Margaret Hilda Thatcher, aka “The Iron Lady,” passed away last Monday at the age of 87. Normally, when a former chief exeutive and prominent world leader passes away his or her countrymen would demonstrate an outpouring of grief, sadness and, above all, respect. Political differences and petty quarrels would be set aside, and the media and the general populace would be respectful of the person even if they had disagreed politically. Think of our own former Presidents who have passed away in the last few decades – Nixon, Ford and Reagan. For much of his life, Richard Nixon was a very divisive figure and was one of the most despised politicians in my lifetime. Yet, when he passed away there were no demonstrations, no glee from the left and no joyous songs to mark the occasion. The same can be said for other prominent politicans in other countries. Normally, the occasion is marked with respect and dignity.
In Ms. Thatcher’s case many Britons have chosen to party like it was New Years Eve, dancing in the streets, popping champagne, etc. Some people, who must really think they are clever, are even trying to repopularize the song “Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead! This behavior is outrageous, and I submit that it greatly dimishes Britons in the eyes of the world. After all, as virtually any politician knows, regardless of the extent to which you might disagree with the other person’s political positions, you respect him or her personally. Indeed, many politicians who hold diametrically opposing views are, in fact, personal friends.
So, who was Margaret Thatcher? What exactly did she do to incur this wrath upon her death some 23 years after having left office? Incidentally, many, if not most, of the demonstrators appear to be too young to remember Ms. Thatcher’s tenure as PM, or worse, had not even been borne yet. So, what is the basis of their actions? What do they know of the lady and her life?
Ms. Thatcher, though a conservative politician, was not born into wealth and privilege. She was born on October 13, 1925 in a small hamlet approximately 100 miles north of London. Her parents owned two small grocery stores, and the family lived above the store in a “cold water flat,” i.e. no hot running water. Despite these modest beginnings, she was to get admitted to Oxford University from which she graduated in 1947 with a Masters Degree in Chemistry. Before entering politics she worked as a research chemist. She entered local politics in 1948 and was elected to Parliament in 1959. She became PM in 1979.
There were few women in politics at that time, so she had to fight prejudice and preconceptions continuously her whole career.
In 1979 the UK was in dire straits economically and socially. Many major industries had been nationalized. The country was paralized by strikes. The unions were omnipotent. The average worker paid nearly half of his income to the government in taxes. Inflation and unemployment were high. (Unemployment was the highest since the Great Depression.) Although there was a worldwide recession throughout most of the 1970s, remember the US’s long gas lines, double digit inflation and stock market freefall, the UK was even worse off. Ms. Thatcher’s economic policies, which included reducing spending and curbing inflation, though unpopular with Labour/Liberal supporters, restored economic health. Her policies spurred economic growth and the growth of the middle class. Over time, they served to reduce the power of the unions significantly, reversed the trend toward nationalization and reinstituted a capitalist, free market system for the welfare state system then in vogue. It’s understandable that she alienated a large segment of the entrenched powers and their supporters. Incidentally, you may note that some of the current economic conditions in various countries, including the US, are similar, though perhaps, not as extreme yet.
In foreign affairs she enjoyed a close working relationship with both Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982, she acted aggressively and decisively, sending troops and ships, which recaptured the islands in just 10 weeks.
Yes, she was a tough and decisive leader. By her own admission she was a “conviction politician, not a consensus politician.” She stood up to and held her own with anyone. The Soviets so admired and respected these traits that it was they who gave her the sobriquet “Iron Lady.” During one debate she admonished a Labour MP: “You would rather make rich people poor than poor people rich.” During a strategy discussion regarding the US’s response to Iraq’s invading Kuwait she famously admonished President Bush 41: “Now, don’t get wobbly, George.” Iron Lady indeed.
CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION
Ms. Thatcher served 11 years as PM. She was the UK’s longest tenured PM in the 20th century and the only female ever. Other than Winston Churchill, she was arguably its most important and effective PM of the 20th century. She was the classic case of a strong, effective leader who came along at the right time. (The US could certainly use someone like her now!) Why, then, the reaction upon her death? I believe it’s attributable to several factors: Labour/Liberal propaganda, selective memory of some people, instigation by special interests, such as the unions and a liberal press, and most of all a general lack of respect that seems to be the trend nowadays.
Thoughtful, intelligent, fair-minded people would not react this way. They would recognize that although they didn’t agree with her politically, her office and accomplishments must be respected. Unfortunately, I do not see this as an isolated case, but, rather, a continuation of a disturbing trend in our society.