The country that Margaret Thatcher inherited was not the country she left. With Britain referred to as the ‘sick man of Europe’, rife with industrial conflict and going through a period of severe post-colonial decline, Thatcher had her work cut out: And boy did she make a difference. Whether she is someone you loved or despised, it is undeniable that she left her mark on Britain and the world.
The leader of the global privatisation revolution, Thatcher fiercely championed the free-markets that liberals, liberations and conservatives alike revere today. When Thatcher took power in 1979, three years after the Labour Government had appealed to the IMF for a bailout, Britain experienced 34 years of nationalisation. The sale of nationalised industries by the Thatcher Government generated over £29 billion, allowing for increased spending in areas such as social security and health services.
Thatcher lowered taxes across the board, with the top tax rate falling from 83 per cent to 25 per cent during her years in power. During her Prime Ministership Thatcher saw personal wealth increase by 80 per cent; the amount of adults owning shares rose from 7 per cent to 25 per cent, and over one million families purchased their council homes, increasing the number of owner-occupiers from 55 per cent to 67 per cent and generating £18 billion for the nation’s economy.
The economic path that this formidable Prime Minister chose was not an easy one. Throughout Thatcher’s term, unemployment peaked at 3.3 million in 1984, over double the amount that Thatcher inherited. Although the country fell into recession in the early 1980s, Thatcher’s policies started to effect change by 1987: unemployment fell, the economy stabilised, mortgage rates fell and inflation dropped from 18 per cent to 8 per cent. But overall, the results speak for themselves: between 1979 and 1989, GDP increased over 23 per cent; social security spending was up 32 per cent (contrary to popular belief that Thatcher cut heavily in this area); health funding was up 32 per cent, all this in comparison to the fact that total government spending only rose 13 per cent.
Thatcher moved British politics to the right where it has stayed. There has been no renationalisation of industries (with a few minor exceptions in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis) and Blair’s New Labour movement adopted the central beliefs of Thatcherism in order to reinvent itself. When she is asked about her greatest achievement Thatcher has been known to respond with “New Labour.” Thanks to Thatcher, the days of completely unrestrained union power and nationalisation are gone.
It is evident that Thatcher was better at tearing down old, worn institutions that needed to be torn down rather than building new ones; and was better at dividing rather than uniting. But inheriting Britain in such a parlous state made this all necessary. At the beginning of her leadership the unions were far too powerful, and while many disagree with how this was handled, it was certainly handled. She took the path of what she thought was right rather than what was easy when it came to privatisation. She demonstrated fantastic moral courage when it came to fighting for what she believed in. Gaining victories for what she truly stood for won her enormous respect both at home and abroad.
Baroness Thatcher was a controversial and divisive figure in life and she continues to be in death. As a prominent public figure there will always be groups criticising her and her actions and there is nothing wrong with that, even in the wake of her passing. However, to wake up the morning after her death and see jubilation spread across social media that ‘the wicked witch is dead’ makes you wonder if it’s only misogyny when the Left says it is. Many of those who criticise her conveniently forget the Thatcher that supported gay rights and legal abortion; who played a major role in ending the Cold War, liberating millions and, co-inventing the soft-serve ice cream which we all know and love. To quote a Facebook friend of mine: “It’s not all peaches and sunshine but if all you know about her is what you learned from Elvis Costello and Billy Bragg you may not have the full picture of the woman whose grave you’re dancing on.”