that moment, really mattered: It gave the Poles and others the courage to think they really could someday join the rest of Europe. Someone wanted them there. Not accidentally, the most successful ex-communist nations—Poland, the Czech Republic, and Estonia—have all been led at various times by politicians who called themselves “Thatcherites.” Whatever path they took to reform, all of them had a clear sense of direction. Where do we want to go to? The West. How do we want to get there? Fast.
She made plenty of mistakes. She was irritating, tactless, and divisive. But she understood why and how the values of “the West” might appeal to the rest of the world, and she sought to find ways to explain and to intelligently promote them. That’s worth remembering, because she may be one of the last politicians who will. 

Muscular Feminism
Margaret Thatcher didn’t just talk. She did things.


Feminism has long been associated with talk: combative rhetoric about equal rights, academic analysis of whether men and women are the same or whether women are actually better, that moldy debate over whether it’s possible for women to “have it all,” both career and family. Many a feminist like Germaine Greer or Betty Friedan, and more recently Sheryl Sandberg and Anne Marie Slaughter, has made her mark through writing about gender issues—sometimes to considerable cultural effect, but still more talk.  Connotatively, a “feminist” has a chip on her shoulder the size of a two-by-four, never shuts up about “empowerment,” is eternally on the look out for sexist slights, and never considers the possibility that other people might deny her a job or dismiss her opinions because she is personally insufferable. The movement has often obsessed with language, leaving a legacy of awkward “him/her” constructions or faddish but equally sexist Bibles whose God is a “she.”  Given the humorless blah-blah-blah the term feminist evokes, it’s little wonder that many young women today avoid the label.
Margaret Thatcher was a real feminist. Not for what she said but for what she did. She did not pursue justice for her gender; women’s rights per se was clearly a low priority for her. She was out for herself and for what she believed in. If we had more feminists like Thatcher, we’d have vastly more women in Parliament and the U.S. Senate, as well as more trees and fewer tedious television talk shows. More “feminists” like Thatcher, the first woman to lead a major Western democracy, and young women would be clamoring to be called one, too.
I moved to Belfast in 1987, when Thatcher was beginning her third term as British prime minister, and in retrospect I’m gratified to have experienced at least a portion of her premiership. In Northern Ireland, no name evoked more unqualified loathing than Maggie Thatcher’s, particularly among pro-IRA republicans. I instinctively admired anyone who could weather that intensity of antipathy. Women’s reputation for trying to please notwithstanding, Thatcher was never about being liked.  Indeed, in a 2011 Reuters/Ipsos MORI Political Monitor poll about prime ministers of the last 30 years, Britons rated Tony Blair significantly higher in “likability” than Margaret Thatcher. But in the same poll, she topped the charts in “capability.”  Thatcher herself must surely have treasured that poll. She always courted less affection than respect, which even many of her detractors begrudgingly accorded her. She wasn’t nice. She was formidable.

