September 11, 2007


The Man of Steel and the Iron Lady (Janet Albrechtsen, September 12, 2007, The Australian)

[F]or those with an eye to history, the similarities with Thatcher are both dazzling and haunting. Thatcher was the Iron Lady, after all. Howard is our own Man of Steel.

In the late 1970s Britain was described by a Russian trade minister as the sick man of Europe. Trading with Britain was unreliable, the country was too often on strike and goods went undelivered.

As her loyal chancellor of the exchequer Geoffrey Howe would remark, Thatcher dragged Britain out of the "last chance saloon", taking on the unions, the opponents of privatisation and the zealous supporters of welfare. She forced the country to embrace capitalism and free market reforms that allowed Britain to prosper. She took the nation to war in the Falklands and won.

She confronted communism - the great 20th century battle of ideas - and together with Ronald Reagan, won. And yet, by 1990, an ungrateful nation had turned on her.

The Howard Government inherited a country that was in debt to the tune of $96 billion. Net debt today? Zero. Real wages up by 21.5 per cent. Unemployment at 33-year lows. More than two million new jobs. Taxes reduced every year since 2003. Inflation is half that under Labor. And now an ungrateful nation appears to have turned against Howard.

Both Thatcher and Howard were the dominant conservative conviction politicians of their time, challenging entrenched orthodoxies, unwavering in their belief in the power of capitalism and the individual. They challenged political correctness long before it was fashionable to do so.

Both argued for a more balanced teaching of their nation's history. They rebuilt their conservative parties, winning election after election after election, emerging with an increased sense of invincibility. And after 11 1/2 years in the top job both began to look like great leaders from the past, rather than inspiring leaders for the future.

The real test of John Howard's influence will be whether the first government of the opposition to follow him governs as he did, the way that Bill Clinton was essentially a Reaganaut and Tony Blair a Thatcherite.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 11, 2007 12:02 AM
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