Great Britain—and the world—as a whole recently lost one of its greatest champions of liberty and the market: Margaret Hilda Thatcher
(1925–2013). She was the greatest Prime Minister of the UK (1979–1990). And together with President Reagan and Pope John Paul II, she helped
destroy the Evil Empire of Soviet Communism (see
The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World
by John O’Sullivan 2008).
She was born Margaret Roberts in Grantham, Lincolnshire. Her father, Alfred Roberts (1892–1970), was the owner of two grocery shops and a Methodist
lay-preacher. He was the
first role model for the young Margaret
, who said:
“I just owe almost everything to my Father and it’s passionately interesting for me that the things that I learned in a small town, in a very
modest home, are just the things that I believe have won the election.”
Elsewhere, she explained the many things she learned:
“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.”
So she was a living example of what has only recently been rediscovered despite the best efforts of the Welfare State: the vitally important role fathers have in raising strong and well-adjusted daughters (see
Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know
by Meg Meeker, M.D.)
Margaret won a scholarship to Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School, where she was Head Girl 1942–43. Then she earned a degree in chemistry in
1947 from Oxford studying under the great Dorothy Hodgkin, who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1964. At university, she also became president of the
Oxford University Conservative Association, and studied serious free market defenses such as Friedrich von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom.
In 1951, Margaret married Denis Thatcher, a successful businessman and decorated war veteran. He was a great support until his death in 2003. After their
marriage, in 1953, Mrs. Thatcher also qualified as a barrister specializing in taxation (a barrister in the English system is a lawyer who specializes in
court cases). Their twins Mark and Carol were born in the same year. And in 1959, Mrs. Thatcher was elected to the House of Commons, the rough equivalent
of our House of Representatives, as Member of Parliament (MP) for Finchley, a north London constituency.
Early political career
It’s hard to understand Margaret Thatcher’s influence without understanding what a basket case Britain was before her. After WW2, war-weary
Britain surprisingly ditched the great Winston Churchill, who almost single-handedly held off Hitler until America joined the war. Instead, they elected
the socialist Labour Party leader Clement Atlee. And for decades, Britain’s government had bloated so that its tentacles were in everything. It took
over many industries, called “nationalization”, and with government involvement, it was not surprising that they were wasteful and horribly
inefficient. Think of the DMV or TSA running oil, coal, natural gas, steel, car, or aircraft companies, and you might have some idea.
Taxes of course skyrocketed—how bad they were was that in 1971, the highest tax rate on earned income was cut to 75%. But investment income
was taxed at up 90%, increasing to 98%.
And unions were out of control, making Britain the most strike-prone country. In the early seventies, the British government imposed a 3-day week for commercial users of
electricity after industrial action by miners. The union tyranny reached its nadir in the winter of 1978–79, which was called “Winter of
Discontent” (from the opening line of Shakespeare’s Richard III).
Strikes by garbage collectors led to piles of garbage and rat infestation
. Even worse, a strike by gravediggers led to corpses piling up.
But by the time Thatcher came around, it was hard to know which was worse: the Labour Party (like our Democrats) or the Conservatives (like our
Republicans). The Conservatives had become rather like our RINO appeasers such asJohn Boehner or the Gang of Eight, or their predecessors, the
“Rockefeller/Country-Club Republicans”. Instead of opposing Labour, they saw their role as “managing Britain’s decline as
graciously as possible.”
Thatcher’s predecessor as Conservative leader, Edward Heath, was a disaster in his government of 1970–74:
“Elected on promises of economic revival through taming the trade unions and introducing more free market policies, it executed a series of policy
reverses—nicknamed the ‘U turns’—to become one of the most interventionist governments in British history, negotiating with the
unions to introduce detailed control of wages, prices, and dividends.”
After Heath lost the election, Thatcher reluctantly challenged him for the leadership, even informing him of her decision. Heath didn’t even look her
in the eye and said, “you’ll lose”. Nevertheless, she won, becoming the first woman ever to lead a Western political party and to serve
as Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons.
But her time was coming. In 1979, the Labour Prime Minister James Callahan had lost the confidence of the country in the wake of the Winter of Discontent.
In the election that year, Thatcher’s Conservative Party won the majority, so Thatcher became Prime Minister (the Brits have no separate election for
PM; this is the leader of the majority party of the House of Commons).
The first and only female Prime Minister of Great Britain
She came to 10 Downing St (the rough British equivalent of the White House) saying, in a paraphrase of the “Prayer of Saint Francis”:
“Where there is discord, 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.”
Looking back, she reflected:
“I came to office with one deliberate intent: to change Britain from a dependent to a self-reliant society—from a give-it-to-me, to a
do-it-yourself nation. A get-up-and-go, instead of a sit-back-and-wait-for-it Britain.”
And she did exactly that, as will be elaborated in Part 2: she slashed taxes, privatized industries, and broke the union chokehold. Internationally, she
teamed up with President Reagan to crush Communism.