Thanks Maggie

On the 13th of October 1925 in Grantham, Lincolnshire, Margaret Hilda Roberts was born. People may not have been aware of it at the time, but Margaret was not only going to be Britain’s first female Prime Minister, but she was also going to be the most excellent Prime Minister in the history of our country. Nobody expected her to become this. Her nemesis, Michael Heseltine, not only said that she ‘was not a leader’, but he also said, ‘she comes from a certain social background, one step up the ladder of economic success, with it, a lot of the characteristics that you associate with people who’ve just made it.’ Even fellow dries like Jonathan Aitken who helped Thatcher win the leadership race in 1975 obtained support by telling Conservative colleagues that ‘Margaret hasn’t got much hope of winning, but Ted does need a bit of a jolt’. It came as a shock to her friends and colleagues that she was elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. On the 4th of May 1979 she said on the steps of Downing Street ‘Where there is discord may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. Moreover, where there is despair, may we bring hope.’ Perhaps people were not aware of this at the time, but the decision taken by the British people would not only change Britain’s economic outlook, but it would shift the tectonic plates of British politics, away from consensus into the direction of Thatcherism. Her achievements, from both economic and political positions, propelled the United Kingdom from the ‘sick man of Europe’ to world power. Her work in ending the Cold War, or by deregulating the financial sector in London, became synonymous with Britain’s global image. However, her accomplishments are not circumscribed to global ones. Britain in the 1980s was not only economically better off, but it also facilitated social mobility. Policies including the Right To Buy Scheme and cutting income tax for all tax brackets encouraged an entrepreneurial spirit that is deeply associated with my aspirational county, of Essex. Despite this, left-wingers often mock Thatcher’s choice of words on the steps of Downing Street after she defeated James Callaghan. However, if they looked at the political and economic climate of Britain in the 1970s, it is no surprise that she chose those words. Consensus politicians had ruined Britain. Inflation had soared to double figures, peaking at 26% in 1974. During the Winter of Discontent trade unions held the nation to ransom with three-day working weeks, electricity shortages, the NHS was only half functioning, rubbish piling up on the sides of British streets and 225 dead bodies being left unburied in Liverpool. By 1979 130,000,000 working days had been lost. This is the nation that Margaret Thatcher inherited, and it appears foolish to argue that the nation was not better off when she left Downing Street for the last time in 1990. Instead, Margaret Thatcher reduced the inflation rate to 3% through a supply-side, and monetarist revolution which saw the top rate of income tax eventually cut from 80% to 40% and the lower rate fell from 33% to 25%. However, this was not the only way that she gave a leg up to millions of working Britons, the Right To Buy Scheme remains one of the most popular policies of any post-war Tory government, and by 1987 the Housing Act of 1980 enabled over 1,000,000 Britons to buy their council houses and strive for a better life. However, working Brits also benefited from shareholding opportunities. The ‘Tell Sid’ campaign meant that shares in British Gas could cost as little as £135, as such the 50 companies that Mrs Thatcher privatised allowed shareholders to quadruple to 11,000,000. By incentivising the individual, and encouraging privatisation, those able to benefit from the British economy spread across class divides. So much so that by the end of her premiership people of all classes backed her. Thatcher had an 18% lead over Neil Kinnock among manual workers in the south of England, and 4 in 10 council house owners backed Thatcher nationwide. This vote share almost mirrored the national average for the Tories. Such radical economic reforms helped to propel British GDP, which continuously grew from 1982, but perhaps more importantly, it enabled the United Kingdom to boast the fourth biggest economy in the world by 1990. While income inequality did grow for the first time since the 1930s but is this necessarily a bad thing? As Mrs Thatcher said in her last PMQs when a Liberal MP attempted to rubbish her economic legacy by asking about the gap between the richest and the poorest, her riposte was that they would’ rather the poor poorer, provided the rich were less rich.’ The tangible benefit to the average Briton was a growth of 37% in their wages, and as alluded to earlier, the aspirational men and women, in my county enjoyed that they had more money in their pockets. Whether it be through the double-glazing companies or the city boys, the British economy was expanding and to the benefit of vast swathes of people, from across the four corners of the United Kingdom, across class and gender divides. Critics also highlight how many regions in the north of England and Wales irreversibly changed during the Thatcher years. This change came through the collapse of manufacturing. This collapse was essential and needed for the revival of the British economy. Even in Wales, where deep mining fell from 34,000 to 3,000, the GDP per person had trebled. However, the fact that the manufacturing industry sapped every sinew from the British economy meant that Thatcher had little to no choice in following what her predecessors had done in closing them. The Monopolies and Mergers Commission of 1983 even reported that 3/4 of these mines were uneconomic and given that it was cheaper to import coal from Australia and Argentina there was no alternative but to end the struggle. Where Thatcher wrong-footed, her opponents was in how she prepared for the conflict that would ensue. The Miner’s Strike has become interchangeable with the 1980s, but it was long before 1984 that Thatcher had prepared for the battle. When she implemented the findings of the Clegg Commission and increased payment to the police, she had her infantrymen. Her decision to stockpile was also monumental. However, perhaps the actions of Arthur Scargill made the strike easier to overcome. By calling a strike in the summer, Thatcher evaded the dangers of a winter strike when more people would be reliant on coal production. The result of de-industrialisation saw the British consumer benefit from importing cheaper goods and enabled the British economy to free itself from the shackles imposed on it from the Trade Unionists of the 1970s. In economic and political terms Britain had also brushed off the sick man of Europe tag. Not only did the economy grow from being comparable to Italy to that of Japan, Germany’s and America’s, but London became the financier capital of the world. When comparing the economy to that of fellow EEC members, we had a below-average unemployment rate and even during the recession of 1981-2, we were leading the continent in productivity. This economic gain also influenced Britain’s position in Europe. Mrs Thatcher went on what appears to be a Eurosceptic transformation. In 1975 she campaigned to Stay in the Economic Market, but by the 1980s she got our rebate back, she opposed greater integration and was only forced to enter into the European phenomenon by her Europhile cabinet. The uncompromising view on Europe, beautifully illustrated in her Bruges Speech, also enhanced the Special Relationship with the United States. The free-market dream team of Thatcher and Reagan brought a new world order of supply-side, free-trade thinking. The impact of this is not just felt either side of the pond, but also behind the Iron Curtain. As I travelled through Hungary last summer, I saw first-hand the admiration that the liberated people of former Soviet states have for the Iron Lady. Many Conservative thinkers describe Mrs Thatcher as the most significant post-war Prime Minister Britain has had. I would go further. Margaret Thatcher was the greatest Prime Minister Britain has ever and probably will ever see. Her lasting legacy has improved the livelihood of millions of British people and millions of those trapped behind the Iron Curtain. Her ethos of aspiration has transformed Britain into a classless society with no barriers. And for these reasons, I would argue that Thatcher did not only benefit Britain, but she saved Britain. In Britain’s current political state, we need to look at what Mrs Thatcher gave to the country from 1979 to 1990. By removing ourselves from the shackles of the EU and especially the £4.5 billion net losses of the Single Market, the British economy has a chance to establish a new, neo-liberal, order. So, we must follow her suit; we must deregulate the city, we must incentivise entrepreneurialism through tax breaks, we must enable free choice in education, and we must have the strength of our convictions to make a success of it. And to that, I must say: Thanks, Maggie. By J Walters

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