My favorite Margaret Thatcher story is the one about her visiting Conservative Party headquarters a few years before she became PM. She walked around chatting it up with a few low level party officials and such and she asked one to explain party policy. The man rambled and stuttered on a bit before Thatcher reached into her handbag and pulled out a copy of F.A. Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom.”
“This is what we believe,” thundered the Iron Lady, as she slammed the book down on a table.
Now full disclosure, I’ve subsequently discovered that it wasn’t a copy of Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” Thatcher had but a copy of his equally masterful “The Constitution of Liberty.” And she was actually responding to a paper written by party official outlining a pragmatic approach to winning and keeping power in the United Kingdom. But the point of the story remains the same; Thatcher’s Conservative Party would stand on principle, no matter the costs.
Thatcher was a woman, scratch that, an individual like no other. Baroness Thatcher was truly in a league all her own. She probably contributed more to the conservative movement than even her American counterpart, Ronald Reagan, who she preceded in office by a full two years. She certainly fought greater and nastier opposition (many of whom made fools of themselves yesterday by directing even more vitriol on the recently departed). While Reagan was tasked with turning around the country’s economy that had become stagnant and lifting the spirits of a country gripped by malaise, Thatcher had to save a country where the liberal establishment was fully entrenched. British unemployment and tax rates were staggeringly higher than American rates. The welfare state, with state sponsored healthcare and the like, was much more ingrained than in America. And the Conservative Party was much more demoralized and discredited than even their Republican counterparts in the wake of Watergate. And yet Thatcher, this daughter of a grocery clerk, stood tall and spoke truth to power.
It was the Iron Lady who proposed private ownership of public housing and free enterprise zones, motivating a young congressman out of New York, Jack Kemp, to promote the same ideas in the United States. It was a Thatcherized Conservative Party that managed to slash tax rates in Britain….before the Reagan Revolution swept America. And it was Thatcher who managed to reform British welfare and squelch the growth of state run healthcare, a good fifteen years before Bill Clinton declared the “era of big government is over” and reformed our own system across the pond.
So RIP, Baroness, your’s is well deserved rest. Tell Ronnie we said hello.