In Belfast, I rapidly grew to appreciate the ferocity with which Thatcher stood up to thugs in the IRA—and of course an organization that tries to kill you and successfully kills your friends and colleagues has hardly ingratiated itself. Her will was particularly tested during the 1981 hunger strikes, during which 10 republican prisoners starved to death in an effort to win privileges that, poignantly, would be accorded all Northern Irish prisoners in due course. Yet in principle, she would not capitulate to emotive, manipulative pressure tactics, even when the specter of hollowed cheeks and sallow skin made her appear heartless.
Nevertheless, she helped to author the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, ultimately paving the way for Tony Blair’s Belfast Agreement of 1998, which to a large degree brought the gruesome “troubles” to a close. My personal view is that in allowing the Republic of Ireland to have even a toehold say in the governance of the North was a fatal concession, but I am by nature even more inflexible and hidebound by principle than Thatcher, which is why I should never be elected to public office. Thatcher, by contrast, had a pragmatic side and was capable of compromise that she viewed to be in the larger interest of her country.
Thatcher consistently defied gender stereotypes. A woman’s prerogative may be to change her mind, but Thatcher was decisive; her defense of British territorial interests when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982 was unequivocal, and helped to restore waning British self-regard. The Iron Lady was anything but sentimental, as evidenced by her refusal to be moved by the miners’ strike of 1984-85 (the breaking of which the British left has never forgiven her for). Though women ostensibly seek harmony, she never shied from conflict, which is why a string of powerful ministers in her Cabinets were driven to resign. From her first assumption of the leadership of the Conservative Party, no one ever had the nerve to call her weak.
As she confounded the expectation that a female political leader would err on the side of softness, accommodation, and dithering, Thatcher also upended the traditional power structure of marriage. Modest and retiring, Dennis Thatcher sat cheerfully in the backseat while his wife drove the car—and the country. Yet Maggie and Dennis were by all accounts happy together, and therefore writ large a new domestic model: If one of you has to be the boss, it can just easily be the wife.
Nevertheless, Thatcher’s personal style was unapologetically feminine. She didn’t show up in Parliament in Doc Martens and a butch cut. To the contrary, her twin sets, bouffant hairdo, quiet but meticulous make-up, and ubiquitous handbag are still internationally iconic.
Without a doubt, Margaret Thatcher wanted to live in a world in which girls were so unfettered that they could grow up to become prime ministers. But that’s because she was ambitious on her own account and keen to advance an agenda quite apart from feminism as an ideology. She believed fiercely that confiscatory tax policies impede both personal enterprise and economic growth. (The top income tax rate when she took office was 83 percent; with a 15 percent surcharge on investment and dividend income, this could add up to a marginal tax rate of 98 percent.) She had more faith in the private sector than in bloated government bureaucracy. She was loath to allow labor unions to hold government hostage. She advocated a muscular foreign policy and despised anti-democratic factions that bullied government and citizenry alike with car bombs and assassinations. 
Reluctant as her critics are to admit it, Thatcher inherited a depressed, stagnant, grumpy nation forever mooning nostalgically for the good old days of World War II when Britain was important, and she revitalized Britain into a vibrant, functional country with a renewed sense of pride from which it continues to benefit (if to a lesser degree today, alas).  Drawing international respect, Thatcher restored her country’s self-respect. As for her effect on gender politics, in that Reuters poll more men (40 percent) than women (32 percent) rated her the United Kingdom’s “most capable” prime minister of the last three decades, and one can only hope that this admiration gently bolsters male estimation of women in general. Whether or not subsequent generations embrace the specifics of her worldview, Margaret Thatcher’s forceful leadership continues to inspire young women to act on their own convictions, and to eschew the rhetoric of feminism for its embodiment.
By Simon Jenkins

Margaret Thatcher's ideas became consensus through John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown

Thatcher before the Falklands War of 1982 never seemed other than a passing phenomenon. The war proved a turning poin

