Paraphrasing St. Francis of Assisi, Margaret Thatcher ushered in her long and storied tenure as Britain’s first woman Prime Minister with these words: “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”
She brought all those things to the beleaguered nation she led, and inspired millions the world over as she did it. And it was no small feat. The Britain she found upon assuming its highest office was torn by labor violence, enervated by crushing tax rates and smothered by nanny state welfarism. It was the “sick man of Europe” but after eleven years of a Thatcher government, it was once again the proud and productive workshop of the continent, if not the world.
Advocates of “democratic socialism” are full of plans for other people’s futures but they conveniently ignore their own recent past. They prefer you not to know that their schemes are neither new nor successful. They claim to celebrate female equality in government, but they rarely mention Thatcher as a model because, to their everlasting embarrassment, she demolished their ideology and reversed much of the harm it did.
“There is no such thing as ‘safe’ socialism,” she once declared. If it’s safe, it’s not socialism. And if it’s socialism, it’s not safe. The signposts of socialism point downhill to less freedom, less prosperity, downhill to more muddle, more failure. If we follow them to their destination, they will lead this nation into bankruptcy.” And that’s where Britain was headed until Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979.
Great Britain was “democratic” in 1945 when its voters elected a socialist government under Labor Party leader Clement Atlee. It was only a matter of time before its policies of sky-high taxes, massive wealth redistribution, nationalization of industries and soul-crushing welfarism produced an existential crisis.
Earlier this month, voters in Chile elected a socialist as the country’s new President. It’s only a matter of time before Chile will need a Thatcher to fix all the problems Chileans are soon to experience.
Margaret Thatcher didn’t end socialism in Britain but she did more toward that laudable goal that anyone expected and perhaps more than any man at the time could have done. She also gave socialism the tongue-lashing it richly deserved, noting on one occasion that “Socialist governments traditionally make a financial mess. They always run out of other people’s money. It’s quite a characteristic of them.” Another time she declared, “Socialists cry ‘Power to the people’ and raise the clenched fist as they say it. We all know what they really mean—power over people, power to the State.”
Her eloquence mirrored Harry Truman’s famous observation, “I never gave anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell.” The difference was, Thatcher really did deliver hell to the other side. She thrashed the Labor opposition in three consecutive elections. She dramatically lowered marginal tax rates. She privatized a long list of tax-eating, slothful, state-owned companies and assets, including more than a million units of public housing. She helped strengthen the west and face down the Soviet Union’s expansionist aims. She made a monumental difference in world politics.
“I came to office with one deliberate intent,” she declared: “To change Britain from a dependent to a self-reliant society—from a give-it-to-me to a do-it-yourself nation. A get-up-and-go, instead of a sit-back-and-wait-for-it Britain.”
I had the privilege of meeting Margaret Thatcher personally on two occasions, in 1996 and 2002. She impressed me both times as a woman who knew what she stood for and wanted you to know it. She was as strong as she was refreshing.
Margaret Thatcher did much and stood for great things. Her accomplishments were her own, not the result of a politically connected husband, a wealthy inheritance, or affirmative action privileges. She climbed the greasy pole, as Disraeli would say, against odds and obstacles that her own indomitable willpower overcame.
Let’s remember, in her own words, why socialism is a sickness that sooner or later demands a cure:
Increasingly, inexorably, the State the socialists have created is becoming more random in the economic and social justice it seeks to dispense, more suffocating in its effect on human aspirations and initiative, more politically selective in its defense of the rights of its citizens, more gargantuan in its appetite—and more disastrously incompetent in its performance. Above all, it poses a growing threat, however unintentional, to the freedom of this country, for there is no freedom where the State totally controls the economy. Personal freedom and economic freedom are indivisible. You can’t have one without the other. You can’t lose one without losing the other.