The Iron Witch
Nazim Farhan Choudhury

The guiding principle of Thatcherism was smaller government and a freer economy

  • 'Iron Lady' Margaret Thatcher shakes hand with South African legendary leader Nelson Mandela 
    Photo- File photo/Dhaka Tribune

“Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” reached the number 2 position on the UK music charts propelled by a social media campaign marking the death of former prime minister, Baroness Margaret Thatcher. Whereas, the 1979 song by the punk rock band Netsensibles, “I’m In Love With Margaret Thatcher” only managed 36th position that week. It seems that people love to hate the Iron Lady.

I was only 9 years old when Mrs Thatcher went to Number 10. I remember that day. My mom turned to me and said something to the effect of: “Now that there is a woman in charge things will get better for not only Britain but the world.” And in my opinion, it has. To understand her one needs to understand the world that she came to power in. Britain and indeed the world was hit badly by the Opec oil crisis of the early 70s. The Cold War was at its bitter peak. PLO, IRA, ETA, FARC and other such abbreviations held the world at bomb point.

The Iranian Revolution was a sign of changing times. In Britain one just needed to hear the popular punk music of the time to figure how disillusioned and dejected the population was. “I want to be an anarchist” sang the Sex Pistols. The British economy was in shambles, with trade unionism at its peak. And as the famous election poster created for the Tory Party by the advertising genius of Saatchi brothers proclaimed: “Labour Isn’t Working. Unemployment was at epidemic proportions.

Prime Minister Thatcher changed that. True, unemployment peaked under her leadership but that was part and parcel of the economic reform she started.

The guiding principal of Thatcherism was smaller government and a freer economy.

Your classical Chicago school model. Let the market decide what the people need and want. The government restricts itself to managing money supply and using only macro-economic interventions. One of her most significant contributions was the mass scale privatisation that she pushed. British Airways, telecom, gas, rail etc that were thought to be services that only the government had the resources to provide, were privatised. This was a model that has since been followed around the world.

This act took ailing companies that were a strain on the budget and infused them with entrepreneurial professionalism.
Not only did the privatised companies become more innovative and efficient but it also showed the business world that they too could come into and succeed in areas that were earlier thought too daunting.

Regardless of which was Mrs Thatcher’s biggest war - Argentina, the coal miners or the Soviets?

One thing is for sure, all of them were principled stands and all three are wars she won.

She knew that Britain’s pride and identity was in question when Argentina’s military junta occupied the Falkland Islands.
Britain sent troops (amongst them the first royal member in modern times to see active military action). Another area of diplomacy was to negotiate the handover of Hong Kong to China where she found a win-win face saving exit.

With the coal miners it was a battle against trade unions that controlled Britain’s politics and economy. She always believed in reduced government intervention in business. This is where she made a stand. And by standing firm she sent a message that the economy was paramount.

Britain went through a socio-economic upheaval due to this but that was a bitter medicine that was absolutely required to save the patient. Britain ended its role as a leading industrial power but reinvented itself into the financial and service powerhouse, that it is now.

Thatcher was one of the first to declare the end of the Cold War. Along with Ronald Reagan and Michael Gorbachev she was instrumental in bringing down the divide that defined the world for 50 years or so, since the fall of Berlin. With her tempered and passionate logic she helped land the world into more peaceful times. This, despite her leading role in convincing President George Bush Sr to send troops in the First Gulf War. Famously quipping: “This is no time to go wobbly. I must confess here, one of her biggest failures was the inability to bring peace in Northern Ireland. Maybe she was effected by a failed IRA assassination plot on her.

Thatcher was like any other, not without faults: her authoritarian ways, some of her social policy, the reduction of education funding, and of course the infamous “Poll Tax” that marked the beginning of her end. But in the end Mrs Thatcher left a legacy that still dictates politics and economy across the world. Thatcherism as a principle triumphed.

Though people have called it by different names, her true successors was not John Major but rather Tony Blair and in some respects Bill Clinton. Prime Minister Thatcher defined not just centre right politics but politics as a whole.

I am sad that the witch is dead
 

  • Google0
  • Linkedin0
  • ShareThis
  • Print Friendly and PDF

Nazim Farhan Choudhury

Nazim Farhan Choudhury is Managing Director, Adcomm Limited.