Into war: Margaret Thatcher in Germany in 1986

Margaret Thatcher was Britain’s most famous Prime Minister since Churchill.
Over 11 years she transformed her nation and gave birth to an “-ism” in use to this day. She was not widely loved, but she was admired even by those who disagreed with her.
Thatcher was a truly revolutionary leader. She was dissatisfied by what she saw round her and set herself to change it utterly.
She saw socialism and wanted the opposite, freedom from the state.
She was no conservative, other than in an emotional attachment to a certain sort of Britishness, but preached ceaselessly for change.
She bred a generation of politicians all of whom took her as their reference point and all of whom dedicated themselves to the cause of reform.
Thatcher believed in a revolution aimed at a society where class was overwhelmed by the benign, equilibrating forces of a free-market economy.
The cult of get-rich-quick linked the Big Bang with what became the “Nigel Lawson boom” of the late 80s.
The associated stereotypes, the yuppie in a black suit, the Cockney futures trader, the “phone number” bonus, the Porsche and the Cotswold manor became icons of Thatcher’s Britain, cruelly contrasted with the unemployed miner and docker.
She turned the working class from a repository of nostalgia and cultural romance into an aspirant bourgeoisie.
To her middle class was what the working class all wanted to become.
The test of any revolution is, did it work and did it last? When on November 20 1990 Thatcher’s cabinet colleagues trooped into her Commons room and told her to go, the world gasped.
What had they done? The answer is they had decided Thatcherism could best be preserved if its progenitor were removed from the scene, and they were right.
After the fall, the legacy was continued by John Major, Tony Blair and his Chancellor, Gordon Brown, to become the ruling consensus of British government.
These three men, Thatcher’s “sons”, were convinced disciples, going where even their mistress had feared to tread.
She treated them, with varying degrees of faith, as her heirs.
I witnessed the Thatcher era from the start.
I worked on the fringes of the Conservative party before the 1970 general election as it sought a new direction in Opposition under Edward Heath.
Like most observers, I at first viewed Thatcher’s Tory leadership as transitional, a rightist rebellion, possibly shock therapy, probably a mistake.
Thatcher did not seem a natural leader, let alone a prime minister. Her voice was shrill and manner hectoring.
She was a bad listener and responded to suggestions with a cantankerous right-wing tick.
The experience of the 1970 Heath government left Thatcher a brutal realist.
Thatcher before the Falklands War of 1982 never seemed other than a passing phenomenon. The war proved a turning point.
She was emboldened to confront previously intractable forces ranged against her: the trade unions, Europe, local government and enemies within her own party.
Thatcher enjoyed only the briefest of real ascendancy. It lasted from the defeat of the miners in 1985 to the Poll Tax revolt of 1989.
Only then was she able to bring the full force of her “-ism” to bear on public administration.
Her style was that of battle rather than debate. Her bossiness made her few friends and her treatment of subsidiary institutions was brutal.
She could show a fierce contempt for civil servants, academics, nationalised industries and civic leaders.
“None of you can be any good,” she told the British Rail Board over lunch, “or you would be in private industry.”
She was loved and loathed. Her name still evokes a fierce reaction in people over the age of forty.
Thirty years after its genesis, Thatcherism was still regarded by most Britons with bemusement.
What was this word, this ideology, this policy, this woman, who dominated the lives of so many yet with which few seemed to have sympathy?
To its acolytes there was no argument because there was no alternative. To both left and right the conservative tradition in British politics was as good as dead.
Revolution, reform, change was all. Thatcher said so, and Blair agreed.
His continued quest for competition and choice in state health and education left his party angry and the country baffled.
Nor was his chancellor Brown far behind, as he struggled to privatise more of the health service, Post Office, law and order and even job centres.
There was no sign of public support for all this, but the Blair government seemed on a Thatcherite autopilot. It could not stop.
Young Britons viewed the Thatcher era much as older one had viewed Attlee’s welfare state. They took it for granted.
But the bitterly fought reforms of the 80s were not replicated in the rest of Europe – until perhaps now.
We can now see her departure in 1990 as the end of the beginning.
Labour prime ministers Blair and Brown, were, like John Major before them, prisoners of a revolution effected by Thatcher in the 1980s.
They had abandoned traditional Labour policies and espoused the revolution to gain office in 1997 and then found that, in her phrase, “there was no alternative”.
Brown at the Treasury, even more than Blair in Downing Street, adhered to Thatcherism in almost every particular.
As an enthusiast for privatisation, price mechanisms, welfare reform, Euroscepticism and the profit motive he outshone every other chancellor of Thatcherism.
But like them he failed to see the downside in the Thatcher revolution.
Even as it liberated the private sector of the British economy, it seemed to cramp the public sector in regulation and red tape, enmeshing it in reorganisation and frequent chaos. Staff and public alike were left disgruntled and ministers constantly forced to promise more change.
Thatcherism had proved its capacity to galvanise, yet not to calm, to stimulate yet not necessarily to deliver.
It has proved strangely unhelpful to David Cameron as he now wrestles with similar problems to those of the lady he professes to admire.
Edited extract from THATCHER AND SONS: A Revolution in Three Acts by Simon Jenkins – Penguin, £9.99.

