Tuesday 16 April 2013

Those who fail to respect Lady Thatcher are the real nasty party

I could have written about Margaret Thatcher in this space last week, but I was too sad.

Saddened less at the passing of a sick, old woman than by the nauseating joy of the unreconstructed Left on her demise. One need not contemplate their antics for long to know who is, and always has been, the real “nasty party” in British politics.

Before Thatcher good socialists surely drank light ale, not champagne
Arguably too young to know any better

I was 24 when Mrs Thatcher came to power and frankly unsure that this new-fangled idea of putting a suburban housewife in control of the levers of Government would get us very far. I was pleasantly surprised.

I find it hard to believe that any sane person who grew up amidst the turmoil of never-ending strikes, or endured the utter uselessness of our Soviet-style State-owned utilities and manufacturing industries, could fail to welcome their end at the hands of the Iron Lady.

For me and many others, she turned despair at Britain’s apparently unstoppable decline into hope that we might yet enjoy growing prosperity and freedom, and play a useful role on the international stage.

The immense and, outside Argentina, overwhelmingly positive international coverage of her life over the last week underlines the huge respect that she enjoyed worldwide for helping to bring down the Soviet Union and free the nations of eastern Europe after nearly half a century of subjugation.

Reagan/Thatcher 1   Soviet Union 0 (after extra time)

Ah but, her critics say, even the good things she did went sour in the end: the council house sales of the 1980s begetting the credit crunch and housing crisis of today, victory in the Falklands laying the ground for subsequent, less successful interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Really? Surely a woman who left office in 1990 cannot be blamed for what went so horribly wrong under the leadership of her much less talented successors 10 or 20 years later?

If any criticism can be made, it might be that the sheer dominance of her personality and policies apparently deprived those who followed her of the power of independent thought, turning the stark choice of the 1983 general election between Thatcher and Michael Foot into the bland, middle-of-the-road capitalist consensus of Blairism and the Coalition.

I would welcome another Thatcher, whether from Left or Right, who would once again offer us a really meaningful choice at the ballot box.

As for the appropriateness of tomorrow’s funeral arrangements, let me offer a rare word of praise for Gordon Brown: because all the essential details of Lady Thatcher’s funeral were agreed with the Government four years ago when he was in power.

The notion that this is some sort of party political stunt devised by David Cameron is simply incorrect. 

When objective history comes to be written, I am sure that Lady Thatcher’s achievements will be ranked amongst the most important of any peacetime Prime Minister of the 20th century, fully justifying the honours that were bestowed upon her in life and, tomorrow, in death.

Yes, Attlee also transformed Britain and did not receive a State or ceremonial funeral. But, with respect, Labour’s crowning achievement of 1945-51, the NHS, has been so hugely successful that it has been copied precisely nowhere. While the key tenets of Thatcherism from monetary policy to privatisation have been adopted throughout the world.

At least the modest Earl made it to Westminster Abbey

The fact that Lady Thatcher was, in the BBC’s favourite word of the moment, “divisive”, is irrelevant. Few 19th century politicians were more divisive than Gladstone, who even split his own Liberal party over Irish Home Rule, yet he was rightly accorded a full State funeral on his demise in 1898. Disraeli turned one down.

Gladstone lying in state in Westminster Hall: a marked absence of a flag

Oddly enough the only politician I ever loathed enough to feel moved to crack open a bottle of champagne on his death was another Tory, Edward Heath. I was deeply upset by the total dishonesty with which he initially pretended that our membership of the Common Market involved “no essential loss of sovereignty”.

Even so, I was wrong to celebrate his passing, as those who are planning to demonstrate against Lady Thatcher tomorrow will be on the wrong side not just of history, but of humanity.

Death is the one certainty for us all, and every death diminishes us. The only proper response to it is sympathy and respect.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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