Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the election of Margaret Thatcher as the first female prime minister of Great Britain—a precursor of the election the following year of Ronald Reagan.
Before her arrival many people thought England’s long, slow postwar decline was irreversible. “Britain is becoming a third world country . . . an offshore industrial slum,” Economist magazine correspondent Robert Moss wrote in 1977. Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw recall in their book The Commanding Heights of the episode when Thatcher visited the Conservative party’s research department after she became party leader, where she found a party staffer writing a paper on how the Tory party should adopt a “middle way” between left and right. Thatcher erupted. “She was not interested in refurbishing Harold Macmillan,” Yergin and Stanislaw recount. “Instead, she reached into her brief case and pulled out a book. It was [Friedrich] Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty. She held it up for all to see. ‘This,’ she said sternly, ‘is what we believe.’ She slammed it down on the table and then proceeded to deliver a monologue on the ills of the British economy.”
If the the feminist and identify politics left were sincere about their demands for “diversity” and female representation at the summits of power, Thatcher would be one of their patron saints. Certainly she was not averse to feminist sentiments, such as her famous early (1965) comment that “If you want a speech made you should ask a man, but if you want something done you should ask a woman.” But of course the feminist/diversicrat left is really interested in leftism, not “diversity.” I recall that back in the 1980s feminists would refer to Thatcher (also Jeane Kirkpatrick, then our UN ambassador) as “female impersonators.”
The Adam Smith Institute in London has this nice recollection of Thatcher’s top ten achievements in office, among which my favorite is Number 10:
By taking a firm stand against Soviet aggression and expansionism, and supporting President Reagan by deploying US missiles to counter Soviet missile deployment, she was instrumental in bringing the Cold War to its end in victory for the West and freedom for those who had suffered under Communist dictatorships.
1. She was a woman with a science degree, and rose to become Europe’s first female head of government. She inspired women to think they could aspire to succeed in what had been the male-dominated world of public service.
2. She had shown her steel in the 1980 Iran Embassy siege, when she had sent in the SAS to rescue hostages after the terrorists had killed one of them. That same resolution showed in the 1982 Falklands War, when Argentina invaded islands they had never owned, and which were uninhabited when British settlers arrived. She sent a task force and recovered the islands.
3. Her 1980 Right to Buy Scheme allowed those living in council (social) housing to buy their homes at greatly discounted prices and become home owners. Over a million people did so.
4. Inflation, which had peaked at 26 percent in the 1970s was brought under control as her Chancellors increased interest rates and indirect taxes to slow the growth of the money supply.
5. She reformed the too-powerful trade unions by making secondary industrial action illegal, instituting secret postal ballots for union leadership, requiring unions to ballot their members before strike action, and by abolishing the closed shop. She defeated the Miners’ strike of 1984-85.
6. She privatized most of the state industries, turning them into profitable and successful private firms, and popularized share ownership by ordinary people as well as professional investors. She introduced competition into them, helping to lower prices.
7. She reduced barriers to entrepreneurship, lowering regulations and creating enterprise zones and freeports. In a single day in 1986, the City of London was deregulated in a ‘Big Bang,’ ending centuries of the old boy network and turning the UK financial sector into a world beater.
8. In the Kenneth Baker education reforms she transformed schooling by giving parents a choice of school, and by allowing state funding to follow the child to successful schools. This changed top down direction into bottom up control directed by parents.
9. She brought foreign investment flooding into Britain by repealing exchange controls and by lowering taxes on businesses and incomes.
10. By taking a firm stand against Soviet aggression and expansionism, and supporting President Reagan by deploying US missiles to counter Soviet missile deployment, she was instrumental in bringing the Cold War to its end in victory for the West and freedom for those who had suffered under Communist dictatorships.
Just now, with our socialist moment in American politics, it is worth recalling her fabulous smackdown of socialism in the House of Commons (Memo to: President Trump—take notes on this):
And in contrast to the current female prime minister of Britain, I think we know how she would handle Brexit: