November 19, 2011


The Invincible Mrs. Thatcher: With Britain's Tories back in power--and a biopic starring Meryl Streep on its way--the career of Margaret Thatcher is newly resonant. A conservative revolutionary, she prefigured, then partnered with, Ronald Reagan, worshipping "real men" as she went where no woman had, never losing a national election (or a war), and defining an era. Twenty years after Thatcher's retirement, her biographer Charles Moore re-assesses the most powerful British prime minister since Churchill, one who forged a legacy that will long survive her. (Charles Moore, December 2012, Vanity Fair)

As well as elections, Margaret Thatcher won wars. When Argentina invaded the British colony of the Falkland Islands, in the South Atlantic, in April 1982, she sent a task force of 27,000 across the world and recaptured them by June. As the force set sail, she paraphrased Queen Victoria: "Failure--the possibilities do not exist!" With Ronald Reagan in the White House for most of her time as prime minister, she was able to re-forge a mighty defensive alliance that outpaced the Soviet Union and hastened the end of the Cold War. After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, in September 1990, she attended a conference with Reagan's successor, George H. W. Bush, who was undecided about how best to act. She told him, "Look, George, this is no time to go wobbly!"

Perhaps more important still, she won the big arguments. She argued that inflation was a disease of money that could be cured by controlling the growth of the money supply alone, without suppressing incomes. During her premiership, inflation fell from a high of 27 percent in 1975 to 2.5 percent by 1986. She believed that the political power of British labor unions had strangled enterprise and placed the country at the mercy of unelected barons. When she removed the legal immunities that protected unions from the financial consequences of their actions and overcame a yearlong strike organized by the hard-left leadership of the coal miners' union, the employee days lost to strikes each year fell from 29.5 million in 1979 to 1.9 million in 1986. She said that taxes were too high and brought the top rate down from 98 percent to 40 percent. She declared that the state should not be running British business and led the world in "privatization"--a word she found ugly but a concept she loved--selling off airlines, airports, utilities, and phone and oil companies to the private sector. In every case, her critics said that it could not be done. Yet, for better and for worse, she did it.

To find out why, we must go back to Grantham, where Margaret Hilda Roberts was born on October 13, 1925. Grantham was, and remains, a small market town in the county of Lincolnshire, in the East Midlands of England. Neither rich nor poor, neither remote nor metropolitan, it is an ordinary place, and hers was, at least in appearance, an ordinary family.

Margaret Thatcher's father was the single biggest influence on her life. Alfred Roberts was a grocer who ran two fairly successful shops in Grantham. He was also a Methodist lay preacher, well known for the quality of his sermons, and an alderman, a type of local politician now obsolete. Alderman Roberts had no sons and appears to have harbored for Margaret, the second of his two daughters, many of the ambitions which, had he been born to a higher level of society, he might have been able to fulfill for himself.

Roberts impressed upon young Margaret the importance of knowledge, duty, and hard work, the power of both the spoken and the written word, and the value of public service. The Roberts girls had to borrow and read two books from the library every week, at least one of them nonfiction. They attended church twice on Sundays (where Margaret sang notably well), and Margaret often accompanied her father to political meetings. Because the family lived above one of the shops, Alderman Roberts usually came home for meals with the girls. He and Margaret discussed public events, including the coming war with Germany. Of her mother, Beatrice, Margaret Thatcher said, "Oh, Mother. Mother was marvelous--she helped Father."
..."Together they broke the unions/inflation, confiscatory taxation and Communism."

Posted by at November 19, 2011 5:46 AM

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