The longest serving British Prime Minister of the 20th Century. The first and, as yet, only female Prime Minister. The woman who made the Conservative Party electable again. The Iron Lady, who, along with President Ronald Reagan, brought an end to the Cold War, not by appeasement, but by strength. The leader determined to stand up to aggression overseas, such as in the Falklands, or in Kuwait, where others would have capitulated. The woman who brought democracy to the British Trade Union movement and destroyed the excesses of the previous left-wing grip on the unions.
But not everyone saw Mrs. Thatcher like that. Many people saw her as a divisive force in British politics. Many of those most offended by her supposed divisiveness were in her own party. And it was they who eventually plotted her downfall.
It is at this point that you need to know that I never actually voted for Margaret Thatcher. In the historic 1979 General Election – the first in living memory to have been caused by a vote of no confidence in the previous chaotic Labour government of Jim Callaghan – I was just a few months off turning 18, so was too young to vote. But I wouldn't have voted for her, anyway. As a teenager, I had fallen victim to the trendy left-of-centre biases of much of the British media. I would probably have voted Liberal. In 1983 and 1987, I voted for the short-lived Social Democratic Party. After the 1987 General Election, I joined the Labour Party, and campaigned for them in 1992, finally voting Labour in 1997. I have since seen the errors of my youth, and realized, belatedly, that a genuine Christian doctrine of politics has to oppose socialism and adopt a conservative view of the world.
In retrospect, I wish I had voted for her. Her legacy is clear to see. The Britain of 1979 was a basket case of communist-inspired trade union militancy. By 1990, she was a prosperous, major world power, with a booming economy.
Britain's relationship was always unusual with arguably her greatest post-war Prime Minister. Thatcher was never popular, in the same way that Reagan was popular. In fact, she was widely hated. Yet people kept voting for her. Why? It was because even those of us who didn't vote for her knew she was right. He policies initially caused economic pain. In order to turn the sluggish economy around, she completely changed the fabric of British economic life, and these changes caused very high unemployment. But in retrospect, e see that these things had to happen. An older relative – who became a fairly senior, regional Labour Party politician – once confided in me that he had voted for Thatcher in 1979. “We had to do something about the appalling state of the country, and only Thatcher knew what to do,” he opined. The British public saw Thatcher rather like school pupils might view a very strict but fair head teacher. We trusted her, and knew she was right, but hated her for being right.
I believe history will be kinder to Margaret Thatcher than the British public were in her lifetime. In retrospect, I believe she was the greatest ever British Prime Minister. She had a clear vision of what she wanted to achieve and how she wanted to achieve it. She was the last British leader to argue for conviction politics. Following her exit from office in 1990, Britain has had a series of disastrous governments, led by men of both major parties, who wouldn't know a political conviction if it bit them on the proverbial behind. Britain needs another Thatcher. But now is the time to mourn the one we have just lost.