Margaret Thatcher dead: Verdict on her legacy from political friends and foe

I feel inevitable sadness at her death, but in some ways Margaret Thatcher had gone really some time ago.
I will remember her as an enormously effective leader, a very loyal person and a woman who changed this country for the better in many ways, and who, together with President Reagan, brought the Cold War to an end and saw the Warsaw Pact collapse.
She was a good friend, but of course her greatest friend was her husband Denis. We were first and foremost loyal friends.
Her legacy will be a country which changed immeasurably during her time.
The trade unionists had brought down, first of all Ted Heath and then Jim Callaghan, and they were determined that they would bring her down, but she defeated them.
The nuclear weapon of the miners’ strike was fired and it was Scargill who was blown up, not her.
We went from a country with the worst industrial relations in the developed West to a country with amongst the best.
She showed that industries could be taken out of state control and prosper, an example that was followed across much of the world.
Of course she stood for Britain’s interests whether it was in Brussels or the South Atlantic and that is the inheritance which she left.
She will be remembered as the first woman prime minister and I think young people now don’t realise how big a thing that was.
It was assumed that the first woman party leader in this country would be the leader of the Labour party, certainly not the stuffy old Tories.
That changed everything. She was not a feminist, but she did more for women than any feminist who has ever been born.
She could be Churchillian but she knew how to get people to work with her and she could use her femininity when necessary.
She always tended to forget that not everybody had quite the reserves of energy and the ability to function with very little sleep which she had.
I can recollect a night speech-writing for her when she turned to me at 3am and said, ‘You are not very bright this evening, Norman, are you?’.
I said, ‘It’s not this evening, Prime Minister, it’s tomorrow bloody morning’. She laughed.
She was a great leader who inspired loyalty in those around her – but she was never afraid to take decisive action – they were turbulent times, especially when she took on the unions but it was vital to do so. We would be quite a dump if Scargill had won the coal strike.
We would be quite a dump if BT was still doing what it did in its nationalised day, rationing telephones instead of selling them.
Almost everything would have been different and almost certainly we would have been somewhere down the lower pecking order of countries, and probably of course, if she had been overthrown by some of those who wanted to get rid of her, we would have been in the euro.
She was an outstanding peace-time prime minister. She had the legacy of the Falklands War – but that was only a small part of her prime ministership. She was radical and reforming.
There was a softer side in her private life, but it was quite confined to those who worked for her in Number 10 and were with her every day, and above all to Denis.
I last saw her a little while ago. She recognised me, but it was clear it was becoming more of an effort for her. Certainly until quite recently she was aware of her own achievements, but her memory was going.
She became Prime Minister at the height of the Cold War and it is a tribute to her that when she stepped down as Prime Minister, the Berlin Wall was coming down. It was huge achievement which marked a change in global politics and was one of the most significant changes in post-war Europe.

Policy which led to devastation: Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock

SHE was not a malicious person. She was a person who couldn’t see, or didn’t want to see the unfairness and disadvantaging consequences of the application of what she thought to be a renewing ideology.
Thatcherism was a personality presented through a particular vocabulary and set of attitudes which ­generally took a pride in insularity, being domineering and a short-termism in its approach to management and the conduct of political affairs.
And it was conveyed as being for the long-term nourishment and well-being of the nation.
But it was a frame of mind, not a political philosophy and not an economic policy.
It was an unmitigated disaster for Britain because, if you recall, it commenced with a series of Budget changes and use of interest rates which, combined with the fact that oil was monumentally coming on stream, pushed the price of the pound out of sight and succeeded in inflicting devastating harm on the productive base of Britain.
And the end result was not modernisation, it was ­devastation.

