Monday, April 8, 2013

Margaret Thatcher: In every sense, a leader

Washington Post
April 8, 2013

“Unless we change our ways and our direction, our greatness as a nation will soon be a footnote in the history books, a distant memory of an offshore island, lost in the mists of time like Camelot, remembered kindly for its noble past.” Margaret Thatcher, never given to understatement, presented that grim vision for Britain in 1979, the year she became prime minister.

Then, for the next 11½ years — almost as long as three U.S. presidential terms — she worked with fierce determination and unrelenting stubbornness to dispel it. By the time she left office, reluctantly, in 1990, there was not much talk anymore of Britain’s inexorable decline. Ms. Thatcher, who died Monday at age 87, had changed not only her country’s direction but also its standing in the world. She continued to be passionately detested by some and admired and respected by others long after she left office, and her record will be debated for decades — or centuries. What is hardly debatable is the proposition that she was, in every sense of the word, a leader.

Margaret Thatcher was a new kind of Conservative in British politics, a true-believing, Friedrich von Hayek-quoting enemy of what she saw as the excesses of the welfare state, of the unions that seemed to run it and of the mass of socialist encrustations that had formed on the Labor Party’s left wing after World War II. She thought statism was crushing the nation’s economy, destroying the morale of its people and rapidly diminishing its standing in the world. Apparently a good many Britons agreed with her, though not necessarily with her fervent embrace of the total conservative ideology. The country was ready for a break with the postwar past, and Ms. Thatcher’s party had the good sense to see in her the forcefulness, conviction and eloquence that could bring it off.