Monday 8 April 2013

Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, An Appraisal

When Mrs. Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979 she and her administration were taking over a wreck of an economy.  The industrial structure of the post war period had mostly collapsed.  Districts that had been prosperous and the basis for much of the real wealth had declined into shadows of their former selves.

Much of the attempted state intervention in development had failed rarely making much if anything of any return and we had the problem of industries and activities in a state of terminal failure being propped up and others on life support of subsidy and tax breaks.

Sometimes in the 1970’s it seemed that almost everything was being paid for by government who were struggling to raise the taxes to pay for it.  The Trade Unions for the most part simply added to the problems.  They basically wanted a state machine in which the 1950's status quo would be perpetuated in a world now changing radically.

Then there had been the massive inflation which had not only distorted whole sectors of the economy and public services but which had disrupted any realistic planning or financing and created huge injustices.  Quite literally by the summer of 1979 in financial terms few people really knew what they were doing.

In 1978 to 1979 there had been the Winter of Discontent with extensive strike action across public services and industry as the major trade unions tried to overturn the actions of the then Labour Government to try to contain the financial crisis.

Was Mrs. Thatcher the best person to tackle this?  It is no good looking down history to past Prime Ministers; this was another time in another world.  Who was around then? 

There was no Liberal in sight after the debacle of Jeremy Thorpe’s leadership.  In the Labour Party the choice was between Callaghan, on the way out, Healey, who had carried the bag, Benn very much of the active hard socialism and Foot of the almost inactive soft intellectual socialism.  Healy might have had the ability.

By 1979 the division between the respective wings of the Labour Party, wrongly called “Right” and “Left” possibly more accurately Dissenting Social and Marxist had become almost a split.  This was aggravated by the Maoist and connected hard line elements who were influential in some key districts.

There was nobody else within the Conservatives then to really lead convincingly.  Heath had gone off to sulk and the others did not have either the clout or that particular media friendly manner to make their claims felt.

This blog has often insisted on complexity, uncertainty and for that matter chaos.  Also, the principle in very many government issues of “no right decision”, that is that every option has significant downsides.  It is when you ignore these that you can run into chaos as Blair so clearly demonstrated.

As for the Miner’s Strike, it was Scargill that called it and him and his cabal who insisted on going in and on regardless of the realities on the ground.  They were warned, indeed on the first day, that the Government had seen them coming and was prepared. 

They were warned to go for any favourable deal they could get at an early stage.  They disregarded the groups who tried to achieve this.  They were warned to lay off the violence and pull back the groups of thugs doing the enforcing.  They did not heed them.  So they lost and deserved to for the rank stupidity of their leadership.

As for what was done and not done, what happened and how wise or otherwise it was this is best left to historians to rake over the details and see if they can find a logical explanation of events. 

Personally, my view is that this could be unlikely because by then the UK had become prisoner to outside events and interests.  The eleven years were ones of having to make decisions on the hoof in a rapidly changing world where it was never clear what was happening and why.

Mrs. Thatcher was the first and so far only woman Prime Minister; she was also almost the only one who was a scientist and a research one at that who moved on into law.  Also she grew up in a small town the daughter of an ordinary shop keeper. 

These gave her some unusual insights but also some blind spots.  Because of her dominance in cabinet, relentless working habits, media presentation and ready grasp of complicated subjects she did have remarkable and unusual abilities. 

There were mistakes made and misjudgements.  Some matters were set in train which led to adverse effects.  She did not really understand that economists are never to be trusted or that in the last analysis the money men could be prone to taking care of themselves first and others last.

Essentially, Mrs. Thatcher just about kept the show on the road and reclaimed ground after the dreadful 1970’s.  It might well have been better but it could have been a lot worse. 

And she saw off the Soviet Union.


  1. She in many ways saved the country, and gave us back some self belief. She made mistakes, most notably the poll tax fiasco, but that shouldn't detract from just much this country needed her!


  2. One of the best summaries I've read. I think she showed us just how tough and clear-minded a PM has to be. Also that mistakes can be offset by successes. We've not seen it again and I don't think we ever will.

  3. A truly excellent summary. Who has vision and determination now. I will always remember her.
    Some of the comments on the BBC have truly appalled me.
    I expect some people are eagerly rewriting even more history.