The Influence Of Margaret Thatcher

European Parliament | Flickr

European Parliament | Flickr

This Saturday marks the 40th anniversary of the election of Margaret Thatcher. Also known as the “Iron Lady”, Thatcher was the first woman to lead a western nation and a vital actress in the conservative movement. The wave of Thatcherism brought economic liberalism back to Britain, scaling back government-owned companies, high taxes, and other interventions in the market economy. Unlike her American ally, Ronald Reagan, Thatcher had been elected to a country that had taken many steps further in scaling back capitalism than the United States.

Thatcherism is the backlash, along with the rest of the conservative movement, to the failure of massive government interventions in the previous years that led to an inflationary recession in the 1970s. Critics label this era with phony terms like “trick-down economics”, “Reaganomics”, or “neoliberalism” with the aim of making the concept of free-markets sound like a forty-year-old conspiracy theory. In reality, Thatcherism is a brand of liberalism, part of a larger political ideology that has existed for centuries. As Thatcher argued herself, “The kind of Conservatism which he and I favoured would be best described as ‘liberal’, in the old-fashioned sense. And I mean the liberalism of Mr. Gladstone, not of the latter-day collectivists”.

Margaret Thatcher gained praise from free-market economists like Milton Friedman and Frederic Hayek. After the stagflation of the 1970s, she changed the narrative to one where the government must control the money supply and inflation in the future. Thatcherism also put pressure on the previous control of trade unions in order to free the labour market. Foreign policy took a tough stance against the influence of the Soviet Union with the United States, as an ideological enemy to socialism and Marxism in the East. Much like conservatism today, in the early years of European centralization, Thatcher became a skeptic of the power in Brussels overpowering British sovereignty.

During the Attlee government of 1945-1951, major industries had been nationalized in Britain, leaving a deep problem for the next government to fix. The 1980s brought the privatization of British Telecom (1984), British Aerospace (1986), Rolls-Roys, and British Airways (1987). This era of privatization touched steel, railways, airways, airports, aerospace, gas, electricity, telecoms, and water. By the end of the Thatcher government in 1990, over forty state-owned businesses had been privatized. The enormous task of reversing previous government interventions into an economy can show the influence on British thought that Thatcher needed to achieve this change. Long lasting efficiency had been brought to the British economy and the idea of privatized major industries became a mainstream position in British politics, even for Thatcher’s opposition Labour Party.

Margaret Thatcher’s influence of euroskepticism seems to prove its lasting impact now, in the midst of Brexit. Although Brussels did not have the power that it does today, Thatcher foresaw the changes brewing. In a speech she said, “We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at a European level, with a European superstate exercising a new dominance from Brussels”. At the time, the Eurozone we know did not exist yet and Thatcher did support Britain’s entry to the European Economic Community in 1973 and signed the Single European Act in 1986. However, Thatcher did not support unlimited monetary inflation and did support national sovereignty. The European Union today as created the largest credit expansion known to humanity and has redefined sovereignty to mean the right to control the policies of other nations. The prime minister was certainly correct regarding the possibility of Brussels superseding British sovereignty.

Outside of Europe, Thatcher embraced an alliance with the United States to curb the power of the Soviet Union and is credited partially with its collapse. Britain allowed the housing of missiles on its soil in response to Soviet military expansion as well as other weapons. As a whole, Thatcher is regarded as the first ally to Reagan in the fight against communism.

Thatcherite social influence professed traditional conservative policies. At the time, the legalization of homosexuality was a political topic in Britain. Regardless if the supposed Thatcherite position on the issue, she voted for legalization as a member of parliament, as well as for legal abortion. As Prime Minister, however, Thatcher opposed the “intentional promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities in a 1980 law enacted. This law was vague, but probably one of the most controversial laws on social policy during the Thatcher government. Regardless of policies, the Iron Lady embodied a new era of progress for women as the first prime minister of a western nation. Her level of influence is interesting because students traveling through the public school system are taught adamantly of the struggles and progress of women through history, but will never hear of Margaret Thatcher. The reason for this is simple: she had the wrong opinions to be admitted into the gates of feminism. The feminism professed today is polylogistic rather than individualistic, where successful women must think a certain way to join the “official progress of women”. As an article describes, “For the third-wave feminist, there is no woman in Western history who is more dangerous than Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female prime minister, a classical conservative, and staunch individualist who viewed genderized affirmative action and communism as moral evils. In that sense, she opposes group-think, a contractual requirement to be a third-wave feminist”. Understanding the historical bias of successful women like Thatcher that dissent from the collectivism of the Left is important when viewing her sphere of influence over time.

In the midst of Brexit talks, the politics of Margaret Thatcher is echoed in the drive for British sovereignty. The layers of bureaucracy and “Brexit deals” curbing the right of a democratic referendum three years after it happened is exactly what Thatcher feared of the centralization in Brussels. It is unclear if the future of British politics will hold the same commitment to free-market capitalism as the Thatcher era, especially if the Eurozone crisis turns out to be a reality. However, her influence in freeing hundreds of thousands of employees from public to private sector jobs produced efficiency and real wealth that otherwise would not have existed and is irreversible in history.