Wherever you stand, Britain will never be the same: Former Labour home secretary David Blunkett

Margaret Thatcher was a most formidable opponent, an outstanding leader, and as the first woman Prime Minister, a ground-breaking politician.
With Bernard Ingham, she was the first modern exponent of spin, which allowed her to present compromise as delay, and irritation with opponents in her party as principled stance.
She said she could not forgive the leadership of her party for her downfall, and I cannot forgive her for what she did to Sheffield, the mass redundancies, the damage to productive industry and the use of incapacity benefit as a tool to avoid internal social breakdown.
The debilitating impact of using North Sea oil in this way remains with us today in the arguments around benefits, and her signing up to the European single market and inevitable compromises over our place in Europe left a continuing legacy of division.
In simple terms, we should remember her for what she was, a politician who could mobilise support and opposition in a way that fired politics.
I remember as leader of Sheffield the lessons it taught me about ­understanding your opponent’s ideology and finding your own values to defeat opponents.
She will be remembered for shaking Britain into an acknowledgement of rapid globalisation, of a post-Soviet era and of a politics of individualism rather than mutual solidarity.
Wherever you stand, Britain will never be the same.

She was more pragmatic than she wanted to admit: former Labour foreign secretary Lord Owen

She was a politician guided by facts and detailed knowledge.
“The lady’s not for turning” she said but she was far more pragmatic than ever she or her supporters admitted.
Her first U-turn came early with acceptance that recognising Prime Minister Bishop Muzorewa’s ­government in Rhodesia, as she had earlier pledged to do, was not credible internationally.
On February 18, 1981, in the face of a strike threat from the miners, she paid up rather than risk defeat.
Yet during the miners’ strike of ­1984-85, she never used the new powers over trade unions she had put on the statute book.
She preferred a long drawn out strike be won under the laws that had existed for many years.
I saw her privately during the ­Falklands War while supporting her day in, day out on the floor of the House.
During the tumultuous emergency debate on the Saturday after the ­invasion, she was very vulnerable.
Apart from one occasion when relieved at having retaken South Georgia she used the word “rejoice” in Downing Street, she was constrained publicly and worried privately.
Her caution, though hidden, went deep.
She was cautious about the Soviet Union, yet when she met Mikhail Gorbachev she saw he was different and in her words, a “leader who you can do business with”.
She reassured Ronald Reagan about him and the climate was set for the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Seismic figure in modern British history: Labour MP and historian Tristram Hunt

Thatcher stands out as a seismic figure in modern British history.
She came to power during the dying embers of the Cold War and her international achievements were significant.
But time and again, she signed away British rights to Brussels to build a Common Market – and was horrified at the political consequences.
At home, her legacy was equally divisive. Thatcher entered office on the back of an ideological revolution: just control the money supply and roll back the State.
She thought the economy would flourish. She took on the cosy professions and vested interests and, of course, the trade unions.
Gas, electricity and water industries were privatised. Controls on financial services were abandoned.
What underpinned it all was oil. The North Sea’s black gold paid for the three million thrown on to the dole by Thatcher’s economic agenda.
The dreaded Poll Tax would eventually bring her down.
Tellingly, it was first tried in Scotland, killing off the Tories north of the border and laying the groundwork for today’s devolution.

Margaret was the best boss I worked for: Tory MP John Redwood

TO be the first woman Prime Minister would be achievement enough for many women, but not for Margaret. She didn’t just want to hold office, but to use it to improve the country she loved.
She was a different kind of politician to many that have followed. She did not ask how something would play in the polls, or how something should be spun.
She wanted to know what the problem was and would your solution make things better for people.
Margaret had many critics. The Labour opposition opposed her privatisations, her wish to slow the growth of public spending. They disliked her efforts to reform trade union law.
Yet when it was Labour’s turn again, they accepted much of the Thatcher settlement, leaving all but Railtrack in private ownership and much of the new trade union law unamended.
She stands accused of being uncaring, dividing a country with policies which caused high unemployment.
True, the coal and steel communities were badly affected by industrial decline and change.
The Thatcher view was to work hard to bring in new jobs and new investment to change the industrial landscape. It took time, but it paid off.
She was the best boss I worked for. She cared deeply about people.
She would often break off in an important meeting about a national issue and ask staff to ensure enough help was going to the latest disaster or family in trouble.
She brought a female touch to the male world of Downing Street.

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