Nov 22, 2010

Remembering The Iron Lady

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of Margaret Thatcher's downfall from the premiership of the United Kingdom. While often forgotten in the U.S. (and not even known by most people in my own generation), the career of 'the Iron Lady' stands out as one of the most impressive dossiers of principled accomplishment this century, perhaps only beaten by Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Even the likes of Ronald Reagan did not accomplish for his country so much as she did for hers. Like FDR and Churchill, Reagan and Thatcher were two extraordinary politicians, united across the Atlantic, each leaving a continually echoing legacy. When Ronald Reagan left the presidency, the country in his wake had been radically altered in the rightward direction. Without Reagan conservatism, you'd have no Bill Clinton declaring that 'the era of big government [was] over'. You'd have no George W. Bush, and you'd have no Barack Obama.

Similarly, without Maggie Thatcher, there would have been no Tony Blair. There would've been no New Labour, no Gordon Brown, and no David Cameron. Most importantly, however, is that the trajectory of the United Kingdom may have gone in an opposite direction from today. The Iron Lady was forced from office in an intra-party no-confidence battle. Unlike her partner across the pond, she wasn't able to retire with popular dignity and a chosen successor. And the reason? It wasn't her local-government conservatism. It wasn't even her fiscal conservatism or her hawkish foreign policy against the Soviets. Instead, it was her policy to what would become the European Union. Ms. Thatcher's Tory opponents wanted the UK to forego the Pound Sterling and join the proposed common European currency. That notion was anathema to Thatcher; she didn't want to give an inch of the United Kingdom's sovereignty to fools on the Continent. It should be the British people who are both liable and responsible for their own currency, not the British people who are liable for but not given any control of the common currency. Given the fiscal demise of Greece and Ireland and the imminent fiscal demise of Portugal and Spain, the Lady's decision to avoid the Euro couldn't have been better. However, in 1990, those in her own party didn't see her precience.

So, on November 22, 1990, after the first ballot for the leadership of the Conservative party showed Thatcher ahead but with less support than expected from her Tory colleagues, the Lady announced that she would not be on the second ballot. She resigned, leaving a party that had thrown itself into needless disarray. It would remain that way until the present--the Tories are now again in power (though barely) after a thirteen year exile. However, the scars that her opponents left on the Conservative Party persist, only lightly plastered over, leaving the party as vulnerable as it has ever really been. What it needs now is a true successor to Thatcher, not the namby-pamby, spineless, career politician David Cameron.

Two excellent pieces on Thatcher's downfall from the Daily Telegraph: one and two.

One of Thatcher's final PMQ